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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Office of Township Leasing

Office of Township Leasing


CHAIR: I welcome Ms Pennie Weedon, acting chief executive director of the Office of Township Leasing, and officers. Ms Weedon, would you like to make an opening statement?

Ms Weedon : Good morning, senators. Thank you for inviting me here today. Firstly, I would like to pay my respects and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land where we meet, the Ngunnawal people, and acknowledge other elders present in this room today. I would like to introduce my deputies, Ms Lorna Gregory and Ms Annette Murtagh.

Since the last appearance in 2015, there have been some significant developments in the township lease area. Currently, there are five township leases that I hold on behalf of the Commonwealth, covering eight Aboriginal townships in the Northern Territory. These include Wurrumiyanga on the Tiwi Islands since August 2007; Angurugu, Umbakumba and Milyakburra on the Groote Eylandt archipelago since December 2008; Milikapiti and Ranku on the Tiwi Islands since November 2011; and, more recently, Mutujulu in Central Australia from March 2017; and Pirlangimpi on the Tiwi Islands from June 2017. Leases that were entered into prior to 2017 were executed under the original model.

Although under this model the executive director has the final decision-making authority, it is important for me to highlight that I must seek the views of the consultative forum, which is established in each township and is comprised of the traditional owners, in making all land use decisions in their township. The views of the consultative forum are integral aspects to our office. All land use decisions reflect the views of the consultative forum. Since the first township lease was signed in 2007, no land use decision has ever been made in any community covered by a township lease against the advice of the consultative forum. The consultative forums are the foundation for engaging with traditional owners and implementing their visions and decisions about development of their communities. In my view, based on 12 years as a director in the Office of Township Leasing, this has been fundamental to the success of township leasing.

The township lease model was introduced into the land rights act to provide traditional owners in the Northern Territory with an alternative option for a secure, transparent and efficient land administration system and to provide an economic return to the traditional owners through rental payments, where this has been primarily achieved due to my position being required to act commercially when entering into all sublease arrangements.

As I mentioned, the first township lease in Wurrumiyanga on the Tiwi Islands was signed in 2007. In 2016, the Aboriginal benefits account was fully reimbursed for the advance payment of rent made upon signing the lease. I am pleased to inform this committee that, last year, the Mantiyupwi traditional owners received their first rent payment, six years ahead of the anticipated schedule. To put some context around that, prior to the township lease, approximately $200 per annum was being collected in rent payments. Currently, around $700,000 is being collected in rent per annum and will be paid to the Mantiyupwi traditional owners.

The Warnindilyakwa traditional owners of Groote Eylandt will also receive a rental return five years ahead of the anticipated schedule. The rent will provide a regular income stream to traditional owners to enable them to continue to invest in and advance local economic and community development aspirations. It will contribute to their sustainable economic independence. These are significant achievements that reward the long-term intergenerational thinking of both the Mantiyupwi and Warnindilyakwa traditional owners when they agreed to enter into a township lease. Importantly, it also confirms that Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory now has a market value placed on it. This has ultimately had a positive impact on the increased focus on secure tenure through leasing on Aboriginal land more broadly.

The recent township leases signed in Mutujulu and Pirlangimpi were amongst the first township leases under the new community entity model, which will see a transition of the township lease from my position to a local Aboriginal corporation after a period of administration by my office. While the introduction of the community entity model of township leasing is a significant policy development in many ways, it formalises what has always been a key strength of township leasing—placing the traditional owners at the centre of all land use decisions in their communities. In the original township lease model, this was achieved by working with the consultative forums. The focus will now be on a more formal environment to build on the capacity of traditional owners through the consultative forum mechanisms to ensure that they are supported during the transition of the lease management to a community entity Aboriginal corporation.

In addition to township leases, on behalf of the Commonwealth, I also hold 26 housing leases over approximately 3,000 remote public housing lots in the Northern Territory. Alongside this, I also hold 15 leases covering 17 Alice Springs town camps. I'm pleased with the recent long-term funding commitments from both the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory governments. These commitments are significant to ensuring the continuity of housing services. I note that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is in the process of finalising the intricacies with the Northern Territory government. However, during this process, my office has provided technical advice with regard to the leases that I administer so that all stakeholders are in a position to effect the leasing arrangements immediately when government reaches a final position regarding funding.

I believe that both governments agree that secure tenure provides a foundation for reliable housing services and provides a platform to implement ongoing housing investment. Again, I respect the department's leading role in housing negotiations. I will, however, continue to advocate for housing services and continue to support the benefits of all residents where I administer a lease. Aboriginal people have a strong vision for their townships. My role is to support their individual aspirations by ensuring strong, effective and transparent land administration frameworks are in place. Thank you, Senators.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Weedon. Are there any questions for Ms Weedon and the Office of Township Leasing?

Senator DODSON: Yes. Since you have travelled from the Northern Territory, we'll have to ask you some questions! Just explain to me the difference between the lease arrangement from an individual house to an area of land around which a community is built. Do you take out a long-term lease over the total community domain, which is surveyed, I presume, and has dimensions to it, or are you talking about a lease for an individual 6,000 square metre block within that?

Ms Weedon : Senator, can I just clarify whether you are referring to the housing lease or the whole-of-township lease?

Senator DODSON: Well, that's what I want to get clear. I'm confused a bit. Sometimes, as we saw in Yarralin, there were questions about whether it was a township lease or whether it was an individual lease.

Ms Weedon : My position holds multiple different lease arrangements. The primary focus is a whole-of-township lease. That's where normally we take a whole-of-township lease over the footprint of the town, which includes ancillary services like airstrips, barge landings, the power station and anything that supports the functions of the town. Within that town, you're correct; we do have a survey that defines the boundary. Within the township, we then commission a cadastral survey to go down to an administrative lot survey. So, in the whole-of-township lease scenario, I then hold that whole lease. I have a positive obligation to then ensure that every asset or every lot in the town has a sublease in place. In the case of housing, a lease goes over multiple lots. In Wurrumiyanga, I think there are approximately 200 housing lots. I have a lease in place with the Northern Territory government for the delivery of housing services through a sublease with the CEO of housing to deliver public housing services.

Senator DODSON: What is the size of those lots in squares?

Ms Weedon : They vary depending on how big the house is and the lot is. Obviously, doing a cadastral survey after 30 years of planning was quite complicated. We had to align boundaries to fences and unknown areas. So they can range from about 800 square metres to sometimes 1,200 square metres.

Senator KENEALLY: I want to follow up on that. You talked about the lease that you have with the Northern Territory government regarding public housing. You also do home ownership leases, don't you, with people? It's like an ordinary freehold, isn't it?

Ms Weedon : That's correct.

Senator KENEALLY: So how many of those home ownership subleases do you hold?

Ms Weedon : Currently, we have 15 home ownership subleases in the township of Wurrumiyanga.

Senator KENEALLY: In just that one township?

Ms Weedon : That's correct.

Senator KENEALLY: And not in any of the other townships?

Ms Weedon : That's correct at this stage.

Senator KENEALLY: Of those 15, are they all getting financing from Indigenous Business Australia, or have some of them been able to access the mainstream banking sector?

Ms Weedon : Without breaching any confidentiality, the mortgages are sitting with IBA and are registered at the land titles office.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm sorry, but what was that?

Ms Weedon : So they are registered mortgages with IBA at this stage.

Senator KENEALLY: You work quite closely with IBA, then?

Ms Weedon : Yes, we have.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you.

Senator McCARTHY: Hello, Ms Weedon. It's good to see you. I want to go back to your opening statement. I will ask for that to be tabled for committee members.

CHAIR: Yes. That would be helpful.

Senator McCARTHY: You went through some figures. I would like to revisit your figures in terms of the rent per annum. Could you just repeat your rent per annum?

Ms Weedon : I can give you an actual figure, if you like—

Senator McCARTHY: Yes, please.

Ms Weedon : for last year and this year. In the rent that was collected last year, in Groote Eylandt, we collected $983,524. That was tabled in our annual report. That covers the three communities in the Groote Eylandt archipelago. In Wurrumiyanga, we collected $1,038,596. That's a bit higher than what I probably just declared earlier because there were some transactions that occurred through backdating of rent. With regard to Milikapiti, last year we collected $305,446. In Ranku, we've collected $16,811 last year as at 30 June 2017.

Senator McCARTHY: What's the process with this amount of money in terms of those respective communities?

Ms Weedon : Under the current arrangements, I will use Wurrumiyanga as the example, because that's a live example at the moment. Under my functions, I will release those funds to the Tiwi land councils. Under their statutory functions, they will then release that to an Aboriginal corporation, which decides to invest that money into a commercial, economic or social development activity. That's up to that board, alongside the land council in their statutory functions, to determine what activity that is.

Senator McCARTHY: Is that the same with Groote Eylandt and the Anindilyakwa Land Council?

Ms Weedon : Yes. That's correct. So we're just going through a process at the moment with Groote Eylandt to say, 'You've now reached your advanced payment.' We need to establish that process to effect payment with them.

Senator McCARTHY: You said you had 26 housing leases. Could you repeat that figure?

Ms Weedon : I hold 26 housing leases, which are different from the whole-of-township leases. They are direct leases with the land trust and are over lots in the Central Land Council region.

Senator McCARTHY: So those 26 are in the CLC region?

Ms Weedon : That's correct. On behalf of the Commonwealth, I administer them—and across community living areas as well.

Senator McCARTHY: They are the CLC's.

Ms Weedon : That's correct.

Senator McCARTHY: You mentioned 15 leases over the Alice Springs town camps. Is that correct?

Ms Weedon : Yes. I hold 15 leases covering the 17 town camps in Alice Springs.

Senator McCARTHY: What role is OTL playing in current negotiations between the federal and the Territory governments regarding housing funding?

Ms Weedon : I don't have a formal role with regard to the funding negotiations. My role purely is on a technical level to ensure that those leases have some sort of continuity in housing services. I'd have to defer my question in relation to funding to my colleagues in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator McCARTHY: So is OTL advocating for the Alice Springs town camps to receive a share of the $550 million recently announced by the federal government?

Ms Weedon : I have formally requested that the Alice Springs town camps be considered in the funding arrangements. Whether that's within the $550 million is not for me to determine. That is to ensure housing continuity into those spaces that I administer. Yes, I have mentioned Alice Springs.

Senator McCARTHY: When did you make those requests? You can take it on notice. Was it a written letter?

Ms Weedon : No. I haven't formally written. It's been correspondence through to the department through email and constant dialogue with them to ensure that it is included.

Senator McCARTHY: With the Alice Springs town camps, are you able to identify where the 15 leases are?

Ms Weedon : I can. I have the list here.

Senator McCARTHY: Or at least submit the list.

Ms Weedon : I can table that document.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you.

Ms Weedon : I probably could say it's every town camp except Ilpeye Ilpeye.

Senator DODSON: Except which?

Ms Weedon : Ilpeye Ilpeye has a different arrangement. But I'm happy to table that document, which lists those town camps that I've missed.

Senator McCARTHY: Is it correct that the Alice Springs town camps operate on a month-by-month lease at the moment?

Ms Weedon : That is actually correct. In 2013, the final one-year agreement with the Northern Territory government was in place. The month-by-month trigger mechanism has kicked in since then. However, I would like to note that that has been a constant. My predecessors have also raised that as an issue in the context of housing services.

Senator McCARTHY: So, if it's a month-by-month leasing arrangement, does that contravene the original tripartite housing agreement?

Ms Weedon : Again, Senator, I'm not privy to the tripartite agreement. I would have to defer that.

Senator McCARTHY: Mr Bulman?

Mr Bulman : No. There's nothing in the national partnership agreement on remote housing about the nature of the Alice Springs town camps leasing. They've been running on a month-by-month basis, as Ms Weedon outlined, since 2013. We've approached the Northern Territory government outlining that our expectation would be that the five-year lease would be put in place for Alice Springs town camps. We're drafting leases along those terms.

Senator McCARTHY: Sorry, Mr Bulman—the tripartite agreement between the NT, feds and the housing associations?

Mr Bulman : I'm not sure.

Ms Weedon : Are you referring to the actual lease document that is in place?

Senator McCARTHY: Yes.

Ms Weedon : Under the lease arrangements, there were specific provisions that the Northern Territory government will meet to invest the $100 million that was allocated to the town camps at that point in time.

Senator McCARTHY: I want to take you to Yarralin.

Senator DODSON: Before you get off Alice Springs, I want to ask a couple of questions to get some clarification. These town camps in Alice Springs are on a month-to-month lease arrangement. Is that the understanding?

Ms Weedon : That's correct.

Senator DODSON: They abut the town boundary of Alice Springs, most of them?

Ms Weedon : Yes.

Senator DODSON: So what is the long-term plan for these town camps? Mr Bulman, you talk about a five-year lease, I understand, but what is the longer term plan? My understanding is that the Alice Springs town council is land bound. It has no further space. It's surrounded by or butts up against the town camp leases in various places. So what is the plan for these?

Mr Bulman : The Northern Territory government has just recently reviewed all town camps across the Northern Territory, including the Alice Springs town camps. In that review, there are a number of recommendations. In practice, the town camps across the Northern Territory are the responsibility of the Northern Territory and their land use et cetera, so that's where it currently sits.

Senator DODSON: But the previous tenure for these town camps was issued by whom?

Mr Bulman : The previous tenure?

Senator DODSON: Yes.

Mr Bulman : So EDTL—

Senator DODSON: They didn't exist at that time. This is back in the lands rights act days.

Ms Weedon : Senator Dodson, of the town camps, there are a number of leases that have been allocated under the Special Purposes Leases Act, which is piece of a Northern Territory government legislation, or the Crown Lands Act.

Senator DODSON: So they've all been rescinded and now they're on a month-by-month basis. Is that what it is?

Ms Weedon : We don't extinguish the underlying tenure. So the leases were granted in perpetuity to the housing associations. The housing associations have been issued a sublease to my position for a period of time. I have an under lease arrangement with the Northern Territory government for the purposes of delivering housing services.

Senator DODSON: So is the lease to the stock or to the land?

Ms Weedon : Well, the lease, obviously, under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act means the land and the asset are connected to each other.

Senator DODSON: So the land is held on a monthly basis, is it?

Ms Weedon : Not by me. I have—

Senator DODSON: By someone it's held. Not by the traditional owners?

Ms Weedon : My position holds. They have their lease in perpetuity and I have a lease on behalf of the Commonwealth for 40 years.

Senator McCARTHY: So what's the cost of the month-by-month lease?

Ms Weedon : There's no cost involved with the Alice Springs town camps because they are classified as housing leases. Housing leases across the Territory, both from my office and the land councils, don't attract any rental payment. They're the only asset that don't attract a rent.

Senator DODSON: So their holding the lease in perpetuity is of no value?

Ms Weedon : In terms of?

Senator DODSON: A transaction.

Ms Weedon : Well, there's no obligation on my position to—

Senator DODSON: Enter into any commercial arrangement?

Ms Weedon : Yes. Unlike the township leases.

Senator McCARTHY: Just for the benefit of the committee, then, Ms Weedon—you've given us figures with regard to rental for Groote Eylandt and the Tiwis; what is the case in Central Australia, then?

Ms Weedon : At the moment, obviously we're just in the process of only having a new lease in Mutitjulu. My office is in the process of formalising all the arrangements in there. So it's a review of rights and interest. Once we determine who has the right of occupancy, we'll issue the subleases. That's when rents will be triggered under that mechanism. It's the same with Pirlangimpi at this stage.

Senator McCARTHY: There was a question from Senator Keneally in relation to the home loans and the relationship with IBA. You responded in relationship to Wurrumiyanga. What is the case in the other communities that you hold the leases for in terms of their arrangements for mortgages?

Ms Weedon : All the township leases provide a platform for home ownership. Again, it's an individual choice for people to enter into home ownership. There have been residents who have expressed views at different times to pursue home ownership. For their own personal reasons, they haven't chosen to proceed with them.

Senator McCARTHY: So, in terms of your responsibility for the direct leasing with individual home ownership, how many do you have?

Ms Weedon : I have 15 in Wurrumiyanga.

Senator McCARTHY: That's the 15. That's all? None across the Northern Territory? I know you have 15 in Wurrumiyanga.

Ms Weedon : We do have one in Groote Eylandt as well.

Senator McCARTHY: Which community?

Ms Weedon : Angurugu.

Senator McCARTHY: So you have 16 in total?

Ms Weedon : Yes. That's correct.

Senator McCARTHY: And none in any other area of the Northern Territory?

Ms Weedon : There is one located in Pickataramoor, which is a section 19 home ownership lease, again on the Tiwis.

Senator McCARTHY: I might move on to Yarralin. Have you been involved in discussions with township leasing at Yarralin?

Ms Weedon : My role in the negotiations is very technical. At the request of the traditional owners, when the department may start negotiations, we are requested to provide technical advice on how the township lease operates. With regard to Yarralin, we have visited the community twice.

Senator McCARTHY: When was that?

Ms Gregory : About two years ago.

Senator McCARTHY: So two years ago you went twice?

Ms Weedon : Two years ago. We also invited the Yarralin owners—

Senator McCARTHY: Sorry. Can I get the dates for those visits?

Ms Weedon : I would have to take that on notice and get back to you with those dates.

Senator McCARTHY: So you visited two times two years ago?

Ms Weedon : Approximately, yes. We also, through the request of the traditional owners, visited the township of Wurrumiyanga to observe the consultative forum of the Mantiyupwi traditional owners. Mantiyupwi traditional owners also sat down with them without us present and talked about their experiences and their commercial investment that they've made. With regard to negotiation, I would have to pass that to my colleagues.

Senator McCARTHY: Does anyone else want to add to that in relation to Ms Weedon?

Mr Bulman : I can talk to that. Prime Minister and Cabinet has been working with the Northern Territory government on negotiations with the Yarralin people over the last two years. Yarralin is a unique circumstance. There's an outstanding land claim across the Yarralin area that has been running since approximately the mid-1980s which was only resolved in around December 2016, I recall. Since that time, we've been having conversations with the community and the traditional owners there about future leasing opportunities now that they are in the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, including whether a long-term housing lease just over the housing stock is appropriate, or there should be a community entity township lease with Ms Weedon's office or other options.

Senator McCARTHY: What model of township leasing is anticipated at Yarralin?

Mr Bulman : I understand the community has expressed to the Northern Land Council an interest in a community entity township lease.

Senator McCARTHY: So will it be held by a community organisation or by the OTL?

Mr Bulman : I think those details are still to be resolved.

Senator McCARTHY: Will housing be built at Yarralin without a township lease?

Senator Scullion: I have been involved with the chair and the CEO of the Northern Land Council in this process. I've made a decision. Whilst it's a departure from the normal processes, I took into consideration the very short period of the return to the land of the traditional owners and their concern that they were now being asked, in effect, to hand it over to whatever entity. I can understand very much their reluctance to do so, until they were completely socialised in this process. I took into consideration that this process was the process that they relied on before the provision of housing. So the agreement I've come to with the community is that I would provide half the housing, which is about the period of time under which it would be built in any event. We would simply have a five-year housing lease, over which time there would be good-faith negotiations about what is most likely to be an entity. I don't want to verbal them on that. It's a matter for the community. The reason I departed from the usual convention of not providing housing without a housing lease was simply the very unique circumstances of Yarralin.

Senator McCARTHY: Minister, I was there for the hand-back at Yarralin two years ago. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's senior land branch adviser, John Litchfield, apologised to the Yarralin community for the delays with Yarralin housing. Was this apology made on your behalf?

Senator Scullion: No, not specifically. The circumstances of the—

Senator McCARTHY: Why did he apologise?

Senator Scullion: Let me finish. The circumstance, I'm advised, on the day, was that, the mayor, as sometimes is the case, rose to his feet and demanded certain things out of certain peoples. He reflected on his disappointment about housing and other matters. I'm not reflecting on why that was the case and why he wouldn't know what had happened. Mr Litchfield accepted the responsibility in so much as the Commonwealth could have taken responsibility for that period of time. He decided, rather than reiterate the explanation I've provided you, which is a fulsome explanation of why there was some delay in the provision of those houses, to say we reasonably accept responsibility. In circumstances like that, it's just useful, to ensure that we have a positive meeting, to be able to make the apology. Mr Litchfield is a very experienced officer and at the time did so. I'm very glad it turned out to be a very positive meeting. I've already supported on the public record our taking responsibility where we should take responsibility for those matters.

Senator McCARTHY: It's 20 years since a new house was built at Yarralin and two years since they got the land back. Are you apologising to the Yarralin people now?

Senator Scullion: No. I don't appreciate you verballing me on this matter. I have made it very clear that our officers were there. The particular circumstance at the time was the local politician, a mayor, decided that he would make much of something I suspect he didn't have all the facts about. So, rather than going down an explanatory process, the officer chose to simply say, 'Look, the Commonwealth accepts'—as I do—'that not only in Yarralin but in many places across Australia people would love to have houses not only in remote communities, not only in Indigenous Australia, but right through mainstream Australia.'

The provision of public houses is acute. Everyone would like us to have more houses. Of that there is no doubt. But on the delay in the provision of houses at Yarralin—if we had stayed with the convention and the agreements, whether it's on your side of politics or ours, about the provision of public houses on private land, they would have none. It has been down to me to acknowledge that there are particular cultural circumstances in Yarralin and that they would require more time. Now, that time should not stop them having the provision of houses. So we calculated the houses we would build on the amount of time, which is a five-year process to properly socialise and enable people to understand.

What the traditional owners had put to me in conversations with them, not at Yarralin but at Timber Creek—we met at Timber Creek—is that many did not fully understand why they would have to hand their land back. In those circumstances, I felt that I couldn't withhold the houses. They've indicated this with more time, and that's what is happening now. Over the next little while, we'll be having proper socialised conversations about what the nature of the entity is and what that would actually mean for the owners of the land. If they move towards this entity, which I hope they will—I suspect they will—at the end of that, we will move back to the same way as it is across other Aboriginal land. There will be a township lease and it will be held in the entity most likely of the Yarralin people.

Senator McCARTHY: Did you refuse the community a housing lease?

Senator Scullion: No. I offered a housing lease. That was going to be the fact. They didn't want to sign a housing lease because they felt that they had not had enough time to completely socialise the issue and have a complete understanding of what a housing lease meant, given that they'd only just recently had the land returned to them. These are very complex matters. There was an offer of a housing lease on the table. By the time we had socialised what that meant, there was going to be a further delay of perhaps years until such time as they could say, 'Right. We understand this. We're going to go and move on to a housing lease.' So we've offered instead of that, because of the unique circumstances, a five-year housing lease. Yes, I know it stands away from the convention, but these were particular matters unique to Yarralin.

Senator DODSON: I'm interested in the concept of socialised conversations. I'm not sure what that means. Does that mean these people need to be aware of the government's policy position and be compliant with it in these next five years or else they get nothing? I'm not sure what 'socialised conversation' means. I note what you are saying, Minister, and I have some empathy for the way you've responded to the circumstance. But I'm just not sure what the socialised conversation really articulates to anyone who is trying to intelligently unpack it.

Senator Scullion: Usually, when we consult, discuss or negotiate with a community, which is what we're doing, there may be, let's say, a dozen people to which we directly speak. They say they have a responsibility to go back and send that same message and seek agreements from extended family away from Yarralin and within the community. They've said there's a bit of pushback about having people understand this new concept when the sun had not even really set upon the most recent concept. So it was their notion of it being socialised. The whole community has to understand this really well. They felt that that couldn't be done at the time. That's what I meant by this socialising of that message.

Senator DODSON: I understand that. We don't need to have a philosophical discussion about it, but it does seem one-sided.

Senator McCARTHY: Minister, was a 99-year lease for the housing negotiated by NLC and consented to by the TOs?

Senator Scullion: No, I understand that wasn't the case. Perhaps Mr Bulman can clarify that.

Mr Bulman : I can confirm, the NLC consulted on a township lease as well as a 99-year housing lease. There was consent provided to the housing lease. We understand that there was also a preference for township leasing. I think, as the minister was outlining, a lot of these—

Senator McCARTHY: Who had the preference for township leasing?

Mr Bulman : We understand the traditional owners had originally expressed a preference for township leasing. The NLC also consulted on a 99-year housing lease, thinking that may be an easier conversation for the community to have.

Senator McCARTHY: And what happened to that?

Mr Bulman : The 99-year housing lease?

Senator McCARTHY: That's correct.

Mr Bulman : We've since worked with the community and the Northern Territory government to do a five-year housing lease and continue the conversation on a broader 99-year township lease, which we think will reflect the community's and the traditional owners' desires. The five-year housing lease—

Senator McCARTHY: So you've gone to a five-year housing lease with a view to a 99-year township lease?

Mr Bulman : Yes. The NLC has committed to continue the consultation on the 99-year township lease with a community entity. That enables housing work to commence quickly. A five-year lease was agreed by the traditional owners and will be ratified by the full council, we assume, later next month. That means that housing work can start and the conversation about the economic opportunities of a long-term community entity township lease can be better socialised.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you, Mr Bulman, and thank you, Ms Weedon. In closing, it's not a question, Ms Weedon, but I was looking at your website and your staff. You might want to have a look at the sacred sites clearance section of your headline there. It's unfinished written material, but it's not appropriate. You might want to have a look at that.

Ms Weedon : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator McCarthy. This is one final question from me. Ms Weedon, I thought I heard you say before—correct me if I am wrong—that there was a delay in the land claim process and that this is a primary reason for the delay in the housing. Is that right?

Ms Weedon : With regard to the context of the housing leases?


Ms Weedon : Or the Alice Springs township?

CHAIR: Yes the Alice Springs township.

Ms Weedon : There's no delay at this stage.

CHAIR: There had been no delay? I mean previously.

Ms Weedon : No.

Mr Bulman : I might be able to assist. I think I might have said that in the context of the Yarralin community, not the Alice Springs town.

CHAIR: That's right, Mr Bulman. Yes, thank you.

Mr Bulman : So there have been land claims under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. They are very complex and sometimes take a long time. The Yarralin area is quite unique in that it has been a claim over an area of land since approximately the mid-1980s which was resolved around December 2016. This long land claim period meant that houses haven't been able to be delivered until 2016 and beyond. Since the land claim has been agreed with, we've been in conversations about how to secure tenure over housing lots.

CHAIR: Was anything done to expedite the land claim issue?

Mr Bulman : Yes. The government's very committed to resolving all outstanding land claims in the Northern Territory. There are some 42 remaining. Extra funding has been provided to the Northern Land Council because the claims are predominantly in the north. There is $7½ million to fast-track the process. Extra funding has also been provided to the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, who conducts the inquiries that facilitate the land claims. So it's been a very important process to try to move through all outstanding land claims to give communities and businesses and others certainty over Aboriginal lands in the Northern Territory.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Bulman. Thank you very much for your evidence and time this morning and traveling down from Darwin. The committee will now move to outcome 2, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.