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Thursday, 10 February 2011
Page: 461

Senator SCULLION (12:05 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—

This bill, the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011, is the reintroduction of a bill of the same name that passed the Senate on the 22 June 2010. That previous bill lapsed prior to consideration in the House of Representatives when parliament was dissolved prior to the 2010 general election.

This bill is an important piece of legislation that will enable the Indigenous people of Cape York, the Queensland gulf region and other regions of Queensland, to use or develop their land as any other land holder may. Land is one of the greatest assets that most 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.

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 practice of denying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the right to control the future use, development or even protection of their land directly contradicts the very intent of both the Land Rights and Native Title acts.

It could even be concluded that denying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people control over their land is to deny their very birth right.

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.

When the bill was previously before the Senate it was subject to a full Senate committee enquiry. The committee report’s findings remain applicable to this current bill as it is similar in content and application.

The Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011, will restore the economic potential of land subject to declarations and assessment under the Queensland wild rivers legislation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 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 senators should again support this bill and pass laws to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are given back their birthright in respect of their land.

The bill does not over turn the Queensland Wild Rivers Legislation. The protections, provisions and application of the Queensland legislation remain except for the requirement that all existing Wild Rivers declarations are re negotiated and consent from traditional owners is obtained in order for the declaration to be ratified. If consent is not obtained then the declaration would be revoked.

Additionally all new Wild Rivers proposals must have traditional owner consent prior to a declaration being made.

Environmental laws that protect the unique biodiversity values of specific 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 then be shared equally by all Australians. The cost of the Queensland wild rivers legislation is not shared 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.

I urge all senators to continue to stand side by side with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Australians and support their right in exercising control over their land by supporting the passage of this bill.

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

Leave granted; debate adjourned.