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Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Page: 13961


Ms BURNEY (Barton) (18:41): I rise to support the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2018 and the second reading amendment moved by the member for Lingiari, whose speech I listened to. It is very clear to me that the member for Lingiari has a very deep understanding of the importance of this piece of legislation and, importantly, an incredibly deep understanding of the concept of land when it comes to First Nations people, which, of course, is a very important thing to understand, as it underpins the very nature of this piece of legislation.

The concept of landownership to First Nations peoples is very different to the concept of ownership in the broader Australian community. When I am speaking to young people in schools, I often explain to them that the ownership of land is different. The way that I describe it is: 'The land is your mother and you wouldn't hurt your mother, would you? You wouldn't throw rubbish at her, you wouldn't hurt her or make her sad or upset.' Of course, little kids go, 'Well, of course we wouldn't!' That's very much the way in which I try and impart the importance of land, our mother who gives birth to you, and it's important to understand this when we're talking about this piece of legislation.

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 sets out a scheme for the claiming, granting, control and management of Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. The schedules in this bill set out what pieces of land we're actually talking about: Kakadu, Urapunga, Anthony Lagoon and others that I'm sure the member for Lingiari has referred to. It's important that we understand that there is an enormous amount of legislation that has been introduced in this House, and much of it will not be dealt with in the course of the life of the present government before we move to caretaker and election mode. But this, as the member for Lingiari has pointed out, I know is one piece of legislation that we do have to deal with because it involves the handing back of particularly significant pieces of land to Aboriginal communities.

I note from my reading of the bill a couple of days ago in relation to Kakadu—I'm not quite sure if it refers to the other pieces of land—that it's a lease back arrangement so that everyone can enjoy that remarkable piece of Australia. This joint ownership, for want of a better term, is, of course, the model that's used at Uluru and in a number of other places as well, as with one of the big national parks in the very west of the state of New South Wales. It's really important because it means that whilst land is transferred to First Nations communities, it is recognised that in some instances joint ownership can be established.

This bill provides mechanisms for granting land to traditional owners, and, as I said, this bill adds areas subject to traditional land claims in Kakadu, Urapunga and Anthony Lagoon. This bill strengthens the recognition of traditional lands, and I have spoken about the importance of lands and what it means in terms of Aboriginal culture. I think the other thing that's really important is that the shape and the concept and the laws in those lands come from Aboriginal spirituality—what people might refer to as the Dreaming—and that makes these laws and these concepts of land incredibly ancient; more ancient than anywhere else on this blue planet. For me, that's a really important point that brings Australia together. I say to people that this is not just my culture; this is not just for the purview of Aboriginal people. This is the heritage and the inheritance of all of us that share Australia as home, and I think that's really important.

In the significance of land in acknowledging country, we acknowledge the truth of this land as well: that this was and always will be Aboriginal land. And there is nothing to fear in the broader Australian community from that very statement of fact. When you think of human occupation in Australia, which goes back—well, we've dated it to 60,000 years, and we know that it's much older than that, and that will come out over time. What an incredible inheritance for all of us. What a wonderful, wonderful thing that we in this nation can say is part of our background and part of our traditions. I think it's a great gift to all of us in this country.

For 60,000 years, First Nations people lived harmoniously with the land and the sea. I will never forget, as a young Aboriginal woman, going out to Brewarrina. I'd never seen the fish traps at Brewarrina on the—Barwon? I think the Barwon is the river that runs through Brewarrina—it's probably not running very much at the moment. And it just bowled me over because it said—and I'd never really thought it very much before—that these are man-made structures that are tens of thousands of years old that still work today in terms of trapping the fish in that part of the world. And they are such a marvel to see, and still intact.

This land, of course, is the source of life, culture and spirit. The Bringing them home report, which I just spoke about in the Federation Chamber, was such an important report for all of us in this country. For me, the Bringing them home report was the report into the stolen generations but it actually drew a line in the sand where no-one in this country could say anymore, 'I didn't know the history.' It was a remarkable point in terms of doing that but it also gave us the recommendations that led, of course, to the apology and all that flowed from that. But the Bringing them home report did something else: it talked about the connection between land, family, identity and biology, and there were no other reports that had done that previously. We had previous to the Bringing them home report, of course, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which was also groundbreaking because that for the first time looked at the circumstances and life experiences of those deaths that were examined in that report. This connection of family, identity, biology and land is vital, and it is because of this link that the full Federal Court concluded that the only persons entitled to claim native title are those who can show biological descent from the Indigenous peoples entitled to enjoy the land under the law and customs of their own clan or group.

With the land came unique and secret traditions known only by members of the traditional community, practised for generations. It is really difficult to articulate the significance and importance that land represents to First Nations peoples, and the way in which the land determines how we act, how we treat each other, how we treat other people and, in fact, how the land itself was formed. It is really important to understand that. I've often spoken to, again, small children about—you have the creation stories within the Bible—the Dreaming stories, which are also creation stories and just as important, just as significant. You can just see the penny drop when you explain it in that way.

I'm not going to mention everything in the bill—I know the member for Lingiari and other members have spoken about it—but I will talk about Kakadu. This bill will add areas subject to land claims in Kakadu. I know that's incredibly important. The traditional owners of Kakadu are the Bininj people and the—how do you say that, Member for Lingiari?

Mr Snowdon: Mirarr.

Ms BURNEY: Mirarr people. There are a number of clan groups within the Kakadu area. This is a complex system of kinship, and, of course, it is also where there is a large gathering every year of many peoples from across this country. It determines this kinship system of how people relate to each other and how they relate to the land. It also goes to issues of the totem system, and that refines your personal responsibilities as a First Nations person to parts of the land and animals living on that land.

In 1981, Kakadu National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List. I'm not sure if many people have been there but it is just a spectacular place. It is subject to eight other international agreements, which function to protect, through our international obligations, the diverse wildlife which exists in the 683,000 hectares of Kakadu.

The bill also adds areas in the town of Urapunga that are subject to the Township of Urapunga Indigenous Land Use Agreement. The Urapunga community is located in the Roper Bar region on traditional lands, of course. Anthony Lagoon is also specifically mentioned in the schedule of the bill. The bill adds areas subject to traditional land claims in Anthony Lagoon, the site of one of our largest cattle stations, located in the Barkly Tablelands—home of the Warumungu people. These lands are among some of the most culturally significant lands for First Nations people.

I do briefly want to speak on the second reading amendment moved by my colleague the member for Lingiari. It is indeed disappointing that this bill was passed 12 months ago and is only being considered before this parliament now. Despite the bipartisan support that has been given to this bill, the government has failed to pass it until today. Traditional owners deserve to have their claims settled in a timely fashion. Justice delayed is justice denied. In many ways, the government dragging its feet on this bill seems to sum up the government's attitude towards First Nations affairs and its agenda for First Nations affairs—half-hearted, lethargic and underwhelming.

Labor is genuinely committed to a sincere and equal partnership with First Nation Australians. For too long First Nations people have been legislated to and not legislated with, which is why we are so supportive of establishing a constitutionally recognised voice to the parliament. This is a fundamental philosophical difference between us and the government. If we want to genuinely heal the injustices of the past, the answers will be found in listening to First Nations people.

In closing, I'll just reiterate the points that I have made. Labor will support this bill. We want to see these hand backs happen. We want to see the processes that will take place once the hand backs happen. And I reiterate once again: there is nothing to fear from this kind of legislation. It is inclusive, it's embracive and it is also doing the right thing by First Nations Australians.