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Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Page: 13949


Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (17:48): I'm pleased to be able to speak to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2018. I want to make a number of observations, but, firstly, I'd ask the question: why aren't we also debating conjointly another bill that gives scheduled land in the Northern Territory? It's the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Land Scheduling) Bill 2018, which relates to land at Ammaroo, north-east of Alice Springs.

I propose to move an amendment and I'll move it now. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that:

(1) this bill was introduced into the Parliament nearly 12 months ago;

(2) despite the bipartisan support for the bill, the Government has until today failed to progress the legislation; and

(3) traditional owners deserve to have their settled land claims progressed in a timely fashion".

I live in Lingiari, obviously. My seat is in the Northern Territory, and all the Aboriginal lands under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act are in my electorate. Prior to coming to the parliament, my job was policy adviser at the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, dealing with the administration of the land rights act and matters related to it. The director for whom I was working at the time is the now Senator Patrick Dodson. His brother Mick was working for the Northern Land Council at the time as a legal officer. I want to use this opportunity to say congratulations to Mick, Professor Dodson, on being announced as the treaty commissioner in the Northern Territory. He'll do a marvellous job. He was born in Katherine and is a Territorian of great note, and he has spent a lot of time representing the interests of Aboriginal people across this nation. He's well recognised nationally and internationally, and he'll do a great job. His brother Pat, of course, is a different kettle of fish. He's here, with us, thankfully, and I'm very pleased he's here. I'd hoped he'd be here some years earlier. I did try, but it wasn't to be. Thank the Lord he's here now, though, and I'm pleased to have him here as someone who's got wisdom and guides us all in one way or another.

So my background, coming into the parliament, was directly related to the land rights act. I understand the act and how it works, and I understand the aspiration that Aboriginal people have to gain control of the land for cultural and other purposes. Most particularly, it is to return the land to them so they can carry on their cultural and spiritual obligations as owners of that land. But it also provides an opportunity for development, for leveraging their ownership of the land for economic purposes, and I'll come to that in a little while.

But I do want to again make the observation that this legislation was in the parliament 12 months ago. Why have we waited so long? And, unless the Leader of Government Business cares to put the other bill, the land scheduling bill, forward and make sure we debate it tomorrow or the next day, we're unlikely to debate that bill in this parliament, which means that that land at Ammaroo will not be returned, and that would be a great shame. So I ask the government to prioritise that legislation. It won't take long. There's no dispute about it. We agree on it, as we do on this piece of legislation, but it's a shame that it's not here before us today.

I want to go into some detail on this legislation because I think it is important. The minister at the table has actually given a decent enough summary. The bill was initially presented in two schedules, but, since its introduction, the government has circulated an additional third schedule to list Anthony Lagoon lands in schedule 1 of the bill. The amendments add parcels of land within Kakadu National Park, the township of Urapunga and, in proposed amendments to the bill, Anthony Lagoon Station, to the listing of schedule 1 of the act, enabling them to be granted as Aboriginal land. Now, that's important because—for those who don't know—under the land rights act, land scheduled as Aboriginal land is inalienable freehold title. It's possibly the strongest title in the country. It cannot be bought, sold or transferred. It is inalienable. It is Aboriginal land forever. That's a really important recognition. Almost 50 per cent of the Northern Territory is Aboriginal land under the land rights act. That's important because it means Aboriginal people have security in terms of the land. It's a recognition of their historical dispossession, but at the same time it compensates for that dispossession by making sure that that land is inalienable freehold title.

I want to acknowledge that the land rights act was initially developed by the Whitlam government and then passed by the Fraser government in 1976. It's an important piece of legislation, something which, historically, is probably the high watermark of land rights legislation in this country and something which the parliament should be proud of. Noting that it was introduced by the Whitlam government and subsequently passed by the Fraser government is an important recognition of the bipartisan support it had at the time and, I think, continues to have.

There have been periods when it's been under threat. The Howard government, in particular, sought to review the land rights act and weaken its provisions. Some of you will recall—too many people here are a bit young and won't remember—that in the 1980s, during the period when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, there was a campaign for national land rights, which shamefully was scuppered because of the Labor Premier in Western Australia, Brian Burke. I remember vividly the depictions of Aboriginal land in advertisements during the campaign against national land rights by the Western Australian government. It was shameful. I was working at the land council at the time. We were concerned that national land rights as wanted by the Western Australian government would have undermined, weakened and taken away the rights of the land rights act in the Northern Territory. It would have been lowest common denominator politics. I well remember, when I was employed by them, working with now Senator Dodson and the Central Land Council, and Aboriginal people from across the Northern Territory coming to Canberra. We would lobby consistently. We were forever here lobbying the government not to pursue the Burke land rights legislation. Clive Holding, poor bugger—he's no longer with us, God rest his soul—was the minister at the time. It was a very difficult period. I remember well truckloads of Aboriginal people coming from Central Australia into Canberra, which we helped organise, to demonstrate on the front steps of the old Parliament House against the Labor government at the time and what they were proposing to do to the land rights act. So this is a very strong piece of legislation, which has withstood a lot of threats and attacks, and I think we need to be very proud that it's still here in this place and seen as something that is very important.

We've heard that the land is at Anthony Lagoon and Urapunga, and the minister referred to the four land claims inside Kakadu. It is well to remind us what those land claims are. One is the Ngombur (Repeat) Land Claim No. 93, first lodged with the Aboriginal Land Commissioner as far back as 23 November 1984. The second is the Alligator Rivers Area III (Gimbat and Goodparla) Land Claim No. 111, lodged with the land commissioner on 26 June 1987. The third is the Kakadu (Jim Jim) Area Land Claim No. 122, lodged with the Aboriginal Land Commissioner on 18 April 1989. The fourth is the Kakadu Region (Repeat) Land Claim No. 179, lodged with the Aboriginal Land Commissioner on 29 May 1997. The parties of the land claims have agreed to settle the claims on the basis of the Kakadu land being scheduled for grant as Aboriginal land under the land rights act, on the condition of an immediate leaseback of the Kakadu land to the director.

Just to understand what that's about, it's important that the context of the Kakadu land grant and the land claim is understood historically. You will recall—well, I'm not sure that too many people in this place will recall—that from 1975 to 1977 the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry coincided with the preparation for land rights legislation. Accordingly, Justice Fox was given the powers of a commissioner to examine land rights claims to the Kakadu area. Justice Fox found that Aboriginal groups had traditional land rights and endorsed a Northern Land Council suggestion that Kakadu be granted to traditional Aboriginal owners then leased back to the Commonwealth and declared a national park. That's what's happening here. This land is being granted and then leased back to the Commonwealth as a national park. Some areas were excised for the uranium mines: Ranger, associated with the town of Jabiru. This is important because the bulk of the current Aboriginal land within Kakadu is grants recommended by Justice Fox from the 2013 Jabiluka land grant.

The Kakadu National Park was extended from 1984, 1987, 1989 and 1991. It's important that that historical context is understood. It's not an accident of history. This is because of a deliberate decision by Aboriginal people in Kakadu, once they successfully claimed the land, to lease it back to the Commonwealth as a national park. In this piece of legislation:

New subsection 10(4) provides that, for the purposes of section 10, any estate or interest in the Kakadu Land that is held by the Director is to be taken to be an estate or interest held by the Crown in right of the Commonwealth.

The Director is the titleholder of four of the Kakadu Land parcels.

We need to appreciate what that means, because it's inevitable that, if you talk to most people around this country and if you'd listen to the threats, the hyperbole, the vividly wrong attacks that were made against the land rights act by people over time and the very emotional, hysterical campaign waged by Brian Burke about national land rights, you would understand that this land has been leased back to the Commonwealth as a national park for the benefit and enjoyment of all Australians and international visitors. It wasn't taken away. They didn't nick it off. They didn't sell it. They didn't try to get rid of it. They leased it back to the Commonwealth.

But now we're coming to a different period in the history of this region, and we need to appreciate what that means. It's time that the grants are being made now. Kakadu will be almost solely Aboriginal land under the land rights act, leased back as a national park as I've described. But we have the imminent closure of the Ranger mine and the issue around the Jabiru township and what should happen. And that's really quite important because now the Aboriginal traditional owners of that country want to do things to make sure that their interests in the long term are properly protected.

The Ranger mine has been operating in a small part of Kakadu for almost 40 years. In this time, the traditional owners, represented by the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, the Mirarr and the traditional owners in the south have achieved a robust regional governance capacity. In the case of Jabiru, the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation has led the design and promotion of the Jabiru vision for the future once the mine closes and the mining company has to relieve itself of its obligations. And recently we saw an announcement by Labor that a Labor government will invest $220 million in infrastructure and community development projects to dramatically improve Kakadu National Park as a tourist destination and secure the future of the township of Jabiru. This included, importantly, $100 million to upgrade four key access roads in Kakadu National Park itself to allow for as near as we can to all-around access. It also provided $44 million for environmental and national park infrastructure, $25 million for a new Kakadu visitor centre, $2.5 million to improve mobile connectivity in the park, $2.5 million for a new tourism master plan, $45 million to undertake urgent asbestos remediation in Jabiru township and $1 million for a new road strategy to be developed to improve safety on Kakadu's remote roads. These initiatives are really timely. I note that the government has put up proposals that are not quite of that magnitude but of similar type.

It's about time we understood that the Mirarr and the other traditional owners within the region are in a space now where they can take more control. It is perhaps timely—when we are thinking about the future of the national park, the role of the Director of National Parks, the national park itself and the joint management structure that's been put in place since inauguration of the park in the 1970s—that we look at the potential to review that joint management structure to potentially give Aboriginal people more control over their country. They have demonstrated time and time again their desire to work cooperatively and in partnership with the broader Australian community and the Australian government, but they want to make sure that their interests are clearly protected. Their cultural and spiritual obligations are immense. But they are the people with the deepest knowledge about that country, make no doubt about it. If that's the case, what we need to do is develop those relationships further so that they can maximise the economic benefits that can be derived from interest in the park as a World-Heritage-listed place for both its culture and its environmental values. Kakadu is a unique place.

I'm very pleased that we are finally dealing with this legislation, as critical as I am of the fact that it has taken us 12 months to do it. It is important. Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory value the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. I spoke before about the fact that we should be doing the Ammaroo grant today as well, but the Anthony Lagoon, Urapunga and the Kakadu National Park owners will be grateful to the parliament for progressing the legislation.

I just want to reinforce the fact, and underline it yet again, that this piece of legislation is extremely important. The Aboriginal Land Rights Act is what I'm referring to here. It's a very strong piece of legislation. Aboriginal people are not wont to change this legislation, I can tell you. Any government, any political party or any external interest group that believes it will have the capacity to influence people to change this legislation should think again. It has proven test of time. It has provided a really, really tremendous base upon which Aboriginal people can build their lives in the Northern Territory in a way in which they feel safe, culturally and spiritually. It provides them with the opportunity for further economic development and for the social development of their communities.

I might point out that the Mirarr need to be congratulated on the work that they have been doing. They funded their own boarding college in Jabiru. They are doing enormous work around the region to enhance the opportunities of young Aboriginal people for training, education and employment and are involved in making sure that their interests are being properly advanced.

I commend the bill to the House, although I would ask people who are speaking to this legislation to address the issues involved in our amendment, which make it very clear that we're not happy that this has taken so long. Aboriginal people should be treated with a great deal more respect. We introduced the bill 12 months ago. Why are we dealing with it today? It's not contentious; it was agreed, and yet it has taken us 12 months to do it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Howarth ): Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Perrett: I second the amendment.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Lingiari has moved as an amendment that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the amendment be agreed to. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.