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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 140


Senator CROSSIN (7:00 PM) —Tonight I want to pay tribute to two organisations in Alice Springs. Earlier today I gave notice of a motion about one of these organisations—the Tangentyere Council—but tonight in a longer contribution in this chamber I would like to pay tribute to the work of both the Tangentyere Council and the Central Land Council. These two organisations were formed in Alice Springs in the 1970s to address Aboriginal people's needs.

I congratulate the Alice Springs Aboriginal housing organisation known as Tangentyere Council on its 25 years of operation. Tangentyere is one of the largest Aboriginal organisations in Central Australia and it celebrated the 25th anniversary of its incorporation on 11 November. In the Arrernte language, Tangentyere means `working together'. It was formed by Aboriginal people like Geoff Shaw and Eli and Wenten Rubuntja, who is of course a famous artist, to provide basic services such as running water and shelter to Aboriginal people living on the fringes of Alice Springs—what is commonly known today as the `town camps'.

Over the years, 18 Aboriginal housing associations were formed in Alice Springs and have come together under the banner of Tangentyere Council. Most now have special purpose leases or town camps, as I said, which provide permanent housing for their members. Tangentyere's services range from regular garbage collection to repairs and maintenance on houses. Tangentyere Council operates one of the most successful community development employment programs as well as other community development programs.

I congratulate the members and the executive of Tangentyere Council, its executive director William Tilmouth and its staff for keeping the passion alive. I was privileged to be at the anniversary celebrations in Alice Springs and to witness the pride that people rightly have in Tangentyere's achievements. It was great to listen to some elders, such as Eli and Wenten and Geoff Shaw, tell tales of the struggles back in the seventies, how it came together and how much they feel they have progressed in providing a service for their people.

Today a quarter of the Aboriginal population of Alice Springs lives on the special purpose leases that are scattered in and around Alice Springs. I am sure people who have been to Alice Springs would have noticed them. Some are quite central and others are on the fringes of the town. People from a range of Central Australian language groups live on the leases, including members of the Arrernte clan groups, who are the traditional owners of the land that Alice Springs was built on. The traditional owners won recognition of their native title rights in Alice Springs in 2000. And they have recently begun the development of a new Alice Springs urban subdivision, following negotiations with the Northern Territory government—an area known as Larapinta.

Arrernte elder and lawman Wenten Rubuntja, whom I mentioned earlier, was Tangentyere Council's first president. He is much loved in Alice Springs and nationally and he played a prominent part in the celebrations. Wenten is a renowned artist and a former member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. He is also closely associated with the struggle for land rights in Central Australia. In fact he wrote a fabulous book, which was launched by Ray Martin, called The town grew up dancing, about his story and the land rights struggle of Alice Springs. As a former Chairman of the Central Land Council, he also played an important part in the celebrations of their 30th anniversary in Alice Springs on 8 October. The Central Land Council is the second organisation I want to pay tribute to tonight for its 30 years of operations in Alice Springs. Unfortunately, I could not be at the celebrations on 8 October to congratulate people personally, as I was out mobile polling and it was the day before the federal election. However, the member for Lingiari was there and conveyed to me that the celebrations at Blatherskite Park were inspiring.

The Central Land Council held its first meeting in 1974 following recommendations from Justice Woodward's report into land rights in the Northern Territory. Aboriginal people had gone from believing they owned all of the land to legally owning none of it according to the British Crown. The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, drafted by the Whitlam government and introduced with modifications by the Fraser government, was an attempt to redress this dispossession. The Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council were given the statutory role of advocating and fighting for Aboriginal people's rights to their traditional lands in the Northern Territory.

The birth of the Northern Territory Aboriginal land councils and the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act also saw the birth of the Northern Territory's Country Liberal Party. It was formed predominantly in Alice Springs and was largely formed, of course, to fight the move to establish Aboriginal land rights. True to its roots, the CLP tried to block every land claim during its reign, wasting millions of dollars in court processes to frustrate the process. As a result, most land hand-back ceremonies have been bittersweet events for claimants, as they remember the elders who have passed away since the claim was lodged.

Many people have contributed to the success of the Central Land Council over the years, including many impressive regional delegates, executive members and chairs such as Maxie Stuart, Bruce Braedon and the current chair, William Brown Jampijinpa. The CLC's long-serving David Ross, or `Rossie' as he is known, also deserves recognition for his responsibilities and professional management of the council's work. Land councils often wear criticisms for problems such as poor health and education outcomes for people on the lands, problems that are not within the land councils' statutory roles concerning land ownership. They are rightly matters between Indigenous people, their communities and the responsible government partners—who are actually willing to work with Aboriginal people rather than dictate to them what the government partners believe would be the best outcomes.

The Northern Territory Land Council and the Northern Territory Labor government have worked together since 2001 on a range of possible amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act to make it more workable. These amendments include measures to streamline the mining application process. They will work with the outcomes of the current review of the Northern Territory Mining Act. How the federal government gaining control of the Senate next year will affect Aboriginal people's rights to their land in the Northern Territory is unclear at present. We do not yet have the government's proposed changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act before us, although we know that there has been an agreed document between the Northern Territory government and the northern and central land councils to improve and strengthen that act. Hopefully, the federal government will not listen to the most extremist rhetoric about the land councils and the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and a realistic look at the act will find sensible improvements that can be made with the support of all parties involved. It will also find many achievements of the land councils worth celebrating.

So again I congratulate the Central Land Council on its 30th anniversary and for 30 years of speaking up for people's country and keeping the culture strong. Despite what this government might think, there are Aboriginal organisations out there doing some great work while facing extreme pressure and uncertainties. It seems that, since the election, this government has adopted the attitude of blaming the victim and taken the carrot and stick approach and has not really taken the time to celebrate or even recognise the wonderful achievements occurring with Indigenous people. The Executive Director of Tangentyere Council, Willy Tilmouth said:

Alice Springs is traditional Aboriginal Land. It is Aboriginal country. With the advent of colonisation, we were displaced on to the fringe of society. From that time on, there has been a contest for space—space to live, to strengthen culture and to be Aboriginal. Through the formation of Tangentyere Council, the endeavour to share this space has taken on a united voice in the struggle for equality.

That struggle has continued through the work of the Central Land Council. Tonight I want to convey my tributes to two organisations in the Northern Territory that I believe are doing an outstanding job in standing up for, and protecting and defending the rights of, Aboriginal people, ensuring that they will be there for all time. I congratulate past members and current members who are involved and work with the Tangentyere Council and the Central Land Council in Alice Springs.