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Wednesday, 27 September 1995
Page: 1879


Mr TICKNER (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) (10.31 a.m.) —I move:

  That the bill be now read a second time.

Before speaking to the Aboriginal Land Grant and Management (Jervis Bay Territory) Legislation Amendment Bill 1995, I acknowledge the presence of members of the Wreck Bay community in the gallery today. I share a very brief reflection that this proposal is one that we have seen through together since it was a glimmer in our eye or, perhaps, a dream. The bill is coming to fruition with a very large measure of cross-party support, which I welcome.

  The bill reflects the continuing commitment of this government to securing legitimate title to traditional lands on behalf of the Aboriginal people throughout Australia. The bill is a result of a wide acknowledgment of the significance of Jervis Bay to the local Aboriginal people and their strong work as a community in the area.

  The bill is modelled on the very successful and highly acclaimed Uluru National Park joint management arrangement. This arrangement recently won a prestigious award, the UNESCO Picasso Gold Medal, in recognition of the outstanding management and conservation of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park which has been achieved with the participation and support of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the area.

  The bill, once approved by parliament, has the potential to provide opportunities for non-indigenous Australians visiting the internationally renowned Jervis Bay to learn a great deal about the vibrant indigenous culture that has cared for these lands and waters for so many generations and will undoubtedly advance Australia's international standing through its demonstration of the government's commitment to indigenous joint management of such heritage areas.

  The bill also represents a significant step in the reconciliation process by formalising the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community's willingness to participate in an arrangement to utilise their lands and waters in the national park as a significant and properly planned cultural tourism destination. The bill embraces the progressive views of major environmental organisations in Australia that have responded to the concept of indigenous land management in such a positive way.

  Indeed, it should also be pointed out that the grant of these areas and associated joint management proposals have received wide public support, particularly from the local region, as is evidenced by an editorial in the Illawarra Mercury when the government first announced its intentions in October last year.

  The bill will enable title to such areas of the Jervis Bay National Park and the Jervis Bay Botanic Gardens that are of significance to the Aboriginals who are members of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community to be granted to the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council, where it is deemed appropriate.

  The bill is a step in the implementation by the Commonwealth of recommendation 315 of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which provides a comprehensive agenda for governments to address Aboriginal aspirations for involvement in national parks including the negotiation of lease-back arrangements which enable title to land on which national parks are situated to be transferred to Aboriginal owners, subject to the lease of the area to the relevant state or Commonwealth authority on payment of rent to the Aboriginal owners. The recommendation was endorsed by Commonwealth, state and territory governments in their response to the royal commission.

  The bill is based on the models successfully applied to the Uluru and Kakadu national parks in the Northern Territory. Under the bill, the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council will lease any land granted as a consequence of the amendments back to the director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

  I want to advise the House that, as a demonstration of the determination of this Aboriginal community to gain bipartisan and other party support for this important initiative recognising Aboriginal self-determination, supplementary amendments to the bill were moved by the Leader of the Australian Democrats in the other house during the second reading debate. These supplementary amendments are now supported by the government and, I believe, non-government parties. These amendments acknowledge the sensitive environments in Jervis Bay and provide a sound legislative basis for the sympathetic management of existing Aboriginal land similar to the Commonwealth's Jervis Bay National Park.

  The amended bill increases the functions of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council to enable the council, in consultation with the minister, to, where practicable, take action for the benefit of the community in relation to the housing, social welfare, education, training or health needs of the members of the community, and to provide community services. The amended bill provides the community with functions to protect and conserve natural and cultural sites, to engage in land use planning, to manage and maintain Aboriginal land and to conduct business enterprises for the economic or social benefit of the community. This will allow the community to enter negotiations with Commonwealth, state and other persons in the area about protection, conservation and planning issues relevant to the community.

  The amended bill will also give the council power to make by-laws and provides for a procedure for the making of those by-laws. The by-laws that the council makes will be disallowable instruments and will be required to be notified in the Gazette and laid before each house of the parliament within 15 sitting days after receipt by the minister. The amended bill will allow the council to make by-laws with respect to economic enterprises, cultural activities, management, access, conservation, fire protection, and the development and use of Aboriginal land. The council will also be able to make by-laws about the declaration of sacred or significant sites or other areas of significance to Aboriginal people on Aboriginal land.

  The council will be able to make by-laws about activities to be permitted on any part of Aboriginal land, and the protection and conservation of flora and fauna found on Aboriginal land. By-laws can also be made for the cutting, removal and sale of timber, the granting of revocable licences and the payment of royalties for timber to the council. Through the by-laws, the council will be able to control hunting, shooting and fishing on Aboriginal land. They will also be able to control visitors and charge fees, to be paid to the council. The by-laws may provide for the regulation and control of motor traffic and parking on Aboriginal land, in addition to the appointment of persons to enforce the by-laws. To facilitate the appropriate enforcement of the by-laws, the by-laws will be able to set out the powers and duties of persons appointed to enforce the by-laws.

  To prevent any confusion over the application of the by-laws, the by-law making power will not apply to land in the Jervis Bay National Park and the Jervis Bay Botanic Gardens, if those areas are declared under section 9A. In addition, to achieve consistency in the legislative regime in this sensitive environment, the by-laws may also apply regulations under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 to Aboriginal land. This will have the effect of ensuring that existing legislative protection available for the national park will also apply to the Aboriginal land that is surrounded by the park and supports the village of Wreck Bay. Any by-laws drafted must not be inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth or a law in force in the territory.

  The amended bill will provide for regulations that will be able to be made under section 53 prescribing fines for offences against by-laws not exceeding five penalty units or $500 in the case of natural persons, and 25 penalty units or $2,500 in the case of corporations. The regulations may prescribe payments to the Commonwealth, as an alternative to prosecution, of one penalty unit or $100 in the case of natural persons and five penalty units or $500 in the case of corporations.

  In addition, in recognition of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council's expanded functions through the proposed joint management arrangement, as well as of the Commonwealth government's commitment to Aboriginal self-determination and empowerment, the amended bill will give the council the power to enter into contracts involving payments by the council of up to $100,000 without the approval of the minister. The amendment is consistent with similar provisions applying to land councils in the Northern Territory under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

  The amended bill will also facilitate the council's administration, through the provision of a more flexible quorum requirement that recognises the steady increase in eligible members of the council since it was established by the act in 1987. The government recognises that there is a need to make the current quorum requirement at general meetings more in keeping with the expanding membership of the council. The amended bill will provide for situations where a quorum is not attained at an annual general meeting of the council. In that situation, the meeting will stand adjourned for a week and, at the adjourned meeting, the quorum is to be 40 per cent of registered members.

  The amended bill also provides that if a quorum is not attained at the first adjourned meeting then that meeting is adjourned for one week and the quorum at the second adjourned meeting is to be 25 per cent of registered members of the council. The amended bill also provides for the term of the executive members of the council to be extended to two years to maintain a continuity of corporate knowledge in the council and to enable the executive sufficient time to carry through initiatives and decisions over a more realistic term of office.

  The bill includes complementary amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 under which the Jervis Bay National Park and the Jervis Bay Botanic Gardens are currently proclaimed. The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act provides for the establishment of boards as a means to allow the joint management, with Aboriginal people, of areas of Aboriginal land that are situated wholly or partly in prescribed parks or reserves.

  By amending the definition of `prescribed park or reserve' to include the Jervis Bay National Park and Jervis Bay Botanic Gardens, the bill will enable the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories to establish a board for those areas, if they are declared to be Aboriginal land and if agreement is reached with the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council. The board would have a majority of Aboriginal representatives and would include amongst its responsibilities overseeing the development of a plan of management for the national park.

  Other amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act will change the definition of `traditional Aboriginal owners' to include the registered members of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council, and will give the council and the chairperson of the council the same status as have other Aboriginal councils in relation to relevant provisions of the act, such as those concerning preparation of plans of management and the establishment and operation of boards. It may be noted that public rights and the enjoyment of the national park and the botanic gardens will be preserved under the joint management arrangements that shall be made possible by the proposed amendments.

  As part of an agreement between the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories and the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council in relation to the amendment of the Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Act 1986, it was agreed that the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1973 would be extended to apply to the Jervis Bay Territory. The amendments to the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1973 extend the application of that act to all Australia's territories. This would allow the Commonwealth Grants Commission to report on appropriate funding for works and services in Jervis Bay—something, I know, that the community regards as very important—as well as allowing inquiries into the financial relationships between the Commonwealth and Norfolk Island, as recently recommended by the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, in its report entitled Delivering the goods.

  The amendments are consistent with the Commonwealth government's policy objectives, by aligning conditions and standards in the territory with comparable communities in the rest of Australia. There will be limited financial implications arising from this bill.

  In conclusion, can I say, in the warmest and most positive sense that I can muster, how tremendously important this legislation is. For the parliament the bill is something that all of us who support it can take great pride in, but most of all, it is a matter of pride for the community which has battled so long to achieve this moment of justice. My congratulations and warmth and affection to them. I commend this bill to the House.