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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1012

Senator SCULLION (11:06 AM) —I rise to provide the coalition’s support for the Native Title Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2010. The bill is designed to overcome the uncertainties and delays that are associated with land tenure and ownership in Aboriginal communities in the construction of housing and associated infrastructure.

This bill is the reintroduction of a bill entitled the Native Title Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2009, which was passed by the House of Representatives on 24 November 2009. The bill was introduced into the Senate on 26 November 2009 and lapsed at the end of the last parliament. I note that the previous bill was listed for debate on a number of occasions earlier in the year, even granted non-controversial status in this place, yet it was not debated or passed. Given that housing overcrowding and the poor state of much of the essential infrastructure in remote Aboriginal communities have been identified as directly contributing to poor health outcomes and high levels of social dysfunction, it is a disgrace that the government has not been able or willing to remove any impediments that would prevent the construction of housing and associated infrastructure.

The bill establishes a new subdivision within the future acts regime of the Native Title Act. The new subdivision in schedule 1 provides a process to assist the timely construction of public housing and a limited class of public facilities by or on behalf of the Crown, a local government body or other statutory authority of the Crown in any of its capacities, for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders in communities on Indigenous held land. Unfortunately, the current construction timetable for housing in Indigenous communities could not be described as timely.

This new process ensures that the representative Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander body and any registered native title claimants and registered native title bodies corporate in relation to the area of land or waters are notified and afforded an opportunity to comment on acts which could affect native title—that is, future acts. In addition, a registered native title claimant or registered native title body corporate may request to be consulted regarding the doing of a proposed future act so far as it affects their registered native title rights and interests. The bill specifically states that native title is not extinguished under this act. The non-extinguishment principle applies, ensuring native title can revive if the act ceases to have effect. The subdivision also provides for compensation for any impact on native title rights and interests.

The new provisions in the act will operate for 10 years. This 10-year period is designed to match the 10-year funding period under current national partnership agreements between the Commonwealth and the states and territories on remote Indigenous housing and remote service delivery. Unfortunately, the national partnership agreement has already been in place for two years, having been announced in November 2008. In the Northern Territory, the SIHIP agreement has been going for 2½ years and was originally to end in 2011. Given that only 85 of the promised 750 new houses have been constructed in the Northern Territory to date, it is obvious that the 10-year time frame for the act will now be necessary, as Labor’s housing program has easily slipped by two years, if not more.

In the previous Prime Minister’s apology speech to the stolen generations, Kevin Rudd promised to address the chronic housing shortages experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Like most of this government’s history, sadly the outcomes have failed to live up to the promises. The passage of this bill will remove a possible issue that could further delay housing and infrastructure construction. It remains, as it always has, for this Labor government to move from words to actions and to build much needed houses and essential infrastructure in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. I commend the bill to the Senate.