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Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Page: 13956


Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (18:20): I rise to speak on Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Land Scheduling) Bill 2018. This bill amends the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. It adds 3,105 hectares of land within Ammaroo Station to part 4 of schedule 1 of the act, allowing that land to be granted as Aboriginal land.

The 1976 act sets out a scheme for claiming and granting control and management of Aboriginal land by traditional Aboriginal owners in the Northern Territory. It provided two ways for land to be granted to traditional Aboriginal owners. The first way involved applying to the Aboriginal Land Commissioner seeking recognition of a group's traditional attachment to unalienated crown land. However, that avenue closed for new applications way back in 1997. The other method available is for parliament to add a description of the land to be granted to part 4 of schedule 1 of the act. The minister then establishes, by a notice published in the gazette, an Aboriginal Land Trust to hold the land and recommends that the Governor-General grant the land to the trust. This mechanism facilitates negotiated outcomes, obviously, and is not limited to unalienated crown land, but it requires parliamentary action, which is a long process.

It is this second method that the bill before the House facilitates. It will add about 3,000 hectares near Ammaroo Station, which is about 250 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs. This cumbersome method of giving effect to Indigenous land use agreements—or ILUAs, as they're called—is the subject of this bill. The Urapunga ILUA is an excellent example of the delays that this method, the only method still available under the original legislation, forces on traditional owners in the Northern Territory. The Urapunga ILUA was negotiated and agreed to by the parties in 2005. We've had about 27 prime ministers since then.

Legislation to add the land to schedule 1 of the act was introduced to parliament nearly 12 months ago. The Senate passed the amendments as the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2017. If this bill does not pass this House in the next few days, before the parliament is prorogued, there will still be further delays for the traditional owners. So the current scheme requires that parliament amend the primary text of the act by adding land to a schedule in order to grant land to traditional owners. Remember, the whole reason for the act is that the traditional owners have a strong and ongoing connection with that part of the world that they've probably called their own for 60,000 years, or 3,000 generations or so.

This cumbersome process is a legacy of the Fraser government's decision to restrict the application of the act to unalienated Crown lands and lands explicitly listed in the schedules. The Fraser government passed this act after the dismissal of the Whitlam government and the bill that the Whitlam government had introduced had lapsed. It has been suggested that this was done to protect existing land interests in the Northern Territory, particularly pastoral leaseholders, from any future claims. The Whitlam bill would have actually allowed the minister to create land trusts for land not explicitly included in the schedules. But that's not what was passed in the parliament, and we're left with this unwieldy scheme to grant land to traditional owners.

I remember when the Native Title Act was passed in 1993. I was studying law at the time, and it was of particular interest to many Queenslanders and to me as a law student. I remember the hysteria from some ill-informed quarters of the media—much of it in Queensland, I would say, but it was spread across the nation. It is fair to say that Paul Keating's Native Title Act was not universally welcome. However, it was passed by the Keating government in 1993 in response to the Mabo decision.

The previous year, Prime Minister Paul Keating had given that historic Redfern address, setting out some of the reasons why we needed to respond appropriately. Despite the alarmist rhetoric and the opposition from many political parties, the Keating government persisted. They consulted with state and territory governments, industry groups and Indigenous organisations. Can I say: the Queensland government was not particularly receptive. Remember, the Mabo legislation came from National Party and Labor governments opposing the proposal.

The draft legislation was introduced to parliament in 1993, and, I think, it passed just before that Christmas. There was a strong opposition to passing the Native Title Bill. The Liberal leader at the time, John Hewson, tried to block the bill. He called it a 'day of shame'. It's not that long ago, but he called it 'a day of shame'. John Hewson said:

The Mabo legislation that is being rammed through the Parliament by the Keating Government will be proved to be a disaster for Australia.

…   …   …

The Opposition will make the Government's unjust, divisive and damaging Mabo legislation a major issue right up until the next election.

And in another media article he said, 'It is a raw deal that will disadvantage the great majority of Australians.' In fact, I'm holding up a clipping from the Northern Territory Newsnot a paper I'm overly familiar with, but they do some great Twitter work! The headline is, 'Politics of fear.' That's from 10 November 1993. That editorial really sums up the turmoil that the native title debate was causing in coalition ranks. I will just quote a couple of paragraphs:

The coalition's leadership jitters almost certainly reflect national doubts and confusion about the proposed native title legislation.

The issue is dividing the two quite opposite philosophies and political camps in the Coalition—the radical conservatives and the traditional liberals.

That editorial concludes with the following observation about the politics of the early nineties in Australia:

The catalyst now is Mabo, but in its absence, it would have been something else - economic policy, labour reform, foreign affairs, immigration or any of a number of juicy issues just waiting to be picked up.

But Mabo it is, because the issue is visible, controversial and potentially explosive.

Of course it will be argued that the Coalition should adopt a statesman-like position to native title.

Nice but unrealistic. After all, the Coalition would say, there was not much statesmanship on Labor's part about tax reform during the last election. Fear works both ways. That's politics.

There were reports at the time saying that Liberals were circulating a map of Australia showing almost half the nation claimed by native title. A fear campaign was everywhere.

On the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Native Title Act, former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett conceded that his fears that suburban backyards could be put at risk were completely unfounded. He is reported as saying in 2002:

I think that like many others, I was trying to deal with something that was new, that was undefined.

Paul Keating, to his great credit, was very brave. He didn't listen to the hysteria and he believed that the Australian people wouldn't listen either, which was a brave call. The passage of the Native Title Act may be one of Labor's greatest legacies. I am proud to belong to a political party that is brave. Sometimes, in a marginal seat, I think we're too brave, but I'm proud to be a part of that party; a party that will choose the right path even in the face of intense scaremongering. The Labor Party is a party that cares for all Australians; a party that has a good, solid moral core.

I wish I could say that things have changed so much since 1993. But, sadly, that hysterical editorial could have been written last week. It could have been written today. The Prime Minister and his senior ministers were, just last week in this parliament, peddling fear and division over a bill that was passed by our democratically elected parliament to give the sickest people in our care the medical treatment that they need. Let's remember, that's what we said: we'll give the sickest people in our care medical treatment. And yet we see this great big fear campaign—the fear machine. It's cheap politics, and, as the member for Lilley said in his wonderful valedictory speech today, the Australian public deserves better. It didn't do John Hewson any good way back in 1993 and I hope it won't do the current Prime Minister any good when it comes to the 2019 election. The Australian people have big hearts—not the pea hearts that we've seen standing opposite us at the dispatch box over the last couple of question times.

A final note on the current bill before the House: since the Native Title Act was passed, parliamentary action to grant land by amending schedule 1 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 has become much more common, as mentioned by earlier speakers. Native title holders in the Northern Territory have agreed to surrender native title over land in exchange for the greater security of tenure provided by land rights title under the act. Maybe it's time to make it easier for traditional owners to have their settled land claims progressed in a timely fashion. As I said, the current piece of legislation started back in the early noughties.

Having to negotiate the passage of a bill through parliament each time an ILUA has been negotiated is inefficient. It is not fair to the traditional owners, and it's a wasteful use of parliamentary resources. It's time we fixed this, and the government should accept the amendment proposed by Labor, by the member for Lingiari, and seconded by me, allowing traditional owners to have their land claims progressed in a timely fashion. Aboriginal matters will be dealt with for them and by them. Surely it is time.