Thursday, 11 May 2017
Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I have already made a few brief comments on this bill, the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017, and I want to curtail my remarks because I think it is very important that this bill is voted on this afternoon so that we can bring certainty to the native title holders, certainty to land title groups right across Australia, certainty to the Adani proposals for mines in Central Queensland, certainty to the future prospects for jobs for workers and certainty to the Queensland government about the revenue streams that will flow once these issues are dealt with.
I took part in the debate as Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which conducted an inquiry into this legislation. I want to thank all of those who made submissions and all of those who appeared before the committee—and there were a lot of them—to give their evidence. We heard from all sides of the argument, and I think everyone had a very fair hearing. I particularly want to thank the secretariat of the committee, who, as always, did a wonderful job in assisting with the organisation of the hearings and the preparation of the final report. And I thank all senators on the committee for their cooperation. The committee was able to make a unanimous recommendation that the bill be passed, subject to some amendments which have been accepted by the government. The Attorney, in consultation with Senator Dodson and others, has refined the amendment we are dealing with today.
I will digress very slightly to something that was said in a debate on this topic earlier today. Senator McCarthy, unfortunately, misrepresented what I had said in my earlier speech about future amendments to this bill. Everyone acknowledges that there do have to be new amendments, but they are not being dealt with at the moment. This was specifically in relation to the McGlade decision. That was clear to everyone. Sometime in the future, at the Attorney's direction, there will be consultations, there will be draft bills issued and there will be amendments that the government will work with Indigenous spokesmen and stakeholders on to ensure that the new amendments are correct.
Finally, I make a plea. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Labor Premier of Queensland, I plead with you: please, pick up the phone and ring the four Queensland Labor senators. Ring them now. They are, in case you have forgotten, Premier, Senator Ketter, Senator Moore, Senator Chisholm and Senator Watt. You should have their phone numbers. Please ring them as representatives of Queensland and say that you, along with the federal government, along with Indigenous people and along with the workers in Central and North Queensland who do not have a job, are desperate to get this bill through the parliament. If that needs sitting tomorrow, as the government has proposed, can you please, Premier Palaszczuk, ask the Labor senators from Queensland, who are supposed to be helping Queensland, to give up their long weekend and get their colleagues in the Senate to sit tomorrow, on Friday, so that we can deal with this bill in a full eight hours of debate and get it passed? Everyone agrees it should be passed. I think it is essential that it should be done. Please, Premier Palaszczuk, ring your Queensland Labor senators and ask them to get off their bums, actually do the work and get this bill passed.
I am not going to respond to Senator Macdonald's last statement. He keeps making these statements across the chamber and it does not add to the quality of this debate. We have had a number of senators talk about the history of this piece of legislation. We know that the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill before us is an amendment bill. It was introduced by the government in the other place early this year—15 February. That was the first time that this bill appeared in this parliament. It amends the original Native Title Act to resolve the uncertainty that was created by the decision of the full Federal Court in what we have heard many times was McGlade v Native Title Registrar. That decision was handed down on 2 February this year.
All of us in this place understand the importance to our community and to our culture of the native title legislation. In fact, some of us remember exactly where we were when the original legislation was passed in 1993. In the community in which I was working at the time, we were waiting to hear what was going to happen after that extraordinarily long debate, which is probably still one of the longest debates in this place. Finally, the parliament in Australia ensured that there was native title legislation in our community. It is a very important piece of groundbreaking native title legislation.
Before us, we have an amendment to that and that must have fulsome and true consideration. There should not be, by any sense of urgency, a push in this place to rush things through. Having said that, I think that we are doing the right thing. We are, through the parliament, considering the legislation after the process of it being introduced. It came into the Senate after a bit of a flurry in getting the Senate Selection of Bills Committee to ensure that we had a hearing on the piece of legislation. That was an essential part of the process. The Senate did its job. The Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee reviewed the legislation and heard from people and organisations that gave up their time. With their professionalism, their knowledge and experience, they came to the Senate to give us their views on the legislation.
There have been a number of contributions in both this debate and in questions earlier today which may have seemed to indicate that at that Senate inquiry there was a unanimous view put forward that every person who came to that inquiry agreed that this amendment bill needed to be passed and to be passed urgently. Well, that is not true. As with most Senate inquiries, in which I have been involved, there was a wide range of opinion brought to the Senate committee.
The Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee brought down its report, reflecting a wide range of views. But, as we have been told in previous contributions, the Labor senators, Senator Dodson and Senator Pratt, actually accepted that, on the basis of the evidence, because of the specifics of the McGlade decision and how they had impacted on native title, there was a need to ensure that there was a response from parliament to stop any uncertainty or confusion.
However, as we have heard from other contributions, this was only step 1 of the process. There was a need for further discussion. We have heard how Senator Dodson, Senator McCarthy and Mr Dreyfus were able to be involved in future discussions. Only then did more amendments appear. I understand that the latest amendment that is part of this discussion only appeared in parliament yesterday. So it is not such a straightforward process as some would make us believe.
In terms of what caused the legislation to be before us, we know that following the bringing down of the Keating legislation, the Native Title Act in 1993, we actually enshrined in legislation the decision of the High Court of Australia in Mabo v Queensland—my state—which upheld that the doctrine of terra nullius did not apply when there were already inhabitants present. Again, the importance to our community of the High Court decision followed by the response to that decision by our parliament must always be kept front of any discussion that we have about amending the legislation.
To make it clear—and I am actually quoting now from evidence and discussions that were put into the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee: following the Mabo decision, any Indigenous land rights which had not been extinguished by the Crown continued to exist in Australia. Since 1993, the Native Title Act has enabled the continued recognition and protection of Indigenous land rights.
It is Labor's view—and it has been clearly enunciated by previous speakers from among Labour senators—that any changes to the Native Title Act must be properly considered and consulted on with Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities. That is a key component of our commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities—no decision that impacts on their culture, their land rights and, in particular, this process that talks about the whole future of their relationship with land can ever be taken without full and proper consultation. That is something that this parliament should enshrine in the processes they put in place.
The Native Title Act provides a legislative process for native title groups to negotiate with other parties to form voluntary agreements in relation to the use of land and waters, referred to as Indigenous land use agreements—ILUAs, which people use as a shorthand way of defining these agreements. That was defined very clearly for us in the evidence that came to the committee. Currently, under section 24CD of the act, all persons of the native title group must be parties to an area ILUA. If there is a registered native title claimant for the purposes of the act, the native title group consists of that registered native title claimant. A registered native title claimant is defined again in the act under section 253 as:
… a person or persons whose name or names appear in an entry on the Register of Native Title Claims …
This enables a person or persons to enter into agreements as authorised by the native title group. The McGlade decision found that an area ILUA could not be registered unless all members of the registered native title claimant had signed the area ILUA, including members of the group who may have died. This ruling overturned the decision that had been current and on which a range of decisions had been made—the ruling of QGC Pty Ltd v Bygrave (No. 2) , which found that an area ILUA could be registered if it had been signed by at least one member of the registered native title claimant group.
Post McGlade, the only alternative available to a registered native title claimant group is to re-authorise a new applicant and make an application under section 66B of the act to remove any member of the group who refused to sign. Stakeholders have indicated that this process can impose high costs on registered native title claimants and cause delays. There was significant evidence to the committee that this could cause confusion and worry in a community if they had to go through the whole process again of registering and then waiting for the process to go through the courts. The evidence that came to us was that consideration needed to be given to improving the amendments in the legislation that we are debating today in the parliament.
The McGlade decision has potentially far-reaching implications for approximately 126 existing registered ILUAs made over the past seven years in reliance on the decision in Bygrave. These decisions had been made, discussed in the communities and then registered on the Register of Native Title Claims. They had been finalised in good faith, and subsequent decisions about rights to the use of land and the opportunities that existed in communities had been made based on that agreement. These ILUAs include agreements concerning very large areas of land across Australia, including ILUAs made with respect to national parks, agricultural ventures and mining ventures.
This bill responds to the McGlade decision by amending the Native Title Act so that any area ILUA which was authorised and registered prior to the McGlade decision will be valid, despite not being signed by all members of the registered native title claimant group. We have been advised by the government that this change to the law will ensure the validity of approximately 126 registered ILUAs that were negotiated in good faith by native title holders with land users on the basis of the law, as it was clearly understood to be. The amendments that we are debating will also enable the registration of area ILUAs that were lodged for registration prior to the McGlade decision, despite not having been signed by all members of the registered native title claimant group. Again, advice from the government is that this will apply to a further eight ILUAs.
This was the information on which discussions during the meetings of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, as well as subsequent discussions in later weeks, were based. It was also the basis on which the Labor senators originally agreed to accept and support this native title amendment bill. But, subsequent to that, another series of amendments have come before the parliament which have been proposed to consider the situation of the Cape York Land Council. These amendments would extend the bill to also validate area ILUAs that could otherwise be rendered invalid if successfully challenged in the Federal Court on the basis that they were not signed by any registered native title claimant. This is another complication and, in terms of the principle, there is still the situation that we need to make quite clear so that people fully understand their rights and fully understand the implications of the decisions that we are making in the parliament. But that information was not available to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee when they met. It was not available to people who were looking at what was going on in the parliament until this week. I think this creates a sense of urgency and it was not effectively discussed and understood before the last period of discussion. Despite that, Labor have listened to the arguments put around the situation with the Cape York Land Council and their particular leases in that area. It is my understanding that we have agreed to approve that process as well. But this reinforces the concerns that have been raised by people in the community about the need for full consultation and understanding of the process.
I accept that we will never be able to fully please every person who has some ownership in this case. There will be differences of opinion. We see that and we must acknowledge that. But that almost gives greater cause for the processes that are in place, how we are proceeding and the basis on which we are proceeding to be adequately explained and understood. My concern is that, if we do not actually fully commit to that principle and understand the sensitivities, it could impact not just on this case but on cases into the future. So, on the basis of the evidence before us that has come from our consideration of this particular bill today, we believe that there have been cases made for the urgency and the need to ensure that there is no confusion in the community or in the various property and business processes that are taking place through agreements that were made prior to McGlade. We understand the need for that. But at the same time I think we have to make very clear our concerns about any perception that this has been rushed and any perception that people have not had their rights and their culture fully understood, accepted and respected. We need to make a commitment that we understand the concerns that have been raised about consultation and that any future action this parliament takes will respond to those sensitivities and to the understanding that full consultation will take place, because this is unfinished business. We know that there will continue to be further need for changes and amendments to the native title legislation.
As we know, when Labor's current shadow Attorney-General, Mr Dreyfus, was the Attorney-General he did refer issues to do with native title legislation to the Australian Law Commission to fully consider where we are now with this legislation and the changes that will have to take place into the future. Certainly, that particular law report now needs to be fully considered by government. There must be much further discussion in this place and a clear process put in place for how we will enshrine the consultative process into the future. We need to make sure that there is trust in the way the parliament will respond to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. That was the intent of the 1993 process. It was the intent of the High Court decision that there be a clear understanding of and commitment to the principles of native title legislation—of true ownership of land. In any discussions about native title in the future we absolutely need to ensure that trust is there and that there is an understanding that we will put in place appropriate and agreed consultation processes. If we do not do that, we will be destroying the history and the challenge of native title. If we do not do that, we will not be fulfilling the extraordinary work that was put in place by the Mabo process and the Mabo family, then and now, who continue, in many ways, to be the actual custodians of the native title legislation.
At this time, Labor are supporting the legislation, but we say that we can do the processes better, and we must do them better. Anyone who has listened to the contribution made by Senator Dodson would understand the way in which we can do this better. I know that Senator McCarthy will be making the same comments in the future as she has made today about what we must do. I think this should be one of the processes that comes out of today's debate: looking at today's legislation and the amendments, which we are supporting, but learning from the process to ensure that this negotiation, this discussion, cannot be rushed.
We need to ensure that consultation takes place. We do not need to have cracks across this chamber saying that the process of having full debate in this place is determined by whether senators want to have a long weekend or not. That does no honour to the person who makes those comments, and it certainly does not reflect appropriate discussion in this Senate. No-one owns morality. No-one owns best practice. But we can do better than exchanging barbs in that way.
What we must do in the parliament is look at legislation, listen to the people who have knowledge, experience and ownership and then balance the arguments here, openly debate the process and move forward, bringing people together rather than laying down laws upon them from outside. And if we do that we will continue the message of Mabo. We will continue the message of the Keating legislation from 1993, and we will enshrine true native title in this community together rather than divided.
It is a pleasure to make a contribution to this important piece of legislation, the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017, this evening. It is a piece of legislation that has significance for every Australian. By way of history, in 1992 the High Court of Australia handed down a historical decision in the Mabo v Queensland case, recognising that the common law of Australia recognise rights and interests to land held by Indigenous people under their traditional laws and customs. The Mabo and Wik decisions and the subsequent Native Title Act 1993 were salient points in the history of this nation and the changing relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
For over 24 years the act has served Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities well, until 2 February this year, when the Federal Court handed down the McGlade v Native Title Registrar decision, which has invalidated land use agreements across the country. It has also seen the $1.3 billion Western Australian South West land use agreement with the Noongar people, which included a benefits package with annual payments of $50 million into a Noongar future fund over 12 years and 320,000 hectares of land handed over to Noongar ownership, shelved. This decision of the Federal Court has created uncertainty throughout the native title sector, especially over the status of Indigenous Land Use Agreements, or ILUAs. It means that ILUAs without the signatures of all registered native title claimant members, including members who are deceased, cannot be registered. Simply, this means that if a single member of the registered native title group withholds their consent or dies before authorising it, the agreement cannot be registered. This also means that the only alternative to the native title claim group is to re-authorise a new applicant and make a new application under section 66B of the act, removing the member or members of the registered group who refused to sign.
This is an unnecessary and unacceptable barrier on the native title system. It is a barrier for native title stakeholders, imposing high costs for claim groups, which often have limited resources, as well as delays for claimants and third parties. It raises considerable uncertainty for all parties doing business on native title land, especially in my home state of Western Australia. Pastoralists, mining companies, oil and gas companies, tourism operators, fishing and pearling businesses, and local government authorities are all left with a high degree of uncertainty over their existing and future native title land use agreements. This is primarily because native title has a greater impact on Western Australia than on any other Australian jurisdiction. Western Australia is exposed to the responsibilities of native title more than any other territory or state in the Commonwealth. Approximately 85 per cent of the state of Western Australia is subject to either a native title claim or has already received a Federal Court of Australia native title determination that recognises the existence of native title rights and interests.
The sheer size of these determinations accounts for over 50 per cent of the total national land area. There are 79 currently filed native title claims in Western Australia, on top of 60 native title determinations. This compares with just 277 outstanding claims and 316 determinations nationally. Western Australia also grants the highest number of land and mineral licences and titles in Australia, the majority of which must comply with the future acts regime of the Native Title Act.
For those unaware, a future act is an act done after 1 January 1994 which affects native title. A future act can be any proposed activity or development on land or waters that has the potential to affect native title by extinguishing it or by creating interests that are inconsistent with the existence or exercise of native title. Other than the issue of the goods and services tax, the most significant state federal financial issue facing Western Australia is native title determinations, especially future acts. This is a $1 billion plus issue for the future of Western Australia.
This is because, in my home state of Western Australia, the most common future acts are the proposed grants of mining or land titles by the Department of Mines and Petroleum and the Department of Lands. It is because in Western Australia all native title claims are determined in the Federal Court, with the WA state government as first respondent. The preferred outcome for all native title claims is that they be resolved through mediation rather than litigation, utilising ILUAs, voluntary agreements primarily about access, which are registered and held by the National Native Title Tribunal and bind all persons who hold native title to the agreement, whether they are parties or not.
The importance of ILUAs in the native title system cannot be understated. An ILUA may address issues of access, compensation, extinguishment and coexistence. An ILUA may be made separately from the formal native title process, form a part of that process or pave the way for a native title determination. An ILUA does not extinguish native title but may, by agreement, allow for the surrender of native title. Most importantly, an ILUA can address past and intermediate acts as well as future acts. It may also replace the future act process entirely.
The Federal Court's decision of 2 February this year has far-reaching implications for the approximately 150 existing Indigenous land use agreements that have been made under the Native Title Act, most of them made in the past seven years. In addition to the implications for agreements made with the Noongar people in WA's southwest, it also has far-reaching implications for future land agreements that are currently under negotiation, not just in Western Australia but across every state and territory. Correcting this level of uncertainty has motivated the government to respond quickly and offer a remedy to ensure that all of these agreements have the status that is expected by those registered native title groups and communities that have entered into them.
This is a legislative response that will secure existing agreements which have been registered on or before 2 February this year but do not comply with the Federal Court's decision on McGlade. They will clarify who must be a party to an area ILUA in the future, unless the claim group determines otherwise. These are important changes. Most importantly, they do not alter the intent of the Native Title Act. They give certainty in the Commonwealth legislation to the agreements that have already been struck. They give certainty not only to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but also to all parties who have entered into the agreements, so that they can plan the way forward as agreed and honour those commitments.
The source of native title rights and interests is the traditional laws and customs of the native title holders. This means that the nature of native title rights and interests varies from community to community. This is also why native title can coexist with other forms of land title such as pastoral leases but is extinguished by others such as freehold. However, there are fundamental differences between land rights and native title. Land rights are rights created by the Australian state or territory governments. Land rights usually comprise a grant or a freehold or perpetual lease title given to Indigenous Australians. By contrast, native title arises as a result of the recognition, under Australian common law, of pre-existing Indigenous rights and interests according to traditional laws and customs.
It is extraordinary that, even for a moment, the Labor Party and the Greens would have objected to passing this bill. It is extraordinary but perhaps not unexpected, and I will tell you why. For all their talk about working to make the native title system better, fairer and more transparent, the Labor Party continue to fall short. It was a Labor Attorney-General who removed funding for native title respondents, a move that significantly impacted on native title determinations at the time, not just in WA but also in Queensland and in New South Wales. It was a Labor Prime Minister who, in 2001, advised the WA state government that it would no longer honour the 1994 agreement made by then Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating, the architect of the original Native Title Act, and that the Commonwealth would bear the lion's share of the burden for compensating for native title by funding up to 75 per cent of the compensation costs arising from the validation of past acts on determined native title lands. It is the Labor Party who today, again, is playing games with the passage of a bill that will protect the validity of ILUAs and the integrity of the native title process.
This bill is yet another example of how the government is addressing, not ignoring, the deficiencies of our native title regime. As a senator for Western Australia, I support the bill and look forward to playing my part in working with colleagues to ensure that our native title framework operates in a manner that is fair and provides certainty to all parties across all states and territories.
I rise to speak on the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017, which is also known as the bill to ram through the Adani coalmine against the wishes of the local Wangan and Jagalingou people. It is known as the bill to give certainty to big miners whilst subjugating the rights of our First Australians.
First, I go to the process. As we know, this bill was rushed through the House of Representatives about five seconds after the court case found that many of these ILUAs are invalid because not all of the native title claimants and registered claimants have ticked off on them. That was an eminently sensible decision by one of our courts. Of course, this government does not like the fact that that casts some doubt on the ability of the big miners to ride roughshod over not just our land but the rights of Indigenous people whose land it was and still is.
We have concerns about the time frame and the fact that this was rushed through not only the House but then a very hasty Senate committee process. As the record will show, we Greens sought to extend out the report date for inquiry but, sadly, we were not supported by the Senate to do that. The upshot of that was that submitters did not have enough time to prepare their submissions and we only had one hearing. Everyone would accept that native title as a body of law is incredibly complicated. It is also an issue where it is incredibly important that we get it right. We have a legacy in this country of abominable decisions when it comes to recognising and respecting our First Australians. This native title bill is regularly criticised for being a poor construct which ill fits with the rights that still exist and should be legally recognised as still existing. So to be rushing through a bodgied up amendment at the last minute to an already complex area of law is bad practice, but to do that to favour a big mining company to open up one of the biggest coalmines in the world to further trash the climate and the Reef is utterly unforgivable. Those are our concerns with the process.
There is a lot of opinion about this bill. Clearly, Aboriginal people do not speak with one voice and, clearly, we should not seek to speak for them, which is another matter I will go into. But the other issue we have is that there has not been enough consultation on the effect of these proposed changes. I have personally met with traditional owners particularly from that Wangan and Jagalingou group who are deeply opposed to ramming through these changes to our native title laws. Adrian Burragubba and his niece Murrawah Johnson have been campaigning for reforms to the native title system, as have many other traditional owners in Queensland I have had occasion to meet with. They have been campaigning for their rights to be properly respected. Instead, there has been a litany of frankly dodgy practice around the signing of this ILUA. I have had lengthy briefings with Adrian where he has explained to me how the mining company has bussed up people who are not even from the local area to stack the meetings.
Senator Canavan interjecting —
Can I ask that you call the minister to order, please, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher.
So they have been bussing in people who do not genuinely represent the Wangan and Jagalingou mob. As a result, an ILUA has been signed that does not reflect the wishes of that mob. Is it any wonder that the government wants to preference the needs and wishes of a big mining company ahead of reaching a genuine consensus and a genuine free, prior and informed consent arrangement with our First Australians?
Our laws do not enshrine the requirement for free, prior and informed consent. Internationally we have that obligation, but there have been no steps whatsoever taken to put that into our domestic laws. This is a real blight that we should be attending to fix as a matter of urgency, but, no, that would of course make it more difficult for the big mining companies. So you will not see that out of this government, and you probably will not see it out of the opposition either.
It is pretty clear that this bill is a sop to Adani, and the relevant minister admitted as much earlier today. He really belled the cat in that Adani have leant on the government, they have leant on the state government and they have demanded certainty—the audacity of them demanding certainty when this is and always will be Indigenous land—and now the government is saying, 'Oh, you want us to jump? How far would you like us to jump?' and are ramming through these laws. We saw the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, head off to India in the last few weeks and do a deal with the head of the Adani Group and assure him that it would all be settled, that it would be fine and that she would sort it out. They have rolled out the red carpet for this company. It is a shame that they have done no such thing when it comes to the First Australians in Queensland.
Of course, hot on the heels of the Queensland Premier was none other than the Prime Minister himself, who also went over to India in a big sop to Adani and its company group. He also said, 'We'll sort it out; don't you worry about that, mate. We will trash the native title rights and we will fix this for you so that you can build one of the largest coalmines in the world on Indigenous land. We don't care if the local mob don't support it. We've got some signatures on a bit of paper from the wrong people, but we don't care; we will use the law to abuse the process and make sure that your donations keep flowing to us and that you can rip out the guts from our land.'
It is really clear that the impacts of this mine would completely trash the significance and specialty of that land, both for non-Indigenous people and also, importantly, for the Wangan and Yagalingu people. They are deeply concerned about the impacts on groundwater and the impacts on their dreaming sites. They have taken me powerfully through some of the dreaming stories of that land, and it is moving and something that should be respected. Instead, this government is saying that it wants to simply roll out the red carpet even more for a big mining company and it does not give a damn about the rights of the Wangan and Yagalingu people, who are desperate to have their voices heard in the native title process and to have their rights respected. But, as we have seen, the native title process itself has been a construct that, from the word go, was a compromise to suit the white fella. And now we have some amendments which will make it even more convenient for the mining companies and even less of a genuine system to recognise the prior existing rights of Indigenous people. It is an absolute abomination, in my view.
Moving to the impacts of this bill: if this is passed—and we will fight it—it will retrospectively validate those ILUAs which a court has found to be dodgy, to be not properly signed, because not enough of the relevant traditional owners signed on to them to make them valid ILUAs. So the government want to retrospectively validate an agreement to facilitate a big mining company. Often they come in here and try to say that they are doyens of the law and that they do not like retrospectivity. There is a principle against retrospectivity in lawmaking, because it changes things after the fact. You are not meant to do it—in plain language—but this government do not care, because, again, Adani has said, 'Jump' and the government have said, 'How high?' So they want to retrospectively validate these dodgy ILUAs and subjugate the rights of the Wangan and Yagalingu people.
This mine is probably the best example of the worst and most appalling way that the big parties are working for the interests of big mining companies, and the big corporates generally, ahead of the interests of ordinary people. It is no surprise and it is no wonder that Australians think that our system is broken and that our economic system is rigged against everyday people. This is the same system that lets the greedy bankers rip off everyday people with the full protection of politicians—although we note with pleasure that the banking levy, a partial adoption of Greens policy, has been proposed in the budget. This is the same system that would let Adani take unlimited groundwater from our state, which is 90 per cent in drought. Nobody else gets free water, but this mega-multinational mining company is going to get free groundwater in a state that is 90 per cent in drought.
This is the same system that wants to give a billion dollars of public money to that very same company, as a concessional loan. It will cost the budget—and we have sought to establish that in estimates—tens of millions of dollars to give this concessional loan to a company led by a billionaire, who should not need the support. Adani has got a complex corporate web of companies. If it cannot even organise itself to fund its own project, why is the taxpayer being asked to put up their hand and provide public money for this project?
On that point, I want to pick Labor up for trying to walk both sides of the fence. They keep saying that if this project stacks up then it should get NAIF funding. Well, the whole point of the NAIF funding is that it can only fund projects that do not stack up commercially. So I am afraid that Labor's rhetoric is utterly inconsistent when it comes to its pathetically divided approach on this enormous mega-mine.
One wonders why the big mining companies, and Adani in particular, have such influence over both sides of politics and both levels of government, and one needs to look no further than the political donations that are made by the fossil fuel companies to both sides of politics. At last count it was $3.7 million over three years that the fossil fuel sector—that is, big coal and big gas—have given to the Liberals, to the Labor Party and to the National Party. That is $3.7 million to run their election campaigns, as they desperately try to cling to power. And then they buckle on implementing their principles once they get into power, but that is beside the point. These donations are incredibly generous, and it is very clear that they are having the impact of policies that are designed to benefit the big corporates and to sacrifice the environment and to ignore the interests of ordinary community members.
So that is why there is the powerful movement that has sprung up in opposition to this mine. It is a David and Goliath battle. You have got the big miners and the big corporates generally. You have got their big donations. You have got the well-connected lobbyists—the former politicians who now work for those very same mining companies, or their former staffers. Again, it is a revolving door when it comes to the fossil fuel sector; one minute they are in this place making decisions; the next, they are promised a cushy job and they are out working for the industry, and back and forth it goes. I have spoken at length in this chamber about that previously—about the absolutely sordid links between the fossil fuel sector and the parliament, and the fact that it is no wonder that we get poor decisions out of this place when they are so impossibly hocked to the industry.
So one would think that this is a David and Goliath battle that people-power might not win. But people-power will win this because ordinary Australians do not want to see Indigenous rights trashed. They do not want to see our Reef further cooked by turbocharging climate change, like this mega-mine would do. They do not want to see a billion dollars of taxpayers' money given to a multinational company that does not need the help—and when that money could be so desperately better spent in other areas, and when they have not even had a chance to have a say on how that money should be spent. Many people in the community whom I speak to in Queensland are horrified when they hear that this project might get a billion dollars of public money, because, they say, 'I was never asked whether that was what my community wanted. We want better schools. We want better hospitals. We want some renewable energy jobs. We do not want a billion dollars being given to this dog of a project that will not employ anywhere near as many people as they claim it will.' And the company has admitted that—it acknowledges that it is not going to be 10,000 jobs. It might be 1,464, but who knows? We will have to wait and see. Of course, they are all FIFO jobs.
And we have seen the impact of the mining boom-and-bust cycle. Look at Gladstone. That poor town is now thoroughly destitute after the boom. I remember going to Gladstone five years ago; you could not get a hotel room. And now, of course, there are an awful lot of empty properties, because that is what happens when you get a mining boom-and-bust cycle. It puts communities through the washing machine, and they end up worse off because rates of violence, and domestic violence in particular, skyrocket; the cost of living skyrockets; and then the miners up and leave town, and the community is left with nothing. They have just ridden roughshod over that community, and I do not want that to happen to other communities in Queensland.
We have also seen in Queensland the resurgence of black lung, which coalminers are now suffering. We thought that that disease, pneumoconiosis, as it is known, was stamped out decades ago. But it is back. So these are not the sorts of jobs that you would want anyone to be working in, because people are now dying from them. Why this government and the state government thinks that the only possible job that can be created in regional Queensland is a coal job just shows an absolute lack of imagination and an absolute lack of understanding that we are now in this century. We have other options. Clean energy can do the job technologically and, if we hurry up then we will not get further behind the world.
Again, it comes back to those donations. It must be that is why the big mining companies have so much sway over both sides of politics, and it is why that is all the jobs they can think of—jobs that are short term, that will not last, that are subject to that boom and bust cycle, that are killing its workers and, importantly, that are threatening the reef itself and the 70,000 jobs that rely on the reef remaining healthy.
I have been to the reef many a time, and it made a huge impact on me. It is an absolutely magnificent place. If anyone has not had the joy of experiencing it, I would encourage them to do so. But it is under threat. We have already seen it being slammed with the two worst coral-bleaching episodes in its ancient history, the worst ever in the last two years, two successive years. Never before has the reef suffered such bleaching and never before has it happened in back-to-back years.
The scientists are being crystal clear about this. They could not be clearer. Terry Hughes and others of his ilk have been pleading and begging with decision makers at all levels of government saying: 'We cannot have more coal in the system. It is a choice between new coal or the reef. The reef can't take it anymore.' It has been falling on deaf ears in this place. Indeed, when my colleague, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, asked a question in the last sitting which pointed to Terry Hughes' desperate despair at the future of this reef that he loves, and so many other people love, he was ridiculed and mocked and offered a hanky. Come on, this is the federal parliament of Australia. Surely we can do better than that. We are talking about the future of an organism that can be seen from space, that will outlive and outlast all of us unless this mob continues to trash it by handing free money to big mining companies to line their own pockets with profits and then trash the climate for the rest of us and for future generations to look after. That is why this bill is so important. It is not only about Indigenous rights and the future of where we want to take the economy; it is also about what we want to do to this planet.
I have mentioned before that the red carpet has been rolled out for this company, and I want to go through precisely what state Labor have done. They have given a water licence with unlimited and free groundwater for the Adani Carmichael coalmine. They have offered Adani a royalty holiday. So not only do this company have the privilege of a billion dollars of public money that they will probably be awarded under this government; they are not even going to have to pay for the privilege. And here is the catch: the Queensland government is not even telling us the details of this royalty holiday. They will not say how long it is going to be for and they will not admit how much money Queenslanders will forego because the government is giving this company a free ride. What an absolute joke!
They have also created a special loophole for Adani so that there are no appeals available to the community against the water licence. Again, nobody else gets that sort of special treatment. Nobody else says: 'The processes don't apply to you. You can have this free pass. We'll make sure the community can't exercise the rights that they would otherwise have. She'll be right, mate.' Queensland Labor and, of course, this government here at the federal level as well, have approved the mine at every stage and at every level. Queensland Labor have now actively lobbied for federal funding for this project after they went to our state election saying they would save the reef, and people desperately wanted them to; they wanted to believe that. They said they would not put a cent of public money into the project and it had to stand on its own two feet. They had also earlier said, through their own Treasury officials, that this was an unbankable project.
And so what a surprise when, now that they are in government, they are actively lobbying for that federal money, that taxpayer money, to be given to this project! Interestingly, they have a veto power—it is not really being spoken about much. The Queensland government can veto the $1 billion that NAF might approve and probably will approve and give to Adani—and we would be urging them to do so, to stand firm on what were clear election commitments that they made, that the community supported because the community loves the reef and wants to see it protected and not trashed for the sake of a few extra dollars in a billionaire's back pocket.
It is pretty clear the processes are being rigged with vested interests. I have talked about the enormous amounts of donations, and that is probably why they are greasing the palms of the process that is happening here. But I want to also remind federal Labor that they are not without power here. If Mr Bill Shorten—who, frankly, has been trying to walk two sides of the road on this one—simply picked a side and said today or tomorrow that he would review the environmental approvals for the Adani coalmine because of the information that has come to light since those approvals were handed out, because of the litany of examples of environmental destruction in various different countries across the world, then that would create enough pressure, I believe, for the company to abandon this project. They know they have got a terrible track record of environmental destruction. They have been taken to court in their home country at least once and have been convicted of destroying mangroves and misoperating a port. What is the reaction here in Australia? Queensland Labor puts them in charge of a port, gives them a 99-year lease and says, 'She'll be right.'
The Wangan and Jagalingou people are standing strong against this mine, and they are standing strong against having their rights complete subjugated by this bill, which would retrospectively validate an ILUA that does not reflect their wishes. We are standing with them. We are standing with the 70,000 people who want the reef protected and who want their jobs protected, and we are standing for positive job creation for regional Queensland that will last and will not trash the reef.
I rise to speak about an uncomfortable truth, because that is what the whole process leading into this debate has been about—and continues to be about—in relation to native title. It is an uncomfortable truth disguised as legislation. It is an uncomfortable truth disguised in urgent amendments. It is an uncomfortable truth that is tucked away behind legal speak—heard but not understood. Even here, in the house of the people, this truth remains uncomfortable. Why? Because it is the symbolic and deeper truth about our country—the unfinished, unspoken business of black and white Australia.
Twenty-five years ago Eddie Mabo said no. He did not want to remain part of an uncomfortable truth tucked away, hidden. He did not want to be reassured with numbing advice that his legal options were impossible. He did not believe that his truth of being a strong Meriam man of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait, nor his people's richness in historical past and resilience in the present, should be silent. But many around him did. They wanted to stay complicit in the silence. It was comfortable and easier than change.
This house of the people also stayed silent, as did most Australians, but the conscience of the great spirits of this beautiful land we all call home moved in the heart of one man and in the lives of his fellow plaintiffs, Reverend David Passi, Celuia Mapoo Salee, Sam Passi and James Rice. Like any family, there was, no doubt, division in Eddie Mabo's family and in his clan groups in the islands—bitter divisions, not least of which centred on the authority to make decisions about everyday life on Murray Island, about who could hunt where for the food that was needed to feed families or whose role it was to take the lead in ceremonies sacred to their people. It is human nature to have conflict. It takes a spiritual nature to pursue peace through such conflict.
There was friction in the understanding of legal doctrine and further separation of whose legal advice was the better to follow. Who could interpret the law in such a way as to dare challenge the centuries old law, the doctrine of terra nullius? Eddie Mabo did. His challenge and win in the High Court resulted in the Native Title Act.
Fast forward 25 years and the Noongar challenge in the Federal Court sees the Senate here today debating amendments in relation to the McGlade decision. While an important victory for some Noongar families—and I commend those families—it has created uncertainty for others. In fact there is uncertainty in the future of more than 100 Indigenous land use agreements, ILUAs, that we know of. I seek leave to table the 126 ILUAs that the federal government has failed to provide information to the Senate on.
The job of the Senate is to scrutinise the possible impacts of that decision in this amended piece of legislation. A one-day Senate inquiry hearing, over a few weeks, is not a long time for examination, despite the best experienced people on that inquiry—I know my colleague Senator Pat Dodson has advocated strongly and passionately, within this fraught process, for the rights of native title holders. It is most regrettable that further time was not given to allow even conversations with the parties involved in the over 100 Indigenous land use agreements to see if they understand the ramifications of the McGlade decision and even this amendment before the Senate. I might add that, in the full routine of what this process has been so far, I have just received notice of another amendment, or the removal of an amendment, which just goes to show that this government has no idea and can give no confidence to this Senate or to the Australian people, and certainly not to the first nations people, that it has their best interests at heart.
There are many questions that remain unanswered, such as: how many ILUAs were registered prior to the Bygrave decision of 2010 which might be affected by the McGlade decision; what steps have been taken to identify and audit these agreements; how long would it take to identify and audit these agreements; and are there any other native title agreements—including the right-to-negotiate agreements concluded under section 31 of the Native Title Act and ILUAs registered prior to the Bygrave decision—that might be impacted by McGlade? Cape York Land Council is the only one that I am aware of that has done an audit of its agreements, and that is only because Senator Pat Dodson forced the government to meet with native title holders; otherwise, we would not have even known about Cape York's issue. And that is just one land council amongst a dozen land councils across this country and certainly hundreds, if not thousands, of native title applicants and custodians across the country.
It begs the question: have other Aboriginal land councils and native title representative bodies done audits? Can they confidently say there are no issues? Can the Attorney-General say with any confidence that we will not be here in the future with further amendments required as a consequence of these changes not being properly scrutinised or thoroughly consulted about with traditional owners right across the country? While the government has stated time and time again that this is not about Adani but about certainty for parties to native title agreements, Labor has supported the amendments on that basis—that they will bring certainty for native title groups, government and industry. However, there is more than a suggestion that this is not just about certainty for native title agreements. In the Senate committee inquiry into this legislation, former coalition MP Ian Macfarlane, who is now the CEO of the Queensland Resources Council, advised the committee that there may be another category of native title agreement. The CEO of the Queensland Resources Council advised the committee that there may be another category of native title agreement affected by McGlade which is not rectified by this amending legislation. These are agreements negotiated under the right-to-negotiate provisions of the Native Title Act.
These are enormously significant agreements, underpinning some of the largest resource projects in Australia. If what Mr Macfarlane advised the committee is correct, then there may be potentially hundreds of other native title agreements, and hence major resource projects, in doubt due to McGlade. The Attorney-General is aware of this issue. Indeed, Mr Macfarlane said he had spoken with him about that matter. But, despite the lack of certainty about these agreements, the government has not seen fit to address them in this amending legislation. They have been totally ignored.
I ask then: what about the certainty for the native title groups who are parties to those agreements negotiated under the right-to-negotiate provisions of the Native Title Act? What about the certainty, for that matter, for industry and government with respect to these projects? I find it curious that the government views it as urgent that ILUAs be given certainty but that some of the biggest resource projects in Australia, negotiated under the right-to-negotiate provisions of the Native Title Act, should not. And I wonder: in the two months since the Senate committee, why hasn't the government done the work to identify all classes of agreements affected by McGlade, including both ILUAs and the right-to-negotiate agreements?
These contradictions lead me to doubt whether this is really about certainty for all native title groups and parties. If these amendments truly were about certainty for all parties to native title agreements, surely the government would have seen fit to amend it.
On 30 June last year, the Federal Court of Australia handed down a judgement in a case of incredible significance for my Yanyuwa family in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Justice Mansfield, in one of his last judgements, found that exclusive native title still existed in Borroloola and was held by the Rrumburriya people, of which I am a member. He also found that, for the first time in the Northern Territory, the Rrumburriya people have, among their bundle of native title rights, the right to trade for commercial purposes. Now, although we have never described it in this way, the right to trade is something that we Yanyuwa people have always known forms part of our long cultural tradition. We have traded with other neighbouring clans and the Macassan visitors from Indonesia for many generations. But, although we have known this, it has taken this long to have it recognised by an Australian court.
While it was a moment of great celebration for my families, this success comes with a number of caveats. The native title system is uniquely difficult to understand and navigate, let me tell you. Native title claimants must endure endless meetings and interrogations in order to prove that they still have traditional laws and customs. Court processes requiring the filing of service of legal documents are completely alien to many Indigenous people, and sometimes the lawyers themselves have difficulty communicating the complex legal concepts underpinning the Native Title Act. One of the parts of this at times impenetrable native title system concerns the authorisation and execution process for Indigenous land use agreements, the processes of which are the subject of this current bill. Adding to this complexity is the fact that the system, which adjudicates on the very identity of Indigenous people and our legal rights, has its central power in institutions that are located far away, in the Commonwealth parliament in Canberra and in the highest courts in the land. Thus, there is no doubt in my mind that the native title system, despite all it can bring, can also cause alienation for the Indigenous people who it is said to assist.
Given the complexity of the native title system that Aboriginal people are forced to navigate, the profound impact on Aboriginal people's legal identities and rights of this system, and the remote location of the institutions that can affect these legal identities and rights, it is a matter of great sadness to me that these amendments have always been rushed and always come at the last minute. Of all the laws in Australia, the Native Title Act is meant to go some way to remedying the past dispossession suffered by Indigenous people. On this basis, it should never, ever be amended in haste. Amendments should always be thoroughly debated and consulted about, particularly with the Indigenous people who will be the most affected. The government, and in particular Senator Brandis, has failed to give native title legislation and, by extension, native title holders proper consideration and respect in this shabby process. The behaviour of the government has been shameful, secretive, cynical and arrogant.
There has been little recognition of the significant and long-term impacts these amendments will have on native title holders and the rights they fought so hard to have recognised. This government failed to consult properly with native title holders until they were dragged by Senator Pat Dodson to do so. The government were very selective in whom they decided to talk to and they have been even more selective in whom they decided to listen to in this mess of a process, which was created by them in their haste to force through flawed policy as a matter of political expediency.
Senators, traditional owners are your constituents. How many of you have asked them about this amendment? If I asked the traditional owners in the Northern Territory or even closer to home—if I ask the Yanyuwa traditional owners—who are also Native Title claimants, 'What does this legislation amendment mean to you?' they would probably say, 'I don't know. I need more information,' or, in Yanyuwa language, ngarna kudardi—'I don't know.'
The Senate might like to think it is up to the native title rep bodies or even the land councils. The government did not think that. But it is up to the senators to reach out to their Indigenous constituents. With over 100 Indigenous land use agreements across the country and 76 senators who represent this country, how many of you have even asked if any of the native title applicants in one of those ILUAs are in your constituency? How many of you have asked whether your constituents might need to know what is being debated in the Senate today? Do they agree? Do they understand why? Do you? If not, then how can we in the Senate, the house of the people, speak with confidence that this unexamined approach to amending the Native Title Act will end uncertainty? It is an act that requires at least a symbolic sacredness and respect because of the deeper truth that enabled its birth from the first nations people of Australia and our system of laws and beliefs, to attempt to build a future with the Westminster system of laws and beliefs.
To those families who brought us here today due to the McGlade decision—Mingli Wanjurri McGlade, Mervyn Eades, Naomi Smith and Aunty Margaret Culbong: I sincerely wish you well in the days ahead. To all those impacted by the McGlade decision, on all sides: may you find some comfort in knowing that this parliament acknowledges the strength of your struggles; keep believing in the impossible. Eddie Mabo did. I acknowledge his wife, Bonita, and daughter Gail Mabo, especially as we come close to the 25th anniversary of the High Court decision. Thank you for your guidance to me on this journey here today. I will keep believing that one day the uncomfortable truth will be a respected truth.
On behalf of the opposition, I move the amendment circulated in my name, on sheet 8150:
At the end of the motion, add:
but the Senate expresses its disappointment with the regrettable way in which the Government has managed the process for consultation on the changes contained in the Bill, which has been a source of unnecessary angst, confusion and delay."
I rise this afternoon to add my comments to this debate on the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017. Firstly, to contribute to the comments made previously by Senator Siewert and Senator Waters, it is a disgrace how the government has handled this piece of legislation in this place. It is an absolute exploitation of the fundamental issue of land rights in this country, again, with Indigenous people simply being used and abused when it suits the government. We all know why there was a suspension of standing orders earlier today by the Leader of the Government in the Senate to try to bring on this bill and ram it through this house tonight. That, of course, is because the government are more interested in the rights of mining companies than they are in the rights of Indigenous people.
There are fundamental issues with the bill. We know we need to consider it in proper detail. Instead, all the government gives a damn about is giving a free pass to the mega coal company Adani. It is not even an Australian company. It is a dodgy, corrupt company based in India that is already under excessive investigation for corruption, money laundering, tax evasion—the list goes on. Why on earth are we seeing our parliament hijacked by a dodgy company like this, via the government of the day, just so that the company can get their project up off the ground? And let us not forget it is with the help of $1 billion of Australian taxpayers' money, offered up at mates rates by the Turnbull government.
It is absolutely appalling to see our parliament hijacked by such a corrupt, dodgy coal company. It proves just how much this government really is in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. What on earth is Senator Canavan getting out of his continual advocacy in this place for the Adani project?
Mr Acting Deputy President, I will withdraw the comment. I still ask: what is the arrangement for the special mates rates deal that the government is giving this foreign company to not just exploit the land on which they want to run their project but put the entire challenge of our dealing with climate change at risk? One of the biggest problems with this project is that Australia will never be able to reach its weak targets, if the proposed amount of coal is dug out of the ground and burnt. If this project were to go ahead, we might as well say goodbye to climate action.
Why on earth does this company need a billion-dollar leg-up from the Australian taxpayer, if it is a good project anyway? It is because no-one else will bankroll them. The executives at Adani are desperate to get the final approvals done by the federal government. Of course, the Queensland state Labor government have done their bit to help this company every step of the way, and now we have, rushing through this parliament, the desperation of this company. Every time the minister stands up he says nothing about Australians; it is all about the big overseas company Adani. It is as if he is more the minister for Adani than he is the minister for Queenslanders or, indeed, Australians at large.
You have to question what on earth is really going on, because this government and particular ministers are so obsessed in relation to this project and with helping out this dodgy, corrupt company, who are going to burn our planet to a crisp if they are able to get this amount of coal out of the ground. We know that the coalition and, in particular, the National Party are absolutely in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. They do not give two hoots about tackling climate change. They do not really give a damn about the limited amount of jobs that this company is going to create. We know that it is not as many as they claim, because in court they were found to have been lying.
That is not what they are obsessed about, because it does not make any sense. It is, of course, that this government and members of the government are absolutely in the pocket of the big fossil fuel corporations. These big fossil fuel companies, whether it be Adani, BP or Chevron, think they run this place. They think that they have every right to get bills voted on when they want to get their projects ticked off in their time frame—and they are happy to take the government handouts and leg-ups whenever they can as well. Tax rorts, handouts, cheap loans, mates rates—it goes on and on. The fossil fuel companies, those big multinational corporations, love to think they run this place. When are we going to start talking about the people's rights and land rights, not mining rights? When are we going to have that conversation in this place?
While I am at it, when we talk about those in the pocket of Adani, those doing everything they can to hand out a billion-dollar mates rates loan to this big company at the expense of funding schools or medical facilities in Queensland, you have to wonder what is going on inside the Labor Party as well. They are talking out of both sides of their mouth on this issue, and they absolutely know it. You have the Queensland government selling out their own people, and you have the federal Labor Party not knowing what to do. They are absolutely split on this issue. When is the Labor Party going to start standing up for proper action on climate change and staring down these climate criminals in these multinational companies? When are they going to have the guts to do that? Even just earlier today, we saw the Labor Party in this place not being able to sign off on a decent report about the risk of BP drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight. We had a South Australian senator from the Labor Party cross the floor and sign off on a report with the Liberals to protect the interests of Chevron. You might wonder why on earth the Labor Party would get themselves into such a mess that you have one senator saying that Chevron and BP should have the right to drill for oil and the others—
I was listening very carefully, Senator Williams. My reading of it was that Senator Hanson-Young, in respect of the signing of a committee document, was talking in a proverbial sense. I do not think she said it in a literal sense.
How interesting that people in this place are so tetchy about what really goes on behind the scenes. But it is not behind the scenes, because we have a South Australian Labor senator signing on to the report with two Liberal senators to say that it is A-OK to drill for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight—cuddling up to the fossil fuel industry all over again. Isn't it interesting that Chevron, the big multinational company that wants to drill for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight, donated money to the South Australian Labor Party within days of the hearing into that particular issue by the Senate committee? Isn't that interesting! People listening to this debate could obviously draw their own conclusions about why that particular South Australian senator had to sign on to a report that supported Chevron being able to drill for oil, but I think it is appalling. I think it is absolutely sickening to see the level of influence and corruption from the fossil fuel industry in this country creeping into every nook and cranny of how this Senate operates, from dictating when we debate bills, what time we will debate bills, to now dictating who will sign on to reports or not. This fossil fuel industry cannot continue to dominate what goes on in here.
I make the point that Senator Hanson-Young has cast a very serious aspersion on the motivations of one of our colleagues here in the Senate. I think it is contrary to the standing orders, and I ask you to ask her to retract it.
I will withdraw that. I simply point out that Chevron donated money to the South Australian Labor Party within a day of the hearing where South Australian senators sat in a hearing on an issue of the Great Australian Bight and allowing Chevron to drill for oil or not. It is extraordinary that, at a time when we should be cleaning up politics in this country, we see the government bending over backwards to help Adani, and we see the Labor Party incapable of getting their act together to stare down the crooks in the fossil fuel industry—the climate criminals who are going to fry this planet.
I thought I might talk about the bill before us! Labor has a long history with native title in this country. It was Labor, under Whitlam, who returned traditional lands in the Northern Territory to the Gurindji people, with the Prime Minister famously pouring sand into Vincent Lingiari's hands. It was Labor, under Keating, that introduced the Native Title Act in the wake of the historic Mabo ruling. And I do not say this to boast; I do not think any Australian could argue that as a nation our relationships with our first peoples have been without shortcomings or without error. I say it because Labor have a deep and enduring relationship with native title. It is something that we care about, it is something that we take seriously, it is something that we wish to protect, and it is this history and this perspective on the significance of native title and its seriousness as an issue that have guided every decision we have sought to take in relation to the bill before us.
The integrity of the native title system is the only consideration that has been front of mind for the participants in negotiations around this bill, the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017. This is the reason we are providing support to this bill. The recent McGlade decision by the Federal Court does have the potential to throw the entire future of our native title system into uncertainty. This is a real problem, and it needs to be solved. It is disappointing that this is not the approach that has been taken by others in this place.
The Greens political party do not have a policy position on this bill; they have a political strategy. They have been trying to tie these native title changes to Adani ever since the challenges related to the McGlade case first presented. Senator Siewert, back in February this year, said:
The news that Attorney General Brandis will hurriedly push through changes to the Native Title Act smacks of knee jerk reaction to a significant situation because they want to protect the Adani coal mine project …
There have been numerous comments from the member for Melbourne all this week. All this week, we have heard about it in this chamber. Senator Waters said on Tuesday:
No means no, yet this government is completely deaf to them, such that we now have a bill to ram through a reduction in native title rights just so the Adani mine can get up.
Senator Siewert did it again today, during the debate on suspending standing orders. These statements are highly irresponsible. In characterising the Labor Party's position as being associated with Adani, the Greens political party have been highly irresponsible and entirely incorrect. This bill is not about Adani, and Labor's approach is not about Adani. Our approach has been about addressing a real problem that has presented.
The McGlade decision found that an Indigenous land use agreement for a particular area could not be registered unless all members of the registered native title claimant group were parties to the agreement. Whilst people may wish to deny this, this throws up huge logistical problems. If left unanswered, it means that more than 100 Indigenous land use agreements could be invalid. These are agreements that were negotiated in good faith by native title holders with land users on the basis of the law as it was then understood. They concern very large areas of land across Australia, including national parks, agricultural ventures and mining ventures. I had the very good fortune to attend the signing of an ILUA, probably about a decade ago, in relation to a national park in New South Wales and to see how very, very significant it was to the three women who had been fighting for that agreement to come into force for more than a decade. These agreements provide long-term benefits to communities and they fund services that are important to those communities.
In essence, this bill responds to the uncertainty in that decision. It amends the Native Title Act so that any Indigenous land use agreement which was authorised and registered prior to the decision will be valid, even if it was not signed by all members of the claimant group. Labor is supporting changes to the legislation only to the extent that they will restore the law to the status quo, as it was before the McGlade decision.
Sitting suspended from 18:00 to 20:00