Senate debates

Thursday, 11 May 2017



9:31 am

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion to vary the hours of meeting and the routine of business for today.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that a motion relating to the hours of meeting and routine of business for today may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.

The purpose of this motion is to enable the final consideration and passage this week of the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017. As honourable senators are aware, that is the government bill that is currently being debated by the chamber, but it does appear from the state of the speakers list that, unless there were to be an accommodation and a variation, there is no practical possibility that the native title bill could be finally dealt with and disposed of this week. As we know, if the bill is not dealt with this week, then the soonest it can be finally dealt with and passed is in the week commencing on Tuesday, 13 June—that is, in more than a month's time.

I want to acknowledge that Senator Dodson, in his contribution on the second reading debate yesterday, made it clear that the Labor Party would support the bill and support the government amendments to the bill, and that has been confirmed as well by the shadow Attorney-General, who is the shadow minister responsible for the bill on behalf of the opposition, Mr Dreyfus. So we are not now discussing whether or not the bill should be passed. We are not dealing with the merits. We are dealing with whether or not the bill should be disposed of or finally dealt with this week.

We ask the opposition's support in relation to this, because the opposition has made it very clear, as recently as a letter sent to me by the shadow Attorney-General overnight, that its position was that it would facilitate the swift passage of the bill in this sittings. Those are Mr Dreyfus's words, repeated on several occasions—that the opposition will facilitate the swift passage of the bill in this sittings. As honourable senators know, there are only three sitting weeks in this sitting period, because the fortnight that would otherwise be a sitting fortnight is devoted to estimates. Of those three sitting weeks, two of them are short weeks—this week and the next sitting week, which does not begin until Tuesday 13 June. So the government's position is very simple: if the opposition is going to be faithful to its undertaking to the government to facilitate the swift passage of the bill in this sitting period, the swift passage of the bill means dealing with the bill as soon as practicably possible. The government listed this bill for debate yesterday, as government item of business No. 2. We have begun the debate, but because of the number of senators who wish to participate it will not be possible to dispose of the bill today unless there are additional hours. So the government is proposing that if—and only if—the bill is not finally dealt with today, the Senate sit tomorrow.

Since the decision of the Federal Court in the McGlade case—which this bill seeks to deal with the consequences of—came down on 2 February this year, we have been urged, in particular by the Indigenous leadership of the country, to deal with this matter as a matter of urgency, and we have. We introduced a bill into the House of Representatives to deal with it only a fortnight after the McGlade decision came down, and it passed through the House of Representatives on the last sitting day of the previous sitting period. There has been extensive consultation during the Easter recess, including a very large stakeholder consultation meeting on 27 May attended by the opposition, including Senator Dodson. So we are discharging our commitment to native title holders to deal with the matter as a matter of urgency, as they have requested us to do; we ask the opposition to keep their promise to facilitate the swift passage of the bill.

9:37 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

There are a number propositions I wish to put. The opposition is not intending to support the suspension. Firstly, these matters of native title have a long history of important and sometimes difficult debate, in this chamber particularly—probably before most of us were here—and throughout the Australian community. We believe that native title needs to be dealt with with care, with consideration and with due consultation with Indigenous Australians, because this goes to their land rights, their property rights, their human rights and their personal rights. The opposition has been seeking to work constructively with the government on this matter.

Just to give some history about this, the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017 makes significant changes to the Native Title Act. We do not believe that it should be rushed through the Senate. I make the point that the government guillotined debate on 16 February this year. Debate on the bill only commenced in the Senate yesterday, and only three speakers have spoken to the bill. The opposition has made clear, time and time again, that we are willing to work with the government in relation to amendments and in order to ensure not only the passage but also the proper form of this legislation. The fact is, this bill was pushed through the House without debate. The government then only allowed a single day for a Senate committee to conduct hearings into the bill. This was despite 61 organisations and individuals making thoughtful and detailed submissions on the bill. That committee's work identified many deficiencies in the bill, and there have been multiple rounds of amendments with limited consultation on them. The last amendments were provided to the opposition on—I think—Monday night, and then there were amendments to those amendments, as I recall, on Tuesday night. If the Attorney is concerned about the delay on this, frankly, he should look at his own competence, because presenting multiple rounds of amendments, and amendments to amendments, on the days you are seeking to pass a bill is no way to conduct negotiations, or to conduct discussion and consultation on this issue.

In terms of the assertion as to what commitment was made, the correspondence from the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow assistant minister for Indigenous affairs and the shadow Attorney-General was very clear. We said, 'Subject to those amendments being drafted appropriately and proper consultation taking place, Labor stands ready to work with the government to enable the swift passage of this legislation in the next sitting of the parliament,' which is obviously the winter sitting, which commenced on Tuesday, 9 May and concludes on the 22nd.

Because the government has frankly mishandled the consultation and amendment process—including some amendments being drafted in the Attorney's office itself, I am advised, which is an odd way to conduct these matters—it now wishes to upend the Senate and demand that we continue to sit tomorrow. This is after the government itself putting different legislation on first, as people might recall. The minister, Senator Cash, as she is entitled to, chose to engage in quite a lengthy debate on the PaTH legislation. Yesterday when Senator Ludlam moved a 74(5) motion, the Leader of the Government in the Senate and Senator O'Sullivan, frankly, took the bait. That is fine. Senator Ludlam is entitled as a Green to move something, but they took the bait and had a long debate. Now they want us to fix it up by staying here.

The opposition have said we will cooperate. We will give up some general business time. We can finalise the actual content of the debate. It will mean that the final vote would have to be held in the June sittings—we accept that. But in terms of certainty we have made clear our agreement to the bill by a public statement—Senator Dodson's contribution to this chamber, as well as the shadow Attorney-General's contribution. So I think the certainty is clear.

Finally, I want to make this point—because I can see Senator Canavan preparing his notes and I am sure the Greens will speak. I really object to the way in which native title is being used as a proxy for the Adani debate. I really object to it—on both sides. Native title is too important to be used for those frankly base political purposes by both the Greens and the National Party.

9:42 am

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

For me, that was a particularly unconvincing contribution about why we cannot deal with this urgent issue now, this week, and not delay it for another four weeks. It was unconvincing because Senator Wong got some simple facts wrong. We are not seeking in this motion to establish a guillotine or a gag on debate. We are seeking to have enough time to deal with this issue, which the National Native Title Council itself has said is a matter of urgency. We are responding to their needs, their wants and their issues, to make sure this is dealt with.

I agree, Senator Wong—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—that this is a matter of sensitivity. This is a matter we should deal with properly, and that is why we are saying: let's have sufficient time to deal with it this week so we do not delay it another four weeks. This is a test for the Labor Party. It is a test of whether they support the interests of traditional owners and our First Australians. Do they support jobs for them and other Australians as well?

We need this bill. The reason this bill is urgent is that hundreds of Indigenous land use agreements across Australia are contingent on the clarity and consistency of native title law. As the Attorney-General said in his contribution, that has been called into question because of a court case earlier this year. We agree that that is an issue. We all agree on the changes, in my understanding. We all agree, after the Senate committee inquiry, that it should go through. So what is stopping us hanging around for one more day for our First Australians, to say that they can have a future as well? The Labor Party's position here is: 'We can't change our flights. We can't have a night in Canberra for your interests and your views. We will have to wait another four weeks.'

I also object. This is not about the Adani project alone. This is about 123 Indigenous land use agreements that have been called into question. This is about the people of the East Kimberley who want the Ord expansion to occur, who want that land to be developed. That needs an Indigenous land use agreement that could potentially be called into question. We want Project Sea Dragon to occur in the Northern Territory, an aquaculture project that could create 1,500 jobs there, in an area of our country that is of low-socioeconomic disadvantage. We want the bauxite mining of the cape to expand as well. Some of the first Indigenous land use agreements were made by the Wik and Wik Way peoples there. They need to be set in stone. They need to be given certainty as well. Why can't we give them certainty?

But this also is about the Adani Carmichael mine project. That is a project that could also deliver thousands of jobs to Indigenous Australians and other Australians. This is something that the traditional owners of the land there want, and that does not get said enough down here—that the Indigenous landowners met last year in Maryborough and voted 293 to one in favour of the Adani Carmichael coalmine. If we cannot spend another night in Canberra for them, we are insulting those 293 First Australians who want this project to go ahead, who just want the same opportunities and jobs that we in this place all enjoy. Why can't we extend that generosity to them as well? It does not stop there. This project also means jobs and benefits for all Australians. Last week we saw that Adani will use Australian steel and Australian steel only in their rail line. That will help protect jobs at the other end of the country, in Whyalla, South Australia, where they produce Australian steel. They will be one of the few mining companies in this country to use Australian steel in their project. In the Pilbara it does not happen, in Central Queensland it does not happen, but it will happen at the Carmichael mine. They will use Australian steel and protect Australian jobs in our manufacturing sector too.

So what is stopping the Australian Labor Party from supporting those jobs, supporting traditional owners and having one more night in Canberra? What is stopping them doing that? What is stopping them spending a little bit more time here to get this done now and respond to those urgent needs? If they cannot do that and if they cannot support this, I do not want to hear any comments about jobs from the opposition leader, Mr Shorten, tonight in his budget reply. I do not want to hear him talk about jobs tonight, because it is clear here today that the opposition do not support jobs if they do not support this motion. We saw earlier this week what the Labor Party think about jobs in the ad that they put out. They think about jobs for some but not all Australians, and certainly not for Australians of colour. If they did support jobs for all Australians, they would support this motion. They will support hanging around for another day, for a little bit longer, to deal with a matter we actually all agree on. We actually agree on this. Let us just get together and make sure it happens for our First Australians.

9:47 am

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We finally have it on the record that what this is about is railroading this Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017 through so the government can support their Adani mates. That is what this is about. They have finally come out and said really clearly, 'We want this rushed through so we can ram through the Adani mine.' That is what it is about. Senator Canavan has just said, 'Yes, we should be supporting the claimants,' when he knows very well there is a court case going on about this right now. So there are a whole lot of native title claimants that do not support that decision. That is what the court case is about. This government is trying to ram this bill through so it can support its mates in getting their dirty coalmine up and running. It is not about any native title claimants; it is about that mine. If the government were really concerned about native title, they would ensure there was enough time to debate this bill, to have a proper look at it so that all native title claimants around Australia could actually participate in this debate.

Yesterday, we got delivered to us yet another amendment to this bill which actually raises very, very significant issues around some of the agreements on Cape York—very significant issues around those claims. That was just put on the table for us yesterday. What the government wants to do is rush this through without us being able to properly interrogate those very significant issues that are raised and without giving native title claimants the ability to participate. And it is not just current native title claimants that have a role in consultations here; every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person needs to be engaged in this discussion about the future of native title.

The Greens have been very clear that we do not want to rush this bill through, because it has very significant ramifications for so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We have been very clear about that. We have been very clear—and I was clear yesterday in my second reading contribution on this—that we are aware of the significant issues that the McGlade case raises. There is absolutely no doubt about that. But the amendment that was brought in yesterday raises a whole heap of new issues. I thank the Attorney-General for ensuring that we got a briefing yesterday morning on this; I do acknowledge that. But, for me, it raises a whole lot of issues, and I have had an opportunity to again discuss some of these issues very quickly since that time with stakeholders. I met with some native title claimants and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have a view on this, and they are very concerned that this bill may be rushed through this place. The government is not listening to that broader number of groups. We will.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

It's supported by the whole Native Title Council!

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Perhaps the minister could not continue to interrupt across the chamber so that I cannot hear myself. Native title claimants should have a longer opportunity to comment on the ramifications of the amendments that the government want to rush through this place—because that is what they want to do, without considering what those ramifications are.

I know that there are some concerns about the amendment that was raised yesterday, or about the issues that are raised by the amendment that was raised yesterday. We need time to be able to check that information, because at the moment all we have had is a briefing on this issue. But the government do not care about that. They do not care about addressing those issues that were raised, or about allowing people to address those issues that were raised by that amendment. They want to rush this through so Adani can go ahead with their dirty coalmine that will ruin the future of the reef. It does not provide the multiple thousands of jobs that the government say it will, and that has been knocked on the head so many times. But, like they do all the time, they go ahead with their alternative facts. Don't worry about what the future actually is or the fact that it will destroy so many tourism jobs on the Great Barrier Reef! They are absolutely blind to that. They want to help their big business mates ram this through. That is what these changes are about.

If the government really cared about native title, they would have started addressing this issue when representative bodies brought it up a number of years ago—to absolute deafness from the government. They have done nothing. But all of a sudden Adani might be at risk, and now we have to rush it through here, trampling on people's ability to be consulted, not caring a jot about any other native title claimants. They care about only the mine, and they are using native title claimants to drive their argument. (Time expired)

9:52 am

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to read, for Senator Siewert's benefit, from a letter the National Native Title Council wrote to the Attorney on 5 May. In case Senator Siewert is not aware, I will quote from the second paragraph of the letter first, just to indicate who the Native Title Council are. The letter says: 'As you are aware, the National Native Title Council is the peak body and alliance of NTRBs and NTSPs from across the country. NTRBs and NTSPs themselves provide native title services to traditional owners, as set out in the Native Title Act. As such, NTRBs and NTSPs represent the overwhelming majority of the many traditional owners who are affected by the recent McGlade decision.'

The letter goes on at some length, and I am sure Senator Siewert has seen this letter, but I just want to quote this one simple paragraph. Page 3 of the letter says, 'The NNTC urges the parliament to consider and pass this bill as soon as possible.' As well as that, I remind the Senate that the Attorney met with 15 different native title councils involved in this issue on 27 April, and every single one of them agreed and urged that this legislation be passed.

I want to turn to the Labor Party, who are clearly playing games on this issue simply to try and solve the deep divide in the Labor Party between those who want Adani and those who do not. I speak particularly to the Queensland Labor senators: your Labor Party state government desperately wants this bill passed. Why? It means jobs for Indigenous people, it means Indigenous people will have their wishes respected and it means 10,000 jobs in Central and North Queensland, an area where unemployment is rife. Not often do I agree with the Queensland Labor government, and not often do I agree with Premier Palaszczuk, but in this instance she is absolutely correct. This is desperately needed for Queensland. It is essential for Queensland. I want the Queensland Labor senators here to stand up to the rest of their group, who want to delay this and hopefully join with the Greens in preventing Adani—that wonderful proposal which will mean real jobs for Indigenous people. That is why the local traditional owners in the Galilee Basin totally support this. They gave evidence before my committee, which had a very full one-day hearing on this.

On that, everybody who had an interest in this particular legislation came before that committee, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, and made their views known, and the committee made recommendations to support this. The support was unanimous, providing we addressed certain amendments which the Labor Party suggested and which were adopted by the government in a number of meetings. The committee has heard all the evidence and has read all the submissions. Sure, there are some that did not agree, mainly those that were sponsored by the Greens, who will do anything to stop any job in Australia. But this committee looked at the evidence very carefully, saw a couple of things that needed to be addressed and made recommendations accordingly, and the government took up those recommendations. I thank Senator Dodson and those in the Labor Party who have contributed to this.

But this refusal to sit on a Friday, just because Labor Party people might have parties to go to somewhere tomorrow, is outrageous. I hope that the Queensland Labor Premier has someone listening to this, and I hope she gets on the telephone and says to the Labor Party Queensland senators, 'Get real; get this passed,' because it is so important to the Queensland government, currently led by the Labor Party in Annastacia Palaszczuk. Please, Premier Palaszczuk, get onto your Labor senators from Queensland and make them sit tomorrow. (Time expired)

9:57 am

Malarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me make it very clear to this House that this debate on the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017 is about native title rights, not mining rights. Calls by the senator on the other side about ILUAs are completely false. The government claim that this bill must be passed this week to avoid legal calamities for existing ILUAs is totally unsound. Registered ILUAs remain valid unless successfully challenged in court. While there may be potential for some registered ILUAs to be challenged because they do not comply with the requirements of the law established in the McGlade decision, no such challenge has been mounted in the over three months since that decision.

There is no rush for this debate. This must be debated in a respectful manner. It is 25 years next month since the late Eddie Mabo fought for land rights, for native title rights, in this country. There has been absolutely no respect in this current process for the traditional owners of this country, for the Noongar people of WA or for native title holders across the country. You on the other side say that you have spoken to Indigenous leaders, but you did not get there without Senator Patrick Dodson. It is Labor who has had to drag you every step of the way to consult, to discuss and to work with native title holders across the country, and you still have not done that adequately. So we will not rush this bill; we will talk about it in the manner appropriate for examination by this house, and we will do that when we need to do that. Another thing is amendment after amendment has been put through by the other side at last-minute intervals, giving no time for people to inspect this in the Senate. The Greens stand up, with every right, in the Senate to say that they have not seen the Cape York Land Council amendments. We have not heard from other senators—

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order, Senator Gallagher?

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, Senator McCarthy. Mr President, I just draw your attention to the constant heckling that is occurring from the other side whilst Senator McCarthy is speaking. She only has five minutes, and other speakers were heard with respect. I ask that you draw other senators' attention to that.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

On the point of order, Senator Macdonald?

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no constant heckling, Mr President; I am simply urging Senator McCarthy to sit tomorrow—

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Macdonald, you can resume your seat. There is no point of order. I remind all senators not to interject during any senators' contributions. Senator McCarthy, you have the call.

Malarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr President. This is an important debate for the first nations people in this country. Please show greater respect. Senator Macdonald, in your commentary yesterday, you raised in this house that there were more amendments to be made to the Native Title Act. We have not even seen any of those discussions or had any discussions about that, so what are those amendments that you plan to bring on in the coming months? Why aren't we having this properly scrutinised? Why does it have to be done in secrecy? Why are you going back, bringing another amendment and then wanting us to say, 'Yes, yes, yes'? The people of Australia do not even know what you are doing, because you are not allowing the Senate the proper and adequate process of scrutinising this legislation. It is a disgrace.

I was at Parliament House last night at the National Indigenous Human Rights Awards with Bonita Mabo and Gail Mabo. How appropriate is it that their presence was right here in the building at the time of this debate?

We are not going to rush this. My colleagues on this side want this done in an appropriate manner for all stakeholders, all parties, who are involved in this. The role of the Senate is to scrutinise properly and effectively, and we need to do that. But you on the other side, as usual, are always rushing us. How many traditional owners have you on the other side gone out and spoken to? How many senators on the other side have spoken to first nations people and said, 'Have a look at this Cape York Land Council amendment'? How about: 'Have a look at this other amendment; do you know what that means'? How many of you on the other side have actually gone out there and done that? Of the 126 ILUAS that exist, name one. Can any of you on that side name any of them, because this Senate needs to know all about those ILUAs. You can't, can you? And here you are wanting to make a piece of legislation to amend a profound act—an important act—and making sure we all have our hands tied behind our backs so all we can say is, 'Yes.' Let me tell you: it is not going to happen.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Brandis to suspend standing orders be agreed to.