Thursday, 17 August 2006
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2006
Consideration of Senate Message
by leave—I move:
(1) Senate amendment 7, omit “, (12)”, substitute:
“, (12), (13)”.
(2) Senate amendment 8, omit the amendment, substitute:
“Schedule 1, item 192, page 74 (line 16) to page 76 (line 28), omit subsections 67A (12) to (17)”.
These amendments relate specifically to the issue of intertidal claims. The first amendment relates to item 189, proposed section 67A(5). It will have the effect of omitting paragraphs (12) and (13). The more substantial amendment, however, is an amendment to schedule 1. The purpose of this amendment is to omit proposed sections 67A(12) to (17)—all of those proposed sections dealing with the disposal of claims on intertidal zones. The purpose of this I will make clear. There has been no procedural fairness in relation to these amendments. We are trying to prevent the government from effectively extinguishing claims which have already been assessed by the land commissioner and recommended for grant but which have been not granted by successive federal ministers—Ministers Ruddock, Vanstone and now Brough. The recommendations for grant were made as a result of claims made in 2002 and 2003. The government is now moving to extinguish these claims. For each claim, Justice Olney stated that approximately 2,000 traditional owners would benefit from the grant. Justice Olney was also confident, judging from his long experience as land commissioner, that non-Indigenous interests would be accommodated as a result of his recommendations.
There has been no discussion with the traditional owners who would be affected by these amendments, as proposed by the government, and no attempt made to seek their agreement or otherwise. This demonstrates a total lack of interest by the government in sitting down and dealing with traditional owners in a way which is fair to their interests and to their rights as Australian citizens.
After all, what we are talking about here are claims which were made legitimately under the provisions of the Aboriginal land rights act, claims which were heard at a great cost to the Commonwealth, the Northern Territory and land councils representing traditional owners in the Northern Territory. During the land claims process I have observed and participated in land claims hearings over many years, and they are extremely arduous. But there is no fairness in this approach, because the claims have been made, the hearings have been held and, as a consequence of those hearings, recommendations have been made by the land commissioner—recommendations which sit on the desk of the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
If the minister were reasonable and the government were reasonable, they would have dealt with these claims once they had arrived on their desks and the land could have been granted once issues of detriment, should there be any, had been properly addressed and dealt with. There has been no attempt by the government to validate why it is that they are proposing to go down this course. The only reason that I can contemplate is that they are doing this because of political interests not in this chamber.
There is absolutely no doubt at all that this undermines the rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory as traditional owners and, I would argue, deprives them of rights as Australian citizens. This is not what this parliament should be about. What we should be about is enhancing the interests of all Australians, building upon the rights that they currently have, not diminishing their rights or seeking to take away their rights and eliminating the possibility, in this case, that they might have land granted to them.
I know that the family of a very good friend of mine, Barbara McCarthy, the member for Arnhem and a member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, is affected by these amendments. There has been no discussion with her family about these amendments. (Extension of time granted) In any event, people’s rights are being eliminated by the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2006. It is not fair, it is not reasonable and it is not appropriate.
I know the minister and others travelled to the Borroloola region over recent months. Had they wanted to, they could have sat down at the time and discussed the matter with the traditional owners. It was not raised by the government and its representatives. In fact, the irony is that we were there to hand back land. The minister was treated with great respect by those people to whom he was handing back the land. They understood that this process not only took them a long time in their particular instance—islands off Borroloola—but recognised their integrity, their cultural and spiritual affiliation and their traditional ownership of the country that was handed back to them.
The minister spoke well on that occasion, and I was pleased he was there. But he could well have sat down with the other people who are claimants, whose rights he is now eliminating as a result of these actions. This is not fair, it is not reasonable and it is totally un-Australian. I say to the minister: reflect upon this action. I say to the minister: you have one last opportunity, Minister, to fix this problem by accepting our amendments. We are not seeking to substantially change other areas of the amendments that you have put forward—primarily because it is very difficult technically—but we are moving these amendments. I say to you, Minister: here is an opportunity for you to show your bona fides to the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory—and, indeed, of Australia—to show them you understand their interests and their rights, to show them that you appreciate the significance to them of the land and to show them that you understand that they have been through this process, that land has been recommended for grant and that you are prepared to grant it.