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Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Page: 13953


Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt) (18:09): I rise to support this bill, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2018. In my role as the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia, I am acutely aware of the challenges Indigenous Australian face, particularly with regard to home ownership. This bill demonstrates the government's commitment to recognising traditional Aboriginal ownership of land and to finalising land claims in the Northern Territory which have remained unresolved for decades. It delivers on the government's election commitment to work with Indigenous landowners to ensure their land rights deliver the economic opportunities that should come from owning your own land. This bill also gives practical effect to our commitment to working in partnership with Indigenous Australians.

The government is committed to the recognition of Indigenous land through statutory land rights and native title, and we are working with traditional owners and land councils to make sure these claims are resolved as soon as possible. This bill adds areas in Kakadu, Urapunga and Anthony Lagoon to schedule 1 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 so the land can be granted as Aboriginal land. In the Kakadu region, the bill also provides for the leaseback of the Kakadu land to the Director of National Parks. This covers an area of around 973,300 hectares. The land claims were lodged between 1984 and 1997. While they remain unresolved, there are statutory limitations on dealing with the land. This has constrained potential developments in one of Australia's iconic tourism destinations and added a layer of complexity to the joint management arrangements in place between traditional Aboriginal owners and the director.

The bill also adds areas in the town of Urapunga that are subject to the Township of Urapunga Indigenous Land Use Agreement, Urapunga land, to schedule 1 of the land rights act so that the Urapunga land can be granted as Aboriginal land. This covers around 73 hectares in area and is adjacent to existing Aboriginal land granted under the land rights act. Scheduling this land supports the implementation of a registered native title Indigenous land use agreement entered into by the Northern Territory and the native title parties. It continues to deliver on the government's commitment to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to support the resolution of land claims and provide opportunities for Indigenous Australians to harness the opportunities that come with owning their own land.

The bill also adds an area in the Barkly region, Anthony Lagoon land, to schedule 1 of the land rights act so that the Anthony Lagoon land can be granted as Aboriginal land. This is approximately 603 hectares in the Barkly region of the Northern Territory. The parties in this case have agreed on a land swap arrangement to finalise the claim. This supports improved access to the Tablelands Highway and proximity to relevant sacred sites.

The coalition government is committed to working with Indigenous landowners to ensure that their land rights deliver the economic opportunities that should come with owning your own land, and we are committed to working in partnership with Indigenous Australians. This bill is yet another example of this. We are working directly with traditional owners and land councils to make sure outstanding land claims are resolved as soon as possible.

Native title is an agreement where we as a nation recognise traditional owners of land and water, a recognition of pre-existing rights that for so long was denied to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Forty-six per cent of all land in Australia is now Indigenous land, including 12 per cent as exclusive native title. Excitingly, there are now more native title determinations than applications. But the fight to achieve native title does not end the challenge. For too long, traditional owners in various corners of the country have had their aspirations for development blocked, plans for employment and economic opportunities stifled by outside interests and traditional owners have not been able to make the decisions that they want for their land. Previous governments didn't provide traditional owners and landholders with the support needed, and non-Indigenous organisations and advocates flew in and acted in their best interests. The coalition government won't stand for that kind of approach. The government is committed to working with native title holders so that they can make decisions about their own land.

The coalition government is committed to building the long-term capacity of native title holders and prescribed bodies corporate, or PBCs as they are known, so that native title can deliver benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including economic independence. We work with local communities and representative bodies to create opportunity to give people choice about how they use their land, supporting economic development and employment across Australia. We recognise that native title holders are increasingly where the focus must be and that is why we are providing for the first time funding to the native title holders, to help them manage their land and participate in development.

The coalition government is investing over $20 million through the prescribed body corporates' capacity-building fund, ensuring native title holders have a seat at the table and can pursue the economic development opportunities that they actually want to. This funding is also being used to develop a broader support work that will focus on training and support, improved access to information and expertise, and regional forums that allow engagement between governments and the PBCs.

In my electorate, at Hope Vale, the government is investing $110,000 in the Hope Vale Congress Aboriginal Corporation so landholders can have the expertise and support to negotiate with big mining companies and to make informed decisions about the economic opportunities that can come from their land. Across the state of Queensland, the coalition government is supporting prescribed bodies corporate or PBCs. In the Mt Isa region, for example, the government is investing over $685,000 to build the governance of board members to support traditional decision-making and to help traditional owners take advantage of emerging opportunities from development of a new shale gas industry—supporting traditional owners to access the support and expertise they need to have the driving seat at the decision-making table so that they can negotiate the best outcome for their communities and for their land. On Fraser Island, this government is investing $288,000 in the Batchelor Aboriginal Corporation, enabling native title holders to pursue economic development and take advantage of tourism opportunities, ensuring tourism investment goes directly to those affected communities.

This funding supports the PBC to develop a system of active statutory fee-charging powers, providing a source of income and providing the opportunity for sustainability. This is on top of the $92 million that the government is providing this year to support native title representative bodies so service providers can progress native title claims. The coalition is committed to improving the benefits traditional owners should be able to leverage from owning their own land and we have to wake up land rights. The coalition government is working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to support local decision-making process, ensuring local communities have the resources and the authority to support what they actually want.

The areas in the Kakadu region that are included in this bill comprise about 50 per cent of the total area of Kakadu National Park, approximately 973,300 hectares. The balance of the park, other than that of the Jabiru township, is already Aboriginal land under the land rights act, subject to leaseback arrangements with the director and the formal joint management with traditional owners. This has been a very successful model for many, many years. The parties of the land claims have agreed to settle the claim on the basis that Kakadu land being scheduled for grant is Aboriginal land under the land rights act on the condition of an immediate leaseback of Kakadu land to the director. In January this year, the coalition government announced the significant $216 million investment to update Kakadu National Park and support Jabiru's transition to a tourism based economy. This announcement follows negotiations between the Australian government, the Northern Territory government, the Mirrar traditional owners and Energy Resources of Australia.

Kakadu is one of Australia's most important environmental and heritage assets, one of our biggest tourism icons and the home to 60,000 years of living Indigenous culture. Through this investment, we want to make sure that Kakadu and Jabiru and all the residents and jobs they support are set for the future. The government is developing a detailed plan for our investment which will be spread over the next 10 years, consistent with our long-term commitment for the future of Jabiru and Kakadu.

Creating economic and business opportunities for Indigenous Australians is the key to empowering communities to take charge of their own affairs and close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage. My role as the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia has given me an insight into some of the challenges these communities face on a daily basis. However, one thing I've found time and time again is that when people work together great things can certainly be achieved. I commend this bill to the House.