Wednesday, 16 August 2006
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2006
It appears we are not having a third reading. I will not go over the ground I have already covered a number of times other than to use a classic example of where I think this bill is so wrongheaded—that is, whether this process is voluntary or not. I will use Elcho Island as an example. I know we probably bored this place silly yesterday, trying to get a definition of what is an essential service. Elcho Island has been required to sign onto this process in order to get 50 additional houses. These additional houses are not a luxury, above an essential service; they are an essential service. When you have overcrowding of 15 to 16 people in a house, it is an essential service to provide housing for those people. It is not an add-on; it is essential. In order for that community to get that additional housing, they should not be coerced into signing an agreement but they are being required to sign one to get those 50 additional houses.
This example clearly illustrates that this is not a voluntary process. This is being foisted on the community in order for them, presumably, to act in a way the government wants them to, which is to enter into these agreements. It is not voluntary. If they want access to desperately needed housing, it should not be essential to sign an agreement. This is a very clear example of the wrongheaded thinking in this legislation and why we will be opposing it.
I think Australians will look back in a number of years and shake their heads at how this country undermined such a fundamental piece of legislation in this country—that is, land rights legislation. A few weeks ago, I heard a radio program where overseas people were extolling the virtues of the progress Australia has made in land rights legislation. Some of us would argue that we still have not made enough progress in ensuring self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of our community; however, there has been some progress made and in the future Australians will look back and shake their heads at what has been done to undermine this landmark piece of legislation.
I believe what is happening today is a tragedy. The voices of Aboriginal Australians have not been heard or understood, and that is the crux of the matter. Maybe governments have heard them but they have ignored them. They have not understood how fundamental Indigenous people’s connection to land is and their right to be part of decision making. This government is acting in a paternalistic manner that I cannot support, and neither can the Australian Greens. This is a tragic day for this landmark piece of legislation in this country.