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Monday, 23 June 2008
Page: 3016

Senator SHERRY (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) (6:08 PM) —In closing the debate on the Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2008, I would like to thank all those senators who have contributed to the debate—in, might I say, a very constructive way in comparison to some past debates we have had in this chamber and, indeed, the parliament. The bill makes amendments to legislation relating to Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. It provides greater flexibility in dealings with land owned or controlled by Aboriginal people. These changes are intended to facilitate an improvement in housing and infrastructure, including through the provision of more options to provide security of tenure for government providers of facilities.

The bill provides traditional Aboriginal owners with more flexibility under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to deal with township leases. Township leases will now be set at a minimum term of 40 years, and there will also be provision for renewal of township leases up to a maximum of 99 years. The changes proposed will allow leases to be tailored for individual communities. Notably, it will allow for an agreed new township lease for Groote Eylandt region communities.

Other provisions in this bill allow the Executive Director of Township Leasing to hold other types of leases or subleases over land primarily held for the benefit of Aboriginal people. This change will give Aboriginal landholders the option of entering into a lease with an independent statutory office holder rather than directly with the government. The bill makes changes to the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007, creating a framework for negotiation of payments to landholders for five-year leases. This will encourage a negotiated approach which will diminish the likelihood of court action being initiated to resolve disputes.

Lastly, the bill amends the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to allow for the grant of 13 further areas of Aboriginal land. Granting these parks and reserves will enable the government to finalise an agreement struck in September 2003 between the Northern Territory government and the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land. It is consistent with the government’s approach of resolving Indigenous land claims by agreement, wherever possible, and not through the courts. As a result, the 13 parks and reserves will be operated as national parks to provide long-lasting enjoyment for all Australians.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.