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Thursday, 25 October 2018
Page: 11115

Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (09:57): I acknowledge those who have already spoken in this debate. Clearly Labor is supporting this bill, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Amendment (Indigenous Land Corporation) Bill 2018, and the subsequent piece of legislation which will be before us shortly, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund Bill 2018. My contribution will be short, but I do want to go back to the origins of the land fund and the debates and discussions that took place post Mabo and the Native Title Act. I was part of the discussions and the deliberations of this parliament, and I remember distinctly the land fund and its establishment. The purpose for its establishment was to try and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country an opportunity to purchase back some of their own estate. Initially, there was a great effort by the land fund to purchase pastoral leases in different parts of remote Australia. Giving people a land base was seen to be very important. The fund has changed its expenditure profile over the decades since. But, importantly, it was an absolute recognition of the need to address the alienation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from their country. From that perspective, it was, truly, really very, very important.

A trifecta of things were to happen: first, the native title legislation; second, the establishment of the land fund; third, a social justice package, which, sadly, has never been implemented. I suspect we wouldn't be now discussing issues around housing and poverty in remote parts of Australia, and the lack of educational or employment opportunities all over Australia, had we had that social justice package developed and implemented at that time. But the Keating government got defeated; the Howard government got elected; and they were just disregarded. The land fund had been set up, so it was tolerated. But, of course, one of the subsequent things that the Howard government did was abolish ATSIC, so there was a sort of distancing of the federal government from the views expressed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country.

You'll remember the absurd and dreadful statements of the then Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, over the Wik claim. I'm not sure if you recall it, but I do. The High Court made a decision about the Wik peoples' claim. The then Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the National Party, pilloried the High Court for acknowledging the right of the Wik people. We'd come from where the Mabo decision, a High Court decision, had led to the native title legislation—a very difficult piece of legislation to get passed through the parliament, I might say. We had then had some sort of unifying with the passage of that legislation, the setting up of the land fund and the recognition that the absurd notion of terra nullius had been expunged. We then had the Howard government crawling its way, clawing its way, trying to take back the rights that Aboriginal people had been provided. We saw that absurd and very dreadful and insulting behaviour by the Deputy Prime Minister of this country. Nevertheless, we're not here to talk about him today, thank goodness.

What we are here to do is recognise that this is an advance. The land fund has been in existence and has been operating successfully. Obviously, there is debate in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community about the priorities of the fund from time to time. But this bill is important because it acknowledges that there ought to be a capacity for the land fund to deal with matters to do with seas and water. If we understand the implications of that, it may mean the oceans, but it may also mean purchasing water rights for properties, for example. The additional functions that have been proposed in this legislation are to be consistent with the ILC's functions in relation to land and include the acquisition of water related rights and divestment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations, which is important.

The acquisition of these rights is not for the land fund or the ILC but for the purpose and use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in this case on their land. These rights should be divested. These are not property rights which should be retained by the ILC. The properties which are purchased by the ILC are for the benefit and use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and should be divested to them, and that's what this proposes.

The provision of assistance, grants, loans or loan guarantees to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations to acquire water based rights is a very welcome proposal. The carrying on of management activities in relation to Indigenous waters and the provision of assistance, grants, loans or loan guarantees for the purpose of carrying on management activities in relation to those Indigenous waters are important.

We've now no longer, thankfully, got the hideousness of the sorts of attitudes, at least in this parliament, that I've seen—sorry, I should say there might be a small segment in the other place that might actually mirror the statements which were made by that hideous person who was then the Deputy Prime Minister. Nevertheless, I think we have advanced a great deal so that native title is no longer in conjecture. We recognise that the rights and interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to be properly addressed and the way to address them. This piece of legislation advances us by ensuring that we can look after the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in relation to water rights, and that is most welcome. This is an important piece of legislation, and I'm happy to be able to support it.