Monday, 31 August 2020
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020; Second Reading
Just pursuing where I left off: in January of 2019 the then opposition leader, Bill Shorten, visited Kakadu and announced $220 million in funding to upgrade Kakadu National Park and support the township of Jabiru to transition to a tourism based economy, which was part of the vision of the master plan that I spoke about earlier.
In August of 2019, four parties formally executed a memorandum of understanding on the future of the Jabiru township, with the then Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Sussan Ley, signing the memorandum of understanding on behalf of the Commonwealth. Negotiations were led by the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, as the architect of the way forward for Jabiru is an Indigenous-led multipurpose town.
In early 2019, the Australian government—the current government—promised $216 million and the Northern Territory government promised $131.5 million, which made a $347.5 million investment over 10 years to upgrade Kakadu National Park and support the transition of the Jabiru township to a tourism services hub. This piece of legislation is important to the Mirarr people and the communities of western Arnhem Land. It's something which we all support. I know the passage of this is very keenly awaited by Mirarr people and the communities of western Arnhem Land. I know the benefits will accrue not only to those communities but to the people of the Northern Territory and Australia as a whole by the development that will take place.
The other issue I want to briefly talk about is the amendments moved by the honourable member for Barton around the issue of the flag. It's important that we understand the significance of the Aboriginal flag to First Nations people in this country, and I'm not sure it, nor its history, is as broadly understood as it should be. The member for Barton spoke about its history and the important work that was done by Harold Thomas, who designed the flag, but the concerns we have now are that this flag is being used by a particular clothing company against the interests of the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. I say that because I'm aware of letters which have been sent. I'm sure that Mr Thomas would not want to think that the flag could not be used or should not be used as a promotional tool for Aboriginal health, for example. Yet, I'm aware that WAM, the company which he's assigned rights to, has been making cease and desist demands of Aboriginal organisations such as health services about the use of the flag.
Many of these organisations, Aboriginal organisations, use clothing as a promotional tool or as an encouragement for First Nations people, for example, to have health checks. Deadly Choices, a product of the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, is one of those organisations, and it now no longer uses the Aboriginal flag on its clothing because of a cease and desist letter from WAM. We're not talking about a multinational organisation here, or the AFL or the Rugby League. We're talking about Aboriginal community based organisations who see the flag as central to their purpose. What we're saying here is that it's inappropriate and wrong, really, for this company to exercise the rights they have in the way they are doing. I'd implore them to see what's going on here—there's a broader purpose. We indeed need to accept and look after the intellectual property rights and the copyright of Harold Thomas. That does not mean that we have to support the way in which the licence which has been issued to WAM is being utilised. This is a shonky organisation, as was demonstrated by the member for Barton. I support the amendments which the member for Barton has proposed in trying to release the flag for its good and public purpose. (Time expired)
I am very pleased to rise in support of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020 and the amendments moved by the member for Barton in the federal parliament today. To begin, I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of Jabiru, the Mirarr people. It is their vision to transform Jabiru from a mining town to a centre for tourism and service provision within the world-renowned Kakadu National Park that this bill seeks to support.
With the closure of the nearby Ranger uranium mine by January 2021 and the expiry of the existing Jabiru leasing arrangements in June 2021, the Mirarr people have developed a master plan, setting out their vision for Jabiru as:
A world leading ecologically sustainable, economically and socially vibrant community where traditional Aboriginal culture, all people and the natural environment flourishes.
This bill will transfer the ownership of the Jabiru township to the Mirarr people, following the closure of that nearby uranium mine. It will return the township to Aboriginal control—as it should be. The granting of this lease will be fundamental, realising the Mirarr peoples' vision for a post-mining future of this town. It has been a long time coming. The member for Barton's amendment to this bill today, which recognises the importance of self-determination for Aboriginal people, reminds us of just why this change in leasing arrangements now is so critical. The member for Barton has rightly highlighted the impact of the recently introduced restrictions on the Aboriginal flag as being both unacceptable and disrespectful to First Nations people.
Tragically, Aboriginal people are finding themselves unable to use this important cultural symbol because the licensing rights now belong to a private company, WAM Clothing. This is a private, for-profit company founded by a Queensland businessman, Ben Wooster, who is one of two non-Indigenous owners. Mr Wooster's previous business venture was Birubi Art, which last year made history for all the wrong reasons. Now defunct, Birubi Art was found to be misleading consumers and was fined a record $2.3 million for selling thousands of Indonesian-made items as so-called genuine and authentic Aboriginal art. Regretfully, WAM is now strongly enforcing its legal rights by registering 'cease and desist' orders for those who use the Aboriginal flag.
The Australian Aboriginal flag was designed by the Luritja artist Harold Thomas, in 1971. For Newcastle, the Aboriginal flag has always held a special place in our city, flying high above our city hall for more than four decades now. Indeed, Newcastle made history in 1977 as the first town or city in Australia to fly the Aboriginal flag on a civic building, thanks to the vision and tenacity of the trailblazing Labor lord mayor Joy Cummings. In 1995 the Aboriginal flag was recognised by the Australian government as an official flag of Australia, and the Governor-General's proclamation declared it 'to be the flag of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and to be known as the Australian Aboriginal flag'.
The idea that something so deeply symbolic as an official flag of Australia could be sold or licensed to a private company is profoundly troubling. No other flag of Australia is licensed to a private, for-profit company—a company that, as I've said, is clearly determined to stop the very same people this flag represents from using the Aboriginal flag whenever they want without cost or the need for consent. The recent events that have denied Aboriginal people the right to use their flag are heartbreaking. In 2018 WAM Clothing purchased the exclusive worldwide copyright licence for reproducing the Aboriginal flag for use on clothing, and WAM hasn't been shy about enforcing its legal power, prohibiting Aboriginal people and Aboriginal-owned organisations from any use of the Aboriginal flag on clothing from May 2019 onwards. Queensland's Indigenous Wellbeing Centre, a charitable organisation, was shamefully forced to pay $2,200 in compensation when it used the Aboriginal flag on T-shirts that it then gave away to patients free of charge as an incentive to encourage Aboriginal people to come to the clinic for preventative health checks.
The well-known red, yellow and black flag is steeped in history. It has come to represent the strength, resilience and resistance of First Nations people in Australia. It was first used in a 1971 march for National Aborigines Day, in Adelaide. Soon after, it was taken to Canberra, where it has flown at the Tent Embassy in front of Old Parliament House ever since. The Aboriginal flag was born out of resistance and struggle. It remains a powerful symbol of unity, pride and identity. It defies common sense, not to mention basic morality, that a non-Indigenous business owned and managed by a man with such a shocking record and blatant disregard for Indigenous cultural heritage can own this important national symbol and, essentially, charge Aboriginal people to use it.
This second reading amendment calls on the government to do everything in its power to free the Aboriginal flag so that it can be used by all Australians, while also respecting and protecting the rights of the flag's original designer, Harold Thomas. I couldn't agree more. Flags are important cultural artefacts. They are powerful symbols that can mean many things to many people. They can represent our shared, albeit contested, histories. They help us to understand ourselves and they unite people under a common banner. They shouldn't be owned by anyone, much less a private, for-profit company. The Aboriginal flag is an iconic national symbol that should always be about people and pride, not profit. Twenty-five years ago, this parliament recognised the Aboriginal flag as an official flag of Australia. It should not be beyond us now to free the flag so that First Nations peoples and communities can use the flag whenever they want without cost and without the need for consent. It's now up to the Morrison government to act and to heed the calls of the almost 150,000 Australians who have now signed the online petition to free the Aboriginal flag and restore this important national symbol to public ownership.
I rise to speak on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020, and I acknowledge the Mirarr people and the traditional custodians of the land on which I currently stand, the Ngunawal and Ngambri people, and I pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging. I would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the electorate of Warringah, the Gayamaygal, the Cammaraygal and the Borogegal, as the first people of Warringah and pay respect to their elders.
This bill amends the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory Act) 1976 to effect the transfer of ownership of Jabiru township land to the traditional custodians, the Mirarr people. Jabiru township is part of Kakadu National Park and was established in 1981 to service the Ranger Uranium Mine, which will cease operations by January 2021. Negotiations for the return of the town land to the Mirarr traditional owners and the execution of the new township lease are underway. The intent is for the traditional custodians to transition the township to a tourism and service hub. The federal government has announced $216 million in investment over 10 years to upgrade Kakadu National Park, and this bill will assist in the fulfilment of that commitment.
In August 2019, the future of Jabiru memorandum of understanding was signed between the Australian government, the Northern Territory government, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation. The MOU supports the implementation of the Jabiru Masterplan released in July 2018, setting out the vision of the traditional owners for the Jabiru township post mining as a tourism and services hub.
This legislation is important for the economic empowerment of Indigenous Australians. This economic empowerment is essential to improvement in the quality of life and the achievement of Closing the Gap metrics. Empowerment of Indigenous people will also undoubtedly improve the prospects for the preservation of culture and heritage of significant sites. In the recent blasting of the Juukan Gorge, we have seen stark examples of the destruction that can occur when mining companies are given free rein over large tracts of land. Taking empowerment to the next steps through constitutional recognition and the establishment of a voice to parliament is essential to the truth telling that Indigenous Australians demand and deserve.
This particular bill looks exclusively at the arrangements for Jabiru and the handover of the lease from the resources companies to the Mirarr people. The Mirarr people and their representative body have welcomed the legislation as the first step towards the realisation of their vision and master plan for the town and the region. The vision and master plan are centred on a new, sustainable kind of tourism and regional services across the Kakadu region. They're calling for the early release of the federal government's funding so that they can stimulate the economy and commence construction in 2021, making the most of the current shutdown—as difficult as it is. Lack of traffic in Kakadu creates the opportunity of stimulating the construction industry in the Northern Territory.
This legislation is ethical and should serve as a basis for future transition agreements, ensuring economic empowerment of Indigenous communities. It's a stark contrast to the treatment of the traditional owners back in 1977 when the Ranger mine was first established. In 1977, the Ranger inquiry report concluded that the land for the then proposed town should not be granted as Aboriginal land under the newly formed Aboriginal land rights act. It meant that the traditional custodians' power to stop the uranium industry operating on their land was diminished. In 1981 the Director of National Parks and Wildlife granted a 40-year lease to the Jabiru Town Development Authority, who then sublet the site to the owners of the Ranger Uranium Mine. The native title claim over Jabiru was one of the longest-running cases in the Northern Territory and was only settled in 2013.
I have received many requests from constituents in Warringah to push for greater empowerment of Indigenous Australians. Economic empowerment is one step towards that self-determination. I've also received correspondence regarding the devastation that occurred at Juukan Gorge. It's noted that a major shareholder of the Ranger mine is Rio Tinto, also responsible for the destruction of the culturally significant site at Juukan Gorge. It's essential that the land under this agreement is rehabilitated to the standard that the traditional custodians expect. Concerns that the mining company will not have the funds to properly rehabilitate the mine area must not be realised. Traditional custodians have said it is of the utmost importance that the site is properly cleaned up, emphasising that the land contains sacred sites. So I urge the Minister for the Environment to oversee the clean-up effort and ensure that the rehabilitation is completed to the highest standard.
I acknowledge the member for Barton's amendment to this bill, regarding the Free the Flag campaign. I certainly support the conversation about the rights to the Indigenous flag, and I believe that this should in fact be a matter for debate in its own right. I look forward to visiting the realisation of the Mirarr people's vision. I trust that the funds will be released in a timely manner and that the appropriate oversight of the transition, including the rehabilitation, will be undertaken. I encourage greater involvement of the traditional custodians of the land in all aspects of the management of mine sites and the development of a greater degree of respect for our cultural heritage.
I'd like to acknowledge that I'm standing on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations here in my electorate of Cooper, and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I rise to speak on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020 and to support the amendment moved by my wonderful colleague the member for Barton. I pay my respects to the Mirarr Aboriginal people, who are the traditional owners of the Jabiru township.
As the member for Barton has indicated, Labor will support this bill. It will at last return the ownership of the town of Jabiru to the Mirarr people and allow for a community entity representing the Mirarr to hold a head lease over the town. It is a move long awaited by the Mirarr people and is supported by the Northern Territory land councils, and means that the traditional owners will at last be able to make decisions that uphold their cultural connection to the land.
This is a great outcome for the Mirarr people, who have withstood immense pressure from political and mining industry influences and worked so hard to maintain their own cultural identity and connection to the land. I offer my warmest congratulations to them and wish them all the very best in their endeavours to transform Jabiru from a town focused on mining to one based on the social, cultural and natural resource wealth of the region. As the member for Barton said, Labor stand with them in this hope, as we are committed to greater self-determination for First Nations Australians.
It is important that the House is reminded that it was a Labor government, back in October 2009, which set this course of Mirarr self-determination, with an in-principle agreement for amendments to the land rights act. In January last year Labor committed to a major upgrade of the Kakadu National Park visitor facilities. Undoubtedly, it was the knowledge of that commitment that spurred the Prime Minister to commit similar funding.
My electorate is named after William Cooper, a proud Yorta Yorta man. I am lucky enough to have met his direct descendant—his grandson, Alfred Cooper, known as Uncle Boydie—who came to Melbourne from his own lands to celebrate the electorate's renaming. Uncle Phil Cooper is a friend of mine and a great support to me. He is a great-nephew of William Cooper and resides in my seat, along with his family.
William Cooper was an Aboriginal leader born in Yorta Yorta tribal territory, around the junction of the Murray and Goulburn rivers, who lived from 1861 to 1941. He was a trailblazing activist for Aboriginal rights in the 20th century who spent his life working to advance the rights of our First Nations peoples. He was a skilled and courageous spokesperson who helped establish the Australian Aborigines' League, an organisation that fought for rights for our First Nations Australians. These included land rights, enfranchisement and, topically, direct representation in our parliament. William Cooper forged the establishment of National Aborigines Day, which is now celebrated nationwide as NAIDOC Week. He led the first Aboriginal deputation to a prime minister, to ask for federal control of Aboriginal affairs, in 1938.
He's also famous for standing up for other persecuted groups. Despite his own people's struggles, he led a protest at the German consulate in Melbourne against Nazi persecution of the Jewish community. This has been recognised by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem as the only protest of its kind to have taken place in the world. He collected 1,814 signatures from Aboriginal people all over Australia, and a statue in his home town of Shepparton now honours that legacy. The statue depicts him holding that petition.
William Cooper was also a proud union man, an AWU member who laid the foundation for Indigenous industrial rights today. His legacy has inspired positive social change for First Nations communities in Melbourne and throughout Australia.
He would have been thrilled to know that the Aboriginal community has always been at the heart of the Cooper electorate's identity. Many First Nations peoples live and work in Cooper. That seat that now bears his name is home to many great Aboriginal organisations: the Aborigines Advancement League; the mighty All Stars football team; the Sir Douglas Nicholls Sporting Complex; the Aboriginal voice radio 3KND—that's 'Kool 'N' Deadly'; the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service; the Victorian Child Care Agency; the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, on campuses of the Federation University; the Victoria Aboriginal Community Services Association, the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry for Victoria; and Yappera Children's Service Co-operative.
It is also the home to the extraordinary Aboriginal owned social enterprise called Spark Health that trades as Clothing The Gap. Laura Thompson is the amazing Aboriginal woman who created the organisation. One hundred per cent of the profits from the sales of their fabulous clothing go to support, educate, advocate for and celebrate black excellence, adding value to Aboriginal people's lives. Their clothing is exemplary and proudly Aboriginal. Like so many Aboriginal organisations, they incorporated the wonderful Aboriginal flag into their designs. Those ubiquitous colours—red, black and yellow—are proudly flown by their products.
In June last year, Clothing The Gap, along with other businesses and NGOs, including several sporting codes, were issued with a cease and desist notice from WAM Clothing for celebrating and displaying the Aboriginal flag on clothing. Currently, WAM Clothing holds an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement with the flag's copyright owner, Harold Thomas, to produce the Aboriginal flag. First Nations leaders and business operators are now expressing their grave concerns about this copyright agreement. The copyright of the Aboriginal flag is valid for Harold Thomas' life plus another 70 years, so potentially we are looking at another 100 years until the rights of the flag enter the public domain. I ask this: should WAM Clothing, a non-Indigenous business, control the market and profit from the resistance, resilience and perseverance of Indigenous people?
Laura and her colleagues started the Free the Flag campaign, and there's a petition that was created by Clothing The Gap. Over 140,000 people have signed the #PrideNotProfit petition, which is calling for a change to the current licensing arrangements around the Aboriginal flag, with the common goal of freeing the flag from copyright. I'm proud to be an advocate for and a supporter of the campaign. I have worked with Laura and others in ensuring that senior Labor politicians are also supporting the campaign, and I was pleased to be able to host Laura and Nova Peris in Canberra so that they could discuss the campaign with parliamentarians.
As the member for Barton has already noted, Australia is made up of many Aboriginal nations, as well as the Torres Strait Islanders, and the Aboriginal flag is the one symbol that unites those nations. And yet we are slowly seeing the flag disappear because of WAM's decision to enforce its licensing rights. The famous red, black and yellow flag was missing from the Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous round. Instead, we saw a number of AFL teams sporting 'Free the Flag' guernseys at training, as the AFL is no longer able to incorporate the flag into their Dreamtime clothing. Many NGOs, including Aboriginal health bodies, proudly and successfully offer things like T-shirts with the flag on them as an incentive to attend and have health checks. They can no longer afford to do that now.
We hope many more organisations and people will join the protest and make it known that the flag should be able to be flown freely. Labor is now calling on the federal government to do more to protect the Aboriginal flag, which, as some say, is being held hostage. As the member for Barton said in her second reading amendment, the government should do everything in its power to free the flag so that it can be used by all Australians, while still respecting and protecting the rights of Harold Thomas.
Most flags, including the Australian flag, have their copyrights owned by the government and remain in the public domain, free for all to use. In terms of the nation, flags are the most public pieces of public property. Logically, there is an inherent contradiction when the Aboriginal flag is privately owned. Importantly, the government also recognised and proclaimed the Aboriginal flag in 1995, and again in 2018, under the Flags Act. Therefore, there is a legitimate expectation of free use of that flag.
Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians want no more and no fewer rights to the Aboriginal flag than we do to the Australian flag or the Torres Strait Islander flag. I commend the work of Clothing The Gap, Dreamtime Kullilla-Art and each and every organisation and individual who has added their voice to the call to free the flag. In the words of Laura Thompson, 'The flag represented a struggle and a resistance movement, and now it just feels like a struggle to use it.' Next year, in July, the flag will turn 50. Laura wants it freed by then. As the member for Barton has said, 'WAM should do the right thing and give the flag back.' Just because something might be legal does not mean it is right.
In my first speech, I said that the value of solidarity is what will drive me as a politician. I said:
Solidarity is the expression of our shared humanity. It is the importance of not merely reaching out but standing beside. Solidarity is not individual charity but collective empowerment. Solidarity does not subsidise; it does not patronise. It is the fundamental recognition that the greatest human dignity is the experience of opportunity and equality.
Today I stand in solidarity with First Nations peoples in their quest to free the flag.
I rise to speak on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020. To start with, I want to pay my respects to the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional owners of this land here, Canberra. I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the Larrakia, who are the custodians of the land that I represent in the far north. I want to acknowledge in particular Richie Fejo, the chair of the Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation; the board; and all the Larrakia families. I am very proud to represent the people who live on the land that they are custodians of.
As you've heard from previous speakers, Labor is supporting this bill, which has been a long time coming for the Mirarr people, who live out around Jabiru, in West Arnhem Land. The effect of this bill will be to return ownership of the township of Jabiru, which services the Ranger Uranium Mine, and allow a community entity representing the Mirarr people to hold a head lease over the town.
Jabiru falls within the realm of the Northern Land Council, and I'm pleased to record the NLC's support for this bill. After the bill was introduced, back in May this year, the NLC noted that it would allow for the transition of the township from a mining town to a regional service centre and tourism hub that would drive economic activity throughout the West Arnhem region. In the lead-up to the last federal election, there was a lot of attention paid to Jabiru, with a lot of funds—over $200 million—slated for upgrades to the park and to Jabiru itself. The only problem was that those opposite, the federal government, said that those funds would be forthcoming over 10 years. I note that the ministers have done a bit of work on the Prime Minister, or at least with the Prime Minister's media office to say that quite a bit of that funding will in fact be in the near future. But we will wait to see whether or not that's going to be the case.
The Mirarr people have withstood immense pressures over the years and just want to see some action. Now, finally, they will have an opportunity to chart their own destiny and to manage their own affairs and also to prosper through their own endeavours. That local decision-making has been strongly supported by the NT government. I welcome the NT Labor government's re-election for four years. That will at least allow, from the NT government's perspective, the honouring of commitments that have been made to those traditional owners so they are able to make more decisions locally and uphold their cultural connection to that land. I really wish the Mirarr people all the very best for the future. We will work to assist them in any way, shape or form. Although Jabiru is part of the member for Lingiari's electorate, should those opposite not act to guarantee two seats for the Northern Territory, Jabiru will become part of the single seat of the Northern Territory. The Mirarr and every nation around the Northern Territory deserve much better than that. I'm sure the minister is having those conversations with the Prime Minister about fair representation for the Northern Territory.
Labor has always been committed to greater self-determination for First Nations Australians. As mentioned, it's really encouraging to see the Northern Territory government continuing on the path that they are to empower more communities. We will see better results as a result.
I heard a call out to the Mirarr people at the TIO Stadium in Darwin last weekend. It was by Ritchie Fejo, the chair of the Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation, welcoming the crowds to Darwin and welcoming everyone watching that game of AFL, the Dreamtime game. He called out to the Mirarr people and called out to First Nations people around our country. It's a great game, that Dreamtime game. In fact, it's one of the biggest events on the AFL calendar. It was marvellous to have it played in Darwin. For those who are not AFL tragics or, should I say, proud supporters, this clash between the Richmond Football Club and the Essendon Football Club was very special to Territorians, and having it at TIO meant that some of the players from those teams were back at their original stomping ground.
In the past, we've seen many Indigenous and non-Indigenous AFL superstars come from the Territory. So the significance of this game, Dreamtime at the 'G, was hard to put into words. But there's a lot of proud heritage in those two AFL teams in particular. To be fair, I'll speak about one from the Essendon side and one of the Richmond side.
From the Richmond side, I'll speak about the Bowden family. I congratulate Joel Bowden on being re-elected as a Labor MLA in the Northern Territory government. His brothers Patrick and Shaun, and their late father, Michael, who has gone to God now, all proudly represented the Tigers, as did Richard Tambling, Troy Taylor and Relton Roberts.
Daniel Rioli was obviously back in the north for the game. I also need to speak about the Essendon players: Dean Rioli, Owen Davies, Shaun Edwards, Richie Cole; and, for Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, it was a homecoming. Of course, I've left one famous Essendon player from the north until last, and that's Michael Long. Michael Long is a leader, legendary football player and someone who's stood up against racism in our country. As an Indigenous rights advocate, Longy said that it was up to the government, to those opposite, to the minister in the chamber to make a change and stand up for what is right in relation to the Aboriginal flag. He said, 'We just want the Prime Minister and government to intervene and to put it in its rightful place, where it should be.' He's had things to say to other prime ministers in the past too. I joined Michael Long on the highway walking to Canberra in 2004, where he wanted former coalition Prime Minister John Howard to show a bit of love for First Nations people in this country.
In the lead up to the Dreamtime at the 'G game, I spent some time with Michael Long at a school in Darwin. As a proud original Long walker, it was great to answer questions from those kids about the original Long Walk and about the Aboriginal flag. We were joined by another Territory legend, Nova Peris. Nova, an Olympian and former Northern Territory representative in the Senate, spoke about the need for action in relation to freeing the use of the Aboriginal flag. Nova said: 'We're calling on the government to fix it. We're calling on the Governor-General, who proclaimed it in 1995. You've got the power to make the rules, and we just want the Aboriginal flag to have the same rights as the Australian flag. How do you copyright something that represents a race of people? How do you copyright our pride? How do you copyright our history and our values and everything we stand for?'
I just want to give both Michael Long and Nova Peris, a couple of constituents of mine—they are; they live in Darwin—a voice on this issue that we all feel very strongly about. When Richie Fejo welcomed all the First Nations that were present at the ground for the Dreamtime at the 'G match, it was incredibly stirring. What I saw around the AFL ground at Marrara were a lot of Aboriginal flags that were flown with a lot of pride.
It is an important issue where there's a dilemma between individual rights and collective rights. I am very keen to see the agency of Harold Thomas, who owns the copyright, respected, and I am very, very keen to see the government fix this issue so that the rights to use the Aboriginal flag pass into the common domain, because it is valued collectively and it is a great source of pride so many Australians—in particular, the First Australians. But non-Indigenous Australians also see it as a very powerful symbol. So I support the work of the minister. I understand that the minister is in discussions with the copyright owner, Harold Thomas, and he is close to fixing the situation, so I wish him well and say that it's very important that he does so.
These powerful symbols, which is what flags are, are important to the nation. Land rights are important. Self-determination is important. These are critical issues to people who have been, to a large extent, disenfranchised, particularly in the Northern Territory. You might find it pretty hard to believe, Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks, that, in some communities in the Northern Territory, there was a turnout of under 50 per cent at the recent NT elections. We have the lowest enrolment in the country. We have some of the lowest voter turnout in the country.
You may ask yourself, 'Who's got responsibility for getting out to those communities and educating them about the electoral process?' First Nations peoples' place in this country and their ability to vote were fought for strongly, over decades and decades. Who has that role? It turns out that the Australian Electoral Commission has that role. It also turns out that the Australian Electoral Commission used to have a sizeable office in Darwin but, when those opposite got into power, they gutted it. So they sacked the people and sent them to Brisbane and other places away from the Northern Territory—the very people who were to go out and get First Nations people on the roll. That was a deliberate decision by those opposite in their first government, under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott; it was continued by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and then by the current Prime Minister. So I call on him and those opposite, whilst wishing the minister luck, to start respecting First Nations people in our nation.
I rise today predominantly to speak on the amendment moved by the member for Barton. Firstly, though, I'd like to adopt the comments by my Labor colleagues on the substance of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020 and note that Labor is supporting the bill. I'm rising to speak on the amendment moved by my colleague because the subject of the ownership of the copyright of the Aboriginal flag is something that should be a concern to all of us, whether we're First Nations people or not.
A number of my colleagues have already spoken about a Victorian Aboriginal owned and led social enterprise called Clothing The Gap. I had hoped to give this speech wearing my Clothing The Gap hoodie, which across its front says 'Fearlessly PROGRESSIVE', but of course, in the way Murphy's law works, today is the only day I didn't wear it when I walked into parliament. Clothing The Gap is a fashion label which is managed by healthcare professionals, and they celebrate Aboriginal people and Aboriginal culture. It is, as I said, an Aboriginal owned and led social enterprise. What Clothing The Gap say on their website is that they 'encourage people to wear their values on their tee'—on their T-shirts, which might explain my 'Fearlessly PROGRESSIVE' hoodie. Clothing The Gap is a self-determining vehicle, working to add years to Aboriginal people's lives. They ask people to buy their sustainable clothing to help 'clothe the gap'. My friend and colleague the member for Cooper has spoken about Clothing The Gap before. It's based in Melbourne, in Preston in her electorate, and last year she tabled a petition that they had started, which continues, about freeing the copyright of the Aboriginal flag. I thought it was important to put more context around what Clothing the Gap are, because they say on their website that they invite and encourage non-Indigenous people to be part of their vision by purchasing clothing and supporting their virtual events. Their website says:
When non-indigenous people purchase Aboriginal designed fashion from an Aboriginal owned business, Aboriginal people feel heard and supported.
Personally, I'm proud to have bought merchandise, including most recently a mask, to be worn in Frankston when I'm outside, in order to ensure that Aboriginal people across my community, across Victoria and across Australia feel heard and supported. That's also why, of course, we want a voice to parliament and to fully implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart. But, until those things happen, for many of us what we can do is stand up in this place and say, 'You are heard; you are supported', and we can buy the clothing.
In June 2019, Clothing the Gap was served a cease and desist notice from WAM Clothing for celebrating their flag—the Aboriginal Flag. They were given three whole working days—three—to sell all of their flag stock or face legal action. Clothing the Gap asked this question: should WAM Clothing, a non-Indigenous business, hold the monopoly in a market to profit off Aboriginal people's identity and love for their flag? Well, 140,000 signatures to their online petition to Free The Flag suggests that there is a significant portion of the Australian public whose answer to that question is no.
We don't allow the copyright of the other two official flags of Australia, the Australian flag and the Torres Strait Islanders flag, to be owned, in the case of the Australian flag, by anyone other than the Commonwealth, or, in the case of the Torres Strait Islanders' flag, by anyone other than the Torres Strait Island Regional Council. Copyright is a complicated business. Of course, Harold Thomas deserves the recognition and what comes from it as the creator of the Aboriginal flag. I can't, as a non-Indigenous person standing in this place, explain the depth of the connection that Aboriginal and First Nations people have with the flag. It's not for me to use the words to try to describe it, but all I can do is listen to what the member for Barton and others have said about how deeply that flag reflects and portrays their love of country and identity and be part of a proud Labor Party and a movement across the country to say, 'We see you and we hear you and we're here to support you.'
My contribution today is to say, 'Clothing the Gap, I'm supporting you as an organisation in the great state of Victoria for Aboriginal people.' I am supporting you and your right to continue to have your flag painted on your walls at Nairm Marr Djambana, our gathering place at Jubilee Park in Frankston, displayed by the people who meet the there, and Indigenous people across this country. My contribution is to say, I am with you on the campaign to Free The Flag and to be able to celebrate your identity.
This bill, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020, amends section 19A of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to remove the requirement that the initial grant of a township lease by the Kakadu Aboriginal Land Trust may only be to the Commonwealth and removes the requirement that the term of any lease of the Jabiru town land must be 99 years. The bill also amends the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act to make it clear that, upon the grant of a section 19A lease, any existing rights, titles and interests will not automatically be extended to match the term of the new lease. The bill is strongly supported by the traditional owners of the Jabiru township, the Mirarr people, and the bill provides for the return of the Jabiru township to Aboriginal control through the township lease. That return will help transition the township away from being a mining town and into being a regional services centre and tourism hub that will drive economic activity throughout the West Arnhem region.
Labor is of course supporting this bill, but I do, in speaking in support of the bill, wish to make some comments about the second reading amendment that's been moved by the member for Barton, which I wholeheartedly support. The Aboriginal flag is an important symbol, for the Aboriginal people of Australia, of the fact that they are the oldest continuing culture in the world. The flag symbolises that important connection between Aboriginal people and the country of Australia—their land. The flag has a long history in Australia. It was designed in 1971 by Northern Territory artist Harold Thomas, and in 1972 it was chosen as the official flag for the Aboriginal Embassy at the front of Old Parliament House. On 14 July 1995 the Australian Governor-General proclaimed the Aboriginal flag as 'the flag of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and to be known as the Australian Aboriginal flag'. At that time, Aboriginal people saw this as their flag, their symbol of their connection with this land dating back tens of thousands of years. In 1997 the Federal Court recognised Harold Thomas as the creator of the Aboriginal flag and granted him copyright.
Often people ask what the status of the Aboriginal flag is. Australia has three national flags, and all of them have the same status. Those flags are, of course, the Australian flag which hangs in this chamber, our national flag; the Aboriginal flag; and the flag of the Torres Strait Islander people. All of those flags are protected under the Flags Act. But the Flags Act does not extinguish copyright, and that's separate from those protections that are granted under the Flags Act. Harold Thomas has the licensing right, and he has exercised that right and given licence to reproduce the flag to three companies. Those three companies have been seeking to enforce those exclusive rights to use the Aboriginal flag, particularly on clothing, by sending 'cease and desist' letters to Aboriginal groups, to sporting codes and to Aboriginal health services.
Many in our community are understandably upset by this, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, who see the flag as a symbol of their enduring connection with this land, a symbol of their Australianness and their connection with Australia, and, understandably, want to proudly display that and tell everyone about that, by either flying the flag, wearing the flag or producing the flag as a symbol of their pride. That has generated a community campaign to free the flag so it can be used by all Australians, but particularly by all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, as a symbol of their pride in the oldest continuing culture in the world and their connection to this country. I believe that that is important, and it's something that the Aboriginal community at La Perouse—proud of their ancestors and their connection with that land at La Perouse and Kamay, or Botany Bay—have said to me is important to them as well. It's on that basis that I am advocating and supporting the second reading amendment that has been moved by the member for Barton—the first Aboriginal woman elected to the House of Representatives in Australia, a proud Aboriginal elder, a person who deserves respect in this place and a person to whom this House of Representatives and this parliament should be listening on this issue.
This campaign has substantial community support. There's a petition that has been running, with over 140,000 signatures from Australians supporting this campaign to free the Aboriginal flag. Through this second reading amendment, Labor is asking the government to work with the rights holders so that the Aboriginal flag design can be used freely by the community in a similar way to the Australian flag, and so that hopefully we are able to reach this consensus and this result before the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal flag on 12 July next year. I want to make it very clear: I and my Labor colleagues make it very, very clear that we are not seeking to extinguish the copyright rights that Harold Thomas has around the flag. Harold Thomas is the originator of that design, and his rights must be respected. Harold Thomas' rights must be respected. I call on the government to respect those rights and to work with Harold on a permanent solution to the use of the flag design. I have every faith that the minister, who's present in the chamber, certainly has the capability and the willingness to do that.
This isn't a partisan issue. This is an issue that unites Australians around the pride that we have in the fact that we have the oldest continuing culture in the world in our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and in the pride that we all have in the communities that we represent in working with the First Australians. First Australians have inhabited these lands and these waterways for tens of thousands of years, and we recognise the Aboriginal flag as a symbol of that pride and as a symbol of that connection with the land and the waterways of Australia. I sincerely hope that this parliament can work together on a solution that respects the rights of Harold Thomas and the rights holders, but, at the same time, frees the Aboriginal flag so that it can be used as a symbol of pride for all Australians.
I want to start by acknowledging the traditional owners and elders and the people of Mirarr. Your hopes and aspirations have culminated in today's legislation. I know the journey that you've been on. I listened to the speeches from the other side, and I thought we should have focused purely on your aspirations and your issues.
I know if the member for Lingiari and the member for Isaacs worked for the national land council and were at a meeting with the traditional owners, the traditional owners would have told us off for talking about other matters that were not related to the importance of the principal discussion that would be occurring with them and that the issues that they wanted were about a settlement that would give them an opportunity for a better future—for their children, for their grandchildren and for their own economic place in the scheme of things. When I go up there, I will apologise that we were distracted by other issues and not theirs. I'm pleased to stand in this place in support of the Mirarr people of the Northern Territory and thank members for their contribution to the debate.
This bill is an important step, as I said, to the return of their land in Jabiru and towards the town's bright future as the gateway to Kakadu National Park. The Australian government has made a $216 million commitment to revitalise Jabiru and Kakadu to ensure their future as world-class tourist destinations, as the member for Lingiari mentioned this morning. Our investment will herald a new era of economic opportunity for the region, benefiting not only the Mirarr people but also the community and the Northern Territory economy.
This bill supports the Mirarr in leading the transition of Jabiru from a mining town, which they opposed, to a tourism town via a new township lease. This is imperative given the closure of the nearby Ranger Uranium Mine by 21 January and the expiry of existing leasing arrangements in Jabiru in June 2021. It provides for changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act to make the Jabiru township lease consistent with other township leases in the Northern Territory. It will allow the Jabiru head lease to be held either by the Commonwealth through the Executive Director of Township Leasing or by a community entity. It provides for a term of between 40 and 99 years. These provisions are essential to empower local decision-making and ensure secure tenure for businesses, residents and other stakeholders in the region. This bill will help return the traditional lands to the Mirarr people. It allows the Mirarr people to realise long-held aspirations and bring their own vision to life in Jabiru.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that we foster an environment where we can enable more jobs and economic growth to ensure prosperity for all Indigenous Australians. This bill is economic empowerment. It is entrusting Indigenous Australians to make decisions that will benefit their communities and their people. Land security is economic security, and from economic security comes the ability to put in place the foundations that will lead to economic growth, job opportunity and a secure future for Indigenous Australians. The land rights act was amended in 2013 to provide a specific hand-back lease-back arrangement for Jabiru, including for a township lease to be held by the Commonwealth. This will now see the progression of those aspirations. The bill makes a minor consequential amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to ensure that people are able to use or develop land in Jabiru that is subleased to them by the head lease. I want to acknowledge the leadership of the Mirarr people, the traditional owners. Theirs has been a decade of long struggle to secure the opportunity to forge a future guided by their own aspirations.
In February last year, the parliament passed amendments scheduling four parcels of land as Aboriginal land in Kakadu National Park, surrounding Jabiru. Negotiations are now underway with the traditional owners of Kakadu to secure a lease-back arrangement with the Director of National Parks. These amendments complement those actions by giving effect to a leasing arrangement for the traditional owners of Jabiru. Traditional owners right across Kakadu National Park will be in control of the decisions that impact on them and their families for generations to come.
The Prime Minister reflected in his 2020 Closing the Gap address that to rob a person of their right to take responsibility is to deny them their liberty. He made it clear that we must restore the right to take responsibility, the right to make decisions and the right to step up. It must be accompanied by a willingness to push decisions down to the people who are closest to them. In passing the bill, we are embracing this change and backing the Mirarr people to achieve their social, cultural and economic independence and their aspirations.
I'm pleased to report to the House that the negotiation of the Jabiru township lease with the Northern Land Council and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation is on track, with negotiations continuing as recently as last week. A key next step in progressing the township lease is the passage of this bill during these sittings. This bill is significant not just for the Jabiru community but for the Australian nation as a whole. It supports the transformation of Jabiru into a global tourist destination at the gateway to the jewel in the crown of Australia's national estate, where the traditional owners of the world's oldest living culture share with visitors their creation stories and the breathtaking vistas of Kakadu National Park. This bill will also bring about healing in this nation, restoring dignity and reviving pride. As a parliament, we should be honoured to be involved in this important and historic moment.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Barton has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.