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Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Page: 882

Senator SCULLION (6:39 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 is an important piece of legislation that will enable the Indigenous people of Cape York to use or develop their land as any other land holder may.  Land is one of the greatest assets that Cape York and indeed many Indigenous people have yet they are unable to use this asset as the basis of economic opportunity for themselves and for future generations.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had their legal rights as our first Australians recognised through a long process that has delivered land rights and Native title rights.  I am a firm believer that the recognition of rights over land ownership should be the start of Indigenous involvement in land and sea based economic activity.

Unfortunately the recognition of these rights has been viewed by some as the end of the struggle.

Our first Australians have steadily won land ownership only to see this land steadily locked up as national parks and reserves.  Right across Australia it has been a growing practice to award native title rights over tracts of land only to immediately have the government of the day declare the land a park or reserve.

This is the effect of the Queensland Wild Rivers Act.  Land that could be subject to development has been converted into a park, or in this case a Wild Rivers conservation zone, preventing our first Australians from pursuing economic developments.

One of the greatest challenges we as members of parliament face in the area of Indigenous policy is putting in place legislation that ensures Aboriginal people have the same or equitable economic opportunities that other Australians enjoy.  I recognise that the land has a spiritual or cultural value to Indigenous people, however it also has an economic value.  The Queensland wild rivers legislation may preserve the cultural value, but it will deny forever any economic value to the Aboriginal land holders in Cape York.

In introducing similar legislation in the other place on the 8 Feb 2010, Mr Abbott reflected on comments made by the Prime Minister during the historic apology two years ago.  In that speech the Prime Minister said:

“… unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong”.

Mr Abbott stated: “In making that statement, the Prime Minister was absolutely right: unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong.  Yet, paradoxically, on the same day that the Rudd government subscribed to the International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Bligh government in Queensland applied the wild rivers legislation to the significant rivers of Cape York—effectively blocking Aboriginal people from developing their land in the catchments of the Archer, Stewart and Lockhart rivers in Cape York.”

This bill, the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010, will restore the economic potential of the Cape York land covered by the Queensland wild rivers legislation to Cape York Aboriginal people.  By exercising the powers under section 51(xxvi) of the Constitution, this parliament has the ability to make laws for the people of any race.  We as a parliament should support this bill and pass laws to ensure that the Indigenous people of Cape York are given back their birthright in respect of their land.

Environmental laws that protect the unique biodiversity values of regions in Australia are important and must be enacted.  The price paid to enact these laws in respect to loss of economic potential or supporting conservation initiatives must be born equally by all Australians.  The cost of the Queensland wild rivers legislation is not born equally.  It is manifestly born by Aboriginal land owners.  That must not be permitted to remain in place.

We have also moved on as a nation from holding a belief that conservation management and sustainable land use are somehow mutually exclusive.  

Encouraging and supporting our first Australians to create economic activity and opportunities through sustainable land use for future generations is an ideal that we as Senators must fully embrace.  By supporting this objective we must move beyond the symbolic and deliver the practical.  Our First Australians are not asking for some special right to use their land.  They are simply expecting to be able exercise the same rights as any other Australian.

Our First Australians do not want paternalistic governments to control their interests, they want to participate in and contribute to our economy.  If parts of their land hold special biodiversity or cultural values then they should be protected.  Aboriginal people do not dispute this.  In fact as I said earlier Indigenous Australians have very strong ties to the land and want these aspects protected.  The key issue is that they must have the right to decide on the use of their land under the same rules and regulations as any other Australian.

Mr Abbott did not raise the issue of the impact of the Queensland wild rivers legislation upon Cape York Indigenous land to attack the QLD government.  He raised the issue and I introduce this legislation today because Indigenous people right across Australia, and in Cape York in particular deserve the right to develop their land.  They do not deserve to always have their land locked up as national parks or reserves.

I urge all Senators to support this bill and by doing so, provide economic opportunities for our first Australians in Cape York.

Senator SCULLION —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.