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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8556

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (11:41): I support the Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 and the government amendments. This bill has three purposes. I want to use this opportunity to speak about Indigenous Affairs generally and also refer to what is happening in my electorate and commend certain people for their wonderful work. I recognise the commitment of the member for Durack. He and I disagree on a lot of things in politics, but I believe he is absolutely genuine in his commitment to improve the lot of our Indigenous peoples, not just in his area in Western Australia but across the country. I want to thank him personally for the great cooperation he gave during the Doing timereport we undertook. I look forward to working with him on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in its inquiry into languages in Indigenous communities. We will be looking at not just the effectiveness and efficiency of English language teaching in Indigenous communities but the loss of Indigenous languages across the country. We can identify about 250 Indigenous languages, but only 20 or 30 are viable. You cannot divorce one thing from another—you cannot divorce employment, health, language and land rights. All of it is linked to what has happened with our Indigenous peoples across the country.

I will go off on a tangent. A number of great speeches have been made by both Labor and Liberal Prime Ministers in this country over the years. I think of former Labor Prime Minister John Curtin's speech turning to America at the height of World War II, Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies's forgotten people speech and his speech in opposition rallying conservative forces to retake government in 1949. I think also of the speeches of two great Labor Prime Ministers on indigenous affairs. Former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating's Redfern speech in my view was the greatest speech he ever made. He talked about dispossession and what we need to do about native title and helping our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's sorry speech in this place I think is the greatest speech he has ever made as well. It is interesting that a number of these speeches from these greats of Australian political life, if I can use that term, have dealt with Indigenous issues, because that taps into our hearts and into Australia's psyche. What we are doing here is making a difference. Some of it is a bit pedantic, but some of it is listening to what Indigenous people want to say and have to say about their land rights and what they want and responding to that. he first aspect of this particular legislation deals with land rights, as I mentioned. I think land rights are crucial and linked in to the Closing the Gap policies, which I understand to be bipartisan. We have a lot of terminology in relation to these things—such as Closing the Gap, national partnership agreements and building blocks—with which we want to make sure that Indigenous people have a better say and a better go. We want to close the gap in longevity of life, to lift employment outcomes and to improve school attendance and completion of school rates.

I want to briefly address some of the things in this bill. One of the purposes of this bill is to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, known as the Land Rights Act, to insert Borroloola and Port Patterson Islands into schedule 1. Again, there has been consultation in relation to this, making sure that this is important to land rights in the Northern Territory, it is important in relation to Aboriginal land trusts and it is an amendment which will make a difference to Indigenous people.

The second aspect of these amendments will withdraw the Indigenous Land Corporation measure from the original bill. The measure was going to introduce a power to the minister to make guidelines that the Indigenous Land Corporation must have regard to in deciding whether to perform its functions in support of a native title settlement and, if it decided to perform its function in support of a native title settlement, in performing its function in support of that settlement. The measure is being withdrawn from the bill pending further consultation on proposed guidelines. With the withdrawal of this measure, consultations can take place without any further delay to the remaining measures in this bill.

The other measures are scheduling, as I said before, in relation to Aboriginal land and amendments in relation to the election of Torres Strait islander regional authority members. We also have a problem in Queensland in relation to local government elections, which happen to be falling in March 2012, as well as the situation with respect to the Queensland election, which is also due in March 2012. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 currently provides for elections for the TSRA being held every three years.

The timing of those elections, of course, are linked into local government elections. We have a problem in that regard, so we are removing the connectivity between the two sets of elections, which will reduce the potential for conflicts of interests between the roles of people elected to the TSRA and the Queensland local government councils. One of the aspects of that is that a lot of Indigenous leaders perform roles in both. It is important that people understand the role of their respective members and that they have an opportunity to actually have a say in which particular people are elected to which different roles so that there is no confusion in the public's mind.

This week, in recognising a number of important people in this country, we recognised the contribution of people like Nancy Wake. I want to pay tribute to the loss of a great friend of Indigenous Australians, the Hon. Clyde Holding, the former Aboriginal affairs minister under the Hawke government. I mentioned before a number of great prime ministers, prime ministers who said things about Indigenous affairs and wanted to lift up the role of Indigenous people in this country. They wanted to say it like it is. They did not want to worry about black armband views of history but about actually telling it like it is and making the point that we need to turn the page. There is a degree of recognition, of repentance, required, but there is a commitment that I believe this federal Labor government has to closing the gap.

Clyde Holding believed that. He believed that all his political life. In the roughhouse of Victorian politics, with all the machinations that went on, he retained his ideals of lifting up the poor, the weak, the oppressed and people from all walks of life, regardless of their colour, race or creed. He was all about helping those in disadvantage. Mabo was a wonderful outcome for this country, and it took a federal Labor government, against the opposition of the forces of conservatism, to legislate in relation to those issues.

Sadly, when those opposite sit on this side of the House, they always seem to want to take away from the rights of Aboriginal people. They say one thing, as the shadow minister said— criticising us when in opposition—but when they are on this side of the House they never seem to have the political will or commitment, the money or the determination, to carry these things out. Clyde Holding believed we needed to do it, and in his conduct of the affairs in Aboriginal jurisdictions he made that commitment and he fought for it all of his life. Of the Mabo judgment he said it provided our nation with a matchless opportunity to:

… redress Australia's oldest and most continuous social wrong and to recognise the depth, nature and spiritual attachment of Aboriginal people to this land.

Once again, a social reform is brought forward by this federal Labor government which makes a difference in terms of Aboriginal land rights and Aboriginal land in this country, and I commend the legislation to the House.