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Thursday, 25 August 2011
Page: 5544

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales) (12:59): The coalition supports the Indigen­ous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. I note that schedules 1 and 2 of this bill were initially part of the Families, Housing and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2010, but that the government agreed to remove these schedules from the original bill and to consequently debate them separately after the coalition raised certain concerns in relation to those. I also note that schedule 2 of the bill was omitted from the final bill which went through the House of Represent­atives.

Non-government senators had recommended in the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitu­tional Affairs that a review into the operation and functions of the Indigenous Land Corp­oration be conducted to ensure that the ILC continues to meet its objectives prior to any changes in land acquisition functions. I note that the government also has not yet released any draft ministerial guidelines, as was recommended, as I understand it, by the majority Senate committee report. The coalition therefore did not support schedule 2 of the bill and we are pleased to see that it has been withdrawn.

In schedule 1 of the bill we will see additional parcels of land in the Northern Territory granted to the Aboriginal Lands Trust under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The land and the islands near Borroloola listed in item 1 of the schedule are, as I understand it, surrounded by an intertidal zone representing significant recreational fishing grounds. Scheduling this land may have caused these intertidal waters to become subject to the legal precedent created by the Blue Mud Bay case, which would have had the effect of restricting access to those waters. The government has addressed this by scheduling the parcels associated with the Borroloola land claim to the high watermark rather than the low watermark, which I am advised will negate the illegal impact of the Blue Mud Bay precedent.

The Port Patterson Islands also relate to a long-running land claim. These are islands adjacent to the Kenbi land claim and will now become part of the Kenbi land grant, with fishing access maintained under a nego­tiated deal with traditional owners and with recreational fishing instruments. The coali­tion therefore affirms its support of schedule 1 of the bill.

Schedule 3 of the bill is a new measure that will effect changes to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005. The effect of the schedule will be to remove the connect­ion between the election of members to the Torres Strait Regional Authority, the TSRA, and the Queensland local government elect­ions by removing the legal connection between the ATSI Act and the Queensland Local Government Act. This will reverse the linkage that resulted from Queensland local government elections being held once every three years in the same cycle as TSRA elections, which are also held every three years. It is expected that this will reduce the potential for conflicts of interest between the roles of people elected to both bodies. It will also provide powers for the minister to deter­mine how the Torres Strait Regional Auth­ority is constituted, enabling greater flexibil­ity in the appointment of TSRA members.

I understand that the Torres Strait Regional Authority has indicated that it does support the provisions of schedule 3. The coalition supports this schedule and the bill as it stands.