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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21776


Mr TOLLNER (5:21 PM) —Three weeks ago I attended the official opening of the Karawa centre, the new Larrakia Nation headquarters, at Darwin International Airport. It was an occasion that highlighted the achievements of the Larrakia people, traditional occupiers of the land where Darwin and Palmerston now stand. A few years ago the Larrakia people were a diversified people of major family groups integrated within the broader population of Darwin and in danger of losing their cultural individuality and traditions. Today, due to the hard work of a number of their leaders—and support from the CLP Northern Territory government, the current Territory government, ATSIC and other organisations—they are re-establishing their identity and presence in the greater Darwin area. There are a number of different projects with that aim.

The new premises is the centre for a wide range of cultural and social initiatives, including—with the help of our Work for the Dole funding—cultural activities like canoe making, arts and crafts manufacture and sales, a plant nursery, and markets. A Larrakia cultural awareness project is commencing at the Northern Territory museum. It will include arts and crafts, dance, story telling and guided walks. The Larrakia are also tackling the social issues affecting them. The Karawa premises include offices for Larrakia aged care and the itinerants program for Darwin and Palmerston. This latter program is a direct approach to a problem that is all too familiar to many Darwin and Palmerston residents: public drunkenness and misbehaviour. Initiatives include a community day patrol, meaning early intervention in and around the streets of the cities; a day facility, providing alternatives for those living the itinerant lifestyle—`long-grassers' as we call them; and accommodation options for those who need them.

Larrakia leaders such as chairman of the Larrakia Development Corporation, Kelvin Costello; chair of the finance committee, Richard Barnes Koolpinyah; employment and training committee chair, Barbara Tapsell; ex-board member and tireless work-er for the Larrakia, Bill Risk; a recently deceased member of the Cubillo family, who I shall not name out of respect for tradition; and a number of other family heads deserve the Top End community's acknowledgement and thanks for their hard work in re-establishing the Larrakia as an entity and force for good. These cultural and social initiatives are necessarily underpinned by economic advances for the Larrakia in the past few years, which are very much integrated into the future development of the Darwin and Palmerston communities. The first of these was the agreement between the previous Territory CLP government, Larrakia representatives and ConocoPhillips for the purchase of land at Wickham Point, alongside Darwin Harbour, for the LNG plant to process gas from the Bayu-Undan gas field in the Timor Sea.

A second economic opportunity for the Larrakia people was an agreement between the CLP government and the Larrakia people, with assistance from the Northern Land Council, over land that was to be compulsorily acquired for the further development of a Palmerston residential estate. The agreement, finalised in December 2001, has allowed stalled urban development to go ahead. Native title claims over some of the land were withdrawn and native title rights were waived over a sporting complex, as were objections to the compulsory acquisition. Today the Darla project, as it is known, has seen 50 residential lots developed and a second stage of some 59 lots is under way. These economic initiatives are being followed up with the identification of training, apprenticeship and job opportunities for Larrakia people.

In summary, the Larrakia are re-establishing not just their identity and cultural practices but also their collective economic interest and investment in their homeland—Darwin and Palmerston. The Larrakia have commenced a journey that will see them establish greater economic independence, and that is a good result both for them and for the whole community in my electorate of Solomon. This is, as they say, a good news story. However it would be a dereliction of my duty in recording this story in the House if I were to fail to mention the concerns that some Larrakia people still have about the domination of the Northern Land Council over their affairs. The work of the Northern Land Council in enabling these beneficial developments deserves recognition and the appreciation of all those involved. However it must be said that, in this case and in other instances where the multi-million dollar Northern Land Council heads up negotiations on behalf of Aboriginal groups, there are considerable reservations among traditional owners about the power and control the land council wields in enabling such projects.

The Larrakia Development Corporation, the business arm of the Larrakia, is a creature of the NLC. The sole shareholder of the Larrakia Development Corporation is the Northern Land Council. The board members of the Larrakia Development Corporation are chosen by the NLC as the sole shareholder. The NLC says that, following a future Federal Court determination of native title holders being finalised, the acknowledged native title holders may replace the NLC as shareholder. However the NLC is quick to add that `some things may be difficult to change because they are fundamental to the LDC's structure; for example, its charitable qualities.' This expressed reservation catches my attention because it is clear today that the big land councils in the Northern Territory have gone to considerable lengths to defend and perpetuate their existence and their total control over moneys that flow to them from the public purse.

One of the ways this has been done is by establishing combinations of Aboriginal corporations and charitable trusts that put their financial affairs beyond the scrutiny of the public, the government and even traditional landowners. It may be that these arrangements result in outcomes for Aboriginal Territorians that are both beneficial and could not occur without this cloak of corporate secrecy. It could also be that moneys are being misused. Only a few people on the boards of particular Aboriginal investment corporations and charitable trusts know the answer, and they have consistently refused to lift the veil on how hundreds of thousands of dollars a year—millions over the past decade—are being utilised and to what purpose. While I am putting on the record my congratulations to those, including those on the Northern Land Council, who have been instrumental in revitalising the Larrakia nation, I also place on the record my determination to see greater accountability and transparency in the future work of the big land councils in the Northern Territory.

The Northern Land Council has been audited twice in the past 12 years. The financial audit in 1992 found embarrassing irregularities and the performance audit of last year found that there were no performance targets in place, so it was impossible to report on whether the land councils were meeting them. Land council administration costs have gobbled up about 50 per cent of the mining royalty equivalents money. Only about 12 per cent, after discounting ABA money spent by the land councils on pastoral property acquisitions, has gone to grants for the benefit of Aboriginal people in the Territory.

In other words, Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory have been ripped off over the past 20 years by at least $50 million by the very bureaucracy which is charged with looking after their interests. For Aboriginal Territorians who find themselves locked up in their traditional lands relying on welfare payments it is time, as Northern Territory minister Jack Ah Kit has said, for land councils to work proactively towards engaging Aboriginal territory with private enterprise and economic development.

The land rights act in the Northern Territory was well intentioned, but it has created some considerable unforeseen consequences. The land rights act must be seen for what it is—a rights act which attempts to create a prehistoric preserve of Aboriginality within the Northern Territory. The big land councils must be seen for what they are—members of a culturally inappropriate, administratively highcost, politically contaminated, vested interest regime which is arguably at risk of financial corruption and which has overseen the diversion of funds for Aboriginal benefit into administrative expenses and selective individual benefits. In conclusion, I congratulate the Larrakia people and their leaders for their achievements over the past few years but restate my long-held view that economic development for Aboriginal Territorians should be, where public moneys are involved, fully accountable and placed under the control of those who stand to benefit from such developments upon their land. (Time expired)