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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 9133

Northern Australia


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:45): My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion. Can the minister update the Senate on how the government is supporting Indigenous Australians through the White paper on developing Northern Australia, particularly to engage in economic development?


Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:46): I thank Senator Smith for that question, and I would like to acknowledge his longstanding interest in support for developing Australia's north, particularly in Western Australia. The Northern Australia white paper is indeed a game changer for Australia's north and will drive sustainable development and growth for at least the next 20 years. Importantly for our First Australians, the white paper will create job and economic opportunities for Indigenous people who live across our north.

We are continuing to work with Indigenous communities in the implementation of the white paper. This engagement will be critical if we are going to see the changes that we need. Reforms to support the better use of Indigenous land must drive this change. This means increasing the value of land for all, creating a native title funding regime that has a greater focus on economic opportunity for Indigenous Australians and increasing individual property rights in township areas for willing Indigenous communities. The government is determined that native title holders and Indigenous businesses and communities should have the same opportunity as other Australians to leverage their land assets to generate wealth. Land in Northern Australia has the potential to support greater and more diverse economic activity, and government has a role to remove the barriers that currently exist.

I can report to the Senate that measures in the White paper on developing Northern Australia have all been very well received—and it is not hard to see why. The measures include $20 million to support native title holders to build their capacity and effectively and equitably engage with potential investors; $17 million to support the essential infrastructure, like surveying and township leasing; $12 million to expand opportunities for Indigenous ranger groups, particularly in the protection of biosecurity to this nation; and over $10 million for land tenure pilots for removing those blockages that currently occur with sometimes conflicting legislation. But it is very clear that the White paper on developing Northern Australia is in fact a blueprint for the long-term development of Northern Australia. (Time expired)


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:48): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How is the White paper on developing Northern Australia supporting native title holders to pursue a commercial development on their land, and what real opportunities has this government offered to native title holders in Western Australia?


Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:48): I thank Senator Smith again for the supplementary question and again note his support for Western Australian native title holders. Just last night, Senator Smith spoke in this place about placing greater emphasis on unleashing economic opportunity for Indigenous communities through the native title regions. I am pleased to report that the White paper on developing Northern Australiahas, for the first time, allocated funding of over $20 million to directly support native title holders in the better use of their native title rights and interests. We recognise native title holders as prescribed body corporates. That is exactly where the action should be.

While the fight for native title has been, and continues to be, a challenge, for too long governments have not supported native title holders to take advantage of their land assets and engage in economic development. In Senator Smith's home state, the government has supported Gooniyandi Aboriginal Corporation with almost $200,000 for economic development in Gooniyandi country. Funding native title corporations will ensure that they can manage their own affairs as part of the government's determination— (Time expired)


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:49): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. How is the government ensuring that Indigenous Australians are front and centre for any employment opportunities from the White paper on developing Northern Australia, and how is the government supporting jobs for Indigenous Australians across Australia's north?


Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:49): I am pleased to report that we are now seeing the start of a transformation in how the government approaches the issue of low employment for Indigenous communities. For too long, it has all been too hard. As a consequence, only 46 per cent of Indigenous Australians of working age are in work. As I announced with Minister Cormann earlier this year, the government has changed the way it does business and will now procure three per cent of its contracts from Indigenous businesses by 2020. This has already led to nothing short, in my view, of amazing results. Compared with $6.2 million in the entire period of the last government, this quarter we have achieved $34 million in Indigenous procurement contracts. Through the white paper, we are continuing this approach. The Commonwealth will require Indigenous procurement targets for white paper infrastructure projects to drive Indigenous employment and supplier use. It means that if you are an Indigenous small business near the Tanami, the Outback Way or any other road project, you will be front and centre in picking up those contracts. (Time expired)