Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2006

In Committee

10:18 am

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move opposition amendments (9) and (10) on sheet 5008:

(9)    Schedule 1, item 189, page 71 (lines 27 and 28), omit “, (12), (13)”.

(10)  Schedule 1, item 192, page 74 (line 16) to page 76 (line 28), omit subsections 67A(12) to (17).

This takes us back to a debate we had earlier regarding removal of intertidal zone provisions that excise this land from the claims process. We had a debate around this issue earlier in relation to the government amendment, so I will not go through it all again. I think this is really a measure by the government which highlights the problem with their approach. As the bill was going through the parliament, the government tacked on a little measure that removed one more aspect of Indigenous land rights. It was like, ‘We can tidy this little thing up by removing the intertidal zones that are not contiguous with Aboriginal land from the claims process.’

As I say, I spoke to this earlier. A number of these claims have actually been successful before the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Justice Howard Olney QC. They were assessed and recommended for acceptance. I think four claims have been approved and there are other claims that are outstanding. But there are actually four claims that have been granted by the land commissioner that have required ministerial sign-off. They date back to 2002, as I understand it, and successive ministers have failed to sign off on the land commissioner’s finding. The government say, ‘It just so happens that there is a bill going through the parliament, so we will tack this on and we will knock off those land claims and we will knock off those land rights.’ It is a classic example of government seeking to use the bill to again restrict or remove Aboriginal land rights because they can. The bill is going through, they have the numbers in the parliament and they will throw that into the mix.

What became clear in the earlier debate is that there was no notification to the claimants other than advice to the council. There was no discussion with the people who actually had their claims approved by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner. I spoke to one person who did not know about it until the Senate committee inquiry visited Darwin. This is a continuation of a mindset that says: ‘We have the power and we’re going to use it because it’s inconvenient to have these claims. We think they’re a bit messy. We think they might interfere. They are a bit difficult.’ Senator Scullion has raised a whole range of practical problems. I do not doubt that some of them are right.

But the point is that, because we can, we are going to restrict Indigenous people’s land claims, despite them having the capacity for such claims under the current act. We are basically going to wipe out land claims that have been granted. These are not massive issues to anyone, I suspect, except the claimants. There are intertidal zones not contiguous with Aboriginal land. That is not to say that it was not Aboriginal land previously; it is just that pastoral or other leases have been granted over the land that is adjacent to the intertidal zones, and Aboriginal people have already been dispossessed of that land. They were not dispossessed of the intertidal zone, but now we are completing the process of removing their ownership of their traditional land. We are fixing up the last little bit—taking away the last vestige of Indigenous ownership of these parcels of land.

I understand why the government are doing this. It is neat. It suits their involvement with some of the commercial interests, who are wishing to fish et cetera. It is easy to do. With the flick of a pen those rights are abolished and the claims granted by the land commissioner are wiped out. At the flick of a pen it is all fixed, no problem—it is a done deal. The issue in itself of these claims is not a huge issue, but the process reflects the attitude that we have the capacity to tell Indigenous people what to do with their land, the capacity to write off their claims to the land and the capacity to write off findings that say they have ownership of land. It reflects poorly on the government and their approach, and confirms for Indigenous people the sort of attitude the government have taken to their land rights—that is, that claims be dismissed by this parliament, because it can, without proper consultation and without proper process.

The government have failed to provide procedural fairness to these people. I think this is probably the shabbiest bit of the bill, as it is the shabbiest move by the government to exercise their power in extinguishing Indigenous rights. Labor are not going to sign up to it, and that is why we are formally moving our amendments. As I said earlier, we think the government should not be supported by the Senate on this, so we are moving amendments that effectively prevent that.


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