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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10446


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (11:51): I acknowledge the members for Kennedy and Leichhardt for their contributions. There can be no doubt in this House or the broader community of their absolute commitment to improving the lives and independence of our Indigenous community. I note that neither of them spoke very much at all on the actual bill that is before us today, and I would like to go back to that.

They highlighted the many complexities in Cape York. I visited with the economics committee last year and found a fabulous, difficult—

Mr Entsch: I have lived there for 20 years.

Ms OWENS: I acknowledge that you have a greater knowledge of the area than me—wondrous, harsh, almost impossible place with people with various histories. Some have lived on their land with links back tens of thousands of years and many others were removed from their lands and are finding their way back. There are complexities in the understandings within the Indigenous population about who had the right to speak for them and who did not—many complexities that impact on the viability of the bill that we have before us today.

This is the third version of the wild rivers bill. There have been two Senate inquiries and a House of Representatives inquiry into the previous versions of Mr Abbott's bill. All those inquiries found the bill to be unworkable and stated that it did not address any of the real barriers to economic development in Indigenous communities in Queensland.

Now we have a third version with some further amendments. There are still old sections in the bill that raise many issues about definitions of owner and consent, but there also some new clauses which add to the complex and problematic nature of the bill and require careful scrutiny. For that reason, I believe that the changes should be referred to a House committee inquiry to analyse their construction and potential effect.

The government is strongly committed to improving the life outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and takes Indigenous economic development seriously. The causes of disadvantage in Cape York and the gulf are complex and solving the issues that the community faces will need long-term, considered approaches, which provide real opportunities, real jobs and allow for environmentally sustainable development.

The member for Leichhardt talked about one of the communities up there trying to build a banana plantation and that it had taken three years so far. Again, I would like to point out that that community is not covered by wild rivers. Even without wild rivers legislation, it has been incredibly difficult for many communities to move forward and, arguably, one cannot make a claim that the introduction of wild rivers legislation in 2005 has somehow led to a lack of economic development. There are of course decades—in fact centuries—of a lack of development in Cape York. There were wild rivers 2005 acts on top of a whole range of laws in Queensland, including the Sustainable Planning Act 2009, the Vegetation Management Act 1999 and the Water Act 2000. When we visited Cape York last year, we heard from many people who referred to a whole range of issues that prevent development, not simply wild rivers. In fact, we met communities up there that were supportive of the Wild Rivers Act in the form that it has now.

We also heard of the many, many issues and difficulties that people in Cape York have. It is a tropical monsoonal climate characterised by long warm to hot dry seasons and short, humid, intensive wet seasons. That monsoonal season is a major constraining factor on Cape York as it impacts on travel and many economic and social activities. It isolates most properties and communities for four to five months of the year.

For agriculture, Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation advised the board that broad-scale irrigation is limited as there are very few areas of arable soil on Cape York that are suitable for large-scale irrigation. Where such land is available, the water supply is not likely to be sufficient to support irrigated crops. Much of the west of the cape is very flat and unsuitable for dams and in the east the water flows to the Great Barrier Reef side, so dams are not really an option. It is an incredibly beautiful, harsh environment where roads are boggy and unpassable for much of the year, and one could argue that issues of freight and transport infrastructure are as much of a barrier to the development of Cape York as any other area.

The government respects the views of Aboriginal leaders in the Cape York area and will continue to actively engage with them in developing solutions. As part of the government's commitment to economic development for Indigenous Australians, we have agreed with the Queensland government to establish a new service for people in Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria, which will guide Indigenous applicants to develop new business and economic development proposals and assist them to effectively utilise the processes under the wild rivers legislation. We heard from many witnesses during our visit to Cape York last year about the difficulty that they had in navigating their way through a whole raft of legislation that govern development applications in the cape.

There are several differences between the 2011 bill and the 2010 bill, and I am going to concentrate on some of those. The key differences essentially are: a new subclause, 5(2), stating that agreement with native title holders is taken to be agreement with the owner, but the owner is defined very broadly in the bill. It is not clear how agreement will be obtained from owners of other types of land included in the bill or how agreement from other types of owners would relate to agreement from native title holders.

Insertion of a new clause, 6A, which specifies that dispute resolution is to be resolved by a certain section of the Native Title Act 1993 or by regulations, also creates some confusion. The section referred to in the Native Title Act 1993 does not set out a dispute resolution process; rather, it sets out the dispute resolution functions of native title representative bodies. How the section referred to in the Native Title Act 1993 will work in the context of the bill is difficult to interpret. It is not clear how disputes between native title holders and other owners governed under the new process would work.

Changes to the transitional provision in clause 7B extend the period of time from six months to 12 months for declarations to apply if this bill were passed. It provides more time for agreement to be reached before existing declarations are overturned. However, if owners do not agree within the extended time frame, existing declarations will still be overturned whether there is agreement or not. Such a complex and significant area of law must not be dealt with in an ad hoc way, particularly as the three clauses I have referred to so far are interpreted within the context of Indigenous—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ) (12:00): Order! It being 12 pm, the time allocated for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.