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Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Page: 87


Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (17:53): [by video link] I understand that we've only got until six o'clock and then we'll be going on to other matters—is that correct?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Claydon ): That's correct. We will be adjourning for a condolence motion at 6 pm.

Mr SNOWDON: I'll attempt to wind up my comments before six o'clock. Can I firstly say that I'm very pleased to be able to speak to the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Amendment Bill 2021. I acknowledge the contributions of the member for Barton and the member for Grey, and I'll come back to the member for Barton's contribution in a moment. The member for Grey talked about how big his electorate is and how many Aboriginal people, First Nations people, reside in it. I don't want to one-up him, but Lingiari is 1.34 million square kilometres, and 43 per cent or thereabouts of the population are Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. So, I have had the experience, over many, many years now—over 30 years—of working directly and indirectly with Aboriginal organisations and corporations. I've seen some that are good and some that are not so good. But I recall the debate that took place around the introduction of the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006, CATSI Act, when it was introduced. If my memory is correct, it was done to replace the old Commonwealth councils and associations act. It was done to give us a better body of law for recognising that, as the member for Barton said, it was a special measure. It was designed to give effect and acknowledge First Nations people's right to self-determination and to recognise and incorporate the need for cultural practices within organisations as they were developing. Of course, they vary across the country.

As the member for Barton rightly pointed out, there is some concern which is being registered about the consultation that has taken place around the development of this particular piece of legislation, which the government claims will modernise the CATSI Act and strengthen the governance of First Nations organisations. It has a number of objectives, including to make it easier and less costly for organisations to register and operate under the act; provide more flexibility in business structures that can be adopted by corporations; increase the transparency of corporation operations; streamline the process of winding up defunct corporations; increase corporations' access to modern technology, including for managing membership; and expand the powers of the registrar to respond to noncompliance. As the member for Barton pointed out, First Nations people and organisations have welcomed some of the changes in the bill but have registered their concern about the lack of consultation.

I think it's worth just contemplating for a moment the need to appreciate the range of organisations that might be caught up in this CATSI Act. We could be talking about very small community organisations in remote parts of the Northern Territory, for example, or we could be talking about complex business enterprises and community enterprises in Western Sydney or in South-East Queensland or, indeed, in Darwin. So there is a diverse range of interests. And, of course, what we know is that in remote communities there is an absolute need to provide the assistance that people require to understand the governance obligations they sign up to when they form these organisations. They need to be assisted in managing the governance of those organisations, there needs to be flexibility in the way in which they are administered and the oversight of them needs to be flexible.

I note, as the member for Barton said, that there are 143 Aboriginal community controlled health organisations around this country all doing magnificent work. By and large, they are employers of a large body of people with professional staff. They have good administrative structures, good compliance—their books and their administration are very transparent—and that's to be applauded. But, as NACCHO has pointed out, there's a great deal of concern about the cursory nature of the engagement undertaken by this review for First Nations communities and organisations. It reminds us of the national reform of the Closing the Gap agenda—shared decision-making, building the community controlled sector, improving mainstream institutions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lead data. It's very clear from the process which NIAA has undertaken on behalf of the government for the review of this legislation that they seem to have lost sight of those obligations and those undertakings as priority reform areas, because we really do need shared decision-making. So, who are the shared decision-makers with the government around these particular proposals, who have they discussed it with and whose approval have they sought? They say they want to build the community controlled sector. Well, the only way to build a community controlled sector appropriately is to engage properly and not from afar. I'm concerned about the lack of engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations in the development of this legislation, and there have been many critics who have similarly raised their concerns. The shadow minister has made it clear that our intention is to support this legislation but refer it to a committee and reserve our final position until that committee has undertaken its work.

I understand it's now close to six o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker. If it is close to six o'clock and you would like me to sign off, could you just raise a hand? If I've got more time, raise your other hand!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Claydon ): You can continue if you have a few more brief remarks to make.

Mr SNOWDON: The member for Fenner is very keen to shut me up.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Sorry, Member for Lingiari; you will be able to continue your speech, but just at another time.

Mr SNOWDON: I appreciate that. I'm just giving him prod. I'm quite happy to complete my remarks right now. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.