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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1018

Senator McLUCAS (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) (11:30 AM) —I would like to thank senators for their contributions to the debate on the Native Title Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2010. Improving housing and reducing overcrowding in Indigenous communities is key to the government’s efforts to close the gap by reducing Indigenous disadvantage. To this end, COAG has committed $5.5 billion over 10 years to deliver much needed Indigenous housing in remote Indigenous communities across Australia. The proposed amendments would enable housing and infrastructure to be built in Indigenous communities on Indigenous-held land where native title may exist, after appropriate consultation with native title parties. The bill’s coverage of housing and associated infrastructure, including staff housing, represents a holistic approach, which recognises that community health and wellbeing depend on the availability of all of these public services.

The new process gives native title parties an opportunity to provide input into the design and delivery of urgently needed housing and public infrastructure, and flexibility to choose the level of consultation that is appropriate. In this way the new process balances proper consultation with the need to ensure public housing and infrastructure projects proceed in a timely and certain way. The non-extinguishment principle, compensation and consultation mechanisms provided in the bill will ensure that any native title rights are not adversely affected in the long term. The bill’s sunset period of 10 years provides an incentive to state and territory governments to deliver on housing and infrastructure commitments in a timely manner, in accordance with national partnership agreements on remote Indigenous housing and remote service delivery.

I would now like to address some of the specific comments raised by senators, particularly the point raised by Senator Siewert concerning evidence to demonstrate the need for the amendments in the act. It is often unclear whether native title exists over a particular community and whether the provision of housing and public infrastructure will trigger the need to comply with native title processes. There is also uncertainty about which of the existing future act processes would apply. There is a risk that this will create delays in deciding how to progress a project, leading to the adoption of cumbersome and lengthy procedures in an abundance of caution.

State governments advise that native title issues are likely to delay their ability to provide housing and infrastructure. Their experience has shown that delays in negotiating Indigenous Land Use Agreements can hold up delivery of public housing and infrastructure in Indigenous communities, and has the real potential to be a barrier to meeting targets under the COAG National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.

In conclusion, this bill facilitates the delivery of the government’s unprecedented funding commitment to improve housing and reduce overcrowding in Indigenous communities. It does this by ensuring that vital investment in housing and community infrastructure proceeds expeditiously and in a manner consistent with the government’s commitment to work in partnership with Indigenous Australians. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.