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Monday, 23 June 2008
Page: 3016

Senator BERNARDI (5:12 PM) —I do not intend to detain the Senate for long. I know there are a number of people who would like to speak to the Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2008, and these people have a number of personal experiences and I am sure they would like to relay them with regard to the implications of this bill on the Northern Territory. There has been some anxiousness about this bill within the coalition, hence the slight delay in it being introduced into the Senate. I am pleased to say that the coalition has received a number of assurances that have sought to allay some of our concerns.

The substantive aspects of this bill are threefold: firstly the flexibility in the leasing arrangements operating within Aboriginal townships; secondly, some technical amendments to the Northern Territory emergency response and; thirdly, the passage into law of a tripartite agreement between the Northern Territory government, the Commonwealth and the Indigenous landowners about the passage of title of 13 national parks.

I will confine my comments to schedules 1 and 3 of the bill, which concern the flexibility in township leasing arrangements. For a long time the coalition have supported the idea that Aboriginal land should be not just a spiritual asset to the Aboriginal people but also an economic asset. As part of last year’s Northern Territory emergency response, we introduced a 99-year lease for Aboriginal townships. It was a form of homeownership. It was a good measure then and it remains a good measure. This bill seeks to change some of the provisions within that by offering a little bit more flexibility—namely, that these leases can be from 40 to 99 years. Whilst it is the coalition’s position that we think longer is better in regard to these leasing arrangements, we accept the fact that some flexibility is needed, so we will be supporting it.

It would be remiss of me not to make a few comments about the importance of the introduction of the Northern Territory emergency response last year. I believe very strongly, and I know that many people share my view, that we needed to take a very strong line with regard to protecting children and ensuring the functionality of Indigenous communities. This was shared by the now government when in opposition. We are all working as hard as we can towards the end goal: to close the gap in life expectancy, to give Indigenous children every opportunity and hope for the future, to protect their wellbeing and to ensure they have educational and health opportunities open to them. So we look at the introduction of these sorts of amendments to legislation in a very positive light, working towards the same end as the now government is.

Homeownership, as I mentioned, is a very important part of a commitment to a community for all Australians. If they have the opportunity to participate in homeownership they take a little bit more pride in how they manage their affairs domestically. So we do support very strongly this contribution and the flexibility it entails so that more people will be able to partake in homeownership to ensure a civil society and a society that is going to benefit all people who are exposed to it in those communities.

The second part of the bill I would like to speak about tonight is basically the transfer of title for 13 national parks. I am advised that in 2003 the government agreed to the transfer of title to these parks. But the transfers, for whatever reasons—I am unsure exactly what they are—did not take place. The question from the coalition’s perspective was that the ongoing management of these parks be retained by the Northern Territory government. This is part of a process to ensure that they will not fall into a state of disrepair or will not be managed poorly. We want to ensure that there is still some accountability for how these parks are managed. I have been advised that this agreement has been reached and those assurances have been received so that not only will the parks retain the appropriate management but access to the parks will remain free to all. In having received that assurance, the coalition will be supporting this legislation and will be maintaining an ongoing process to protect the management of those parks in the absence of any legislative assurances.