Senate debates

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007

In Committee

7:55 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move Democrats amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 5305 together:

(1)    Schedule 1, item 27, page 7 (line 22), after “plan”, insert “and must specifically address any relevant interests and matters relating to Indigenous peoples from the area covered by the proposed plan.”.

(2)    Schedule 1, item 27, page 8 (after line 30), after subsection 35(2), insert:

     (2A)    The Authority must consult with Indigenous peoples with an interest in an area for which a zoning plan is being prepared as part of preparing any statement under this section.

These amendments reflect recommendation 3 of the dissenting report put forward by me and Senator Siewert on behalf of the Democrats and the Greens respectively to again try to at least do a little bit more to strengthen Indigenous involvement in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. I will not revisit the debate we just had regarding the authority itself, but we do believe that there are other ways to strengthen engagement with Indigenous interests in the management of the marine park. I think that is needed now more than ever given the failure of the Senate to accept either of the amendments the Democrats have just put forward.

As I said before, the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts unanimously recommended recently that we should be looking for greater involvement from Indigenous Australians in park management as well as increased support for Indigenous protected areas. It is all the more important, given the removal of the Indigenous representative from the authority that has just happened, that other mechanisms to strengthen Indigenous involvement are considered.

I accept and acknowledge what the minister has said previously in this debate about the fact that Indigenous people will be part of various consultative committees. That is certainly important, but we do think that there are other approaches that could be made that might strengthen the requirement for engagement with Indigenous peoples in the development of various plans. I will point to why this is necessary by using the example of what we have just seen with the review of the marine park. The information the minister provided was that, whilst there was a letter sent out to Indigenous groups saying, ‘There is a review going on if you want to contribute,’ there was no specific engagement with them about the specific possibility of the loss of their representation. I am not saying that that was done in bad faith at all. In fact, I am sure that it was not. I am certain that it was just not thought of or that people felt that, if you send out some letters and nobody responds, that is as much as people should be reasonably expected to do. I appreciate that for a whole variety of reasons it can sometimes be a difficult job to effectively engage with Indigenous communities.

The amendments before us seek to require that, in their development, plans must specifically address any relevant interests and matters relating to Indigenous peoples for the area covered by the plans. Again, I am sure that it would be possible to say, ‘This should happen anyway. It will be happening as a matter of course. It will still always be possible for it to occur.’ That is true, but there is no guarantee that it will occur. As I said, the review that has just happened, comprehensive though it was in many ways, was fairly driven by concerns around particular issues, especially those flowing out of impacts on the fishing industry.

The review that has led to this legislation did not specifically address relevant interests and matters relating to Indigenous peoples with regard to the area covered by that review, which was the whole marine park. It touched on them slightly and referred to them a little bit but it did not specifically address them in any comprehensive way. So the first amendment deals with a requirement when preparing a zoning plan—it does not have to be rezoning of the whole park, just any future zoning plan—to at least ensure that, in doing so, interests and matters relating to Indigenous peoples are included.

Before preparing a zoning plan with respect to an area, the authority must, preceding that, prepare a statement of environmental, economic and social values of the area. The amendment before us will require the authority, in doing so, to consult with Indigenous peoples with an interest in the area as part of preparing any such statement. Again, I think this is really just putting in place a safeguard. Whether it is putting together an environmental, economic and social assessment or putting together a zoning plan more broadly flowing on from that, there is requirement for consultation and it must specifically address relevant interests and matters relating to Indigenous peoples. Otherwise there is no guarantee it will happen, and I think we have just seen an example of that with the whole review itself. These things do not guarantee better outcomes, but at least they provide that extra bit of urging, that extra bit of requirement for consultation.

I will not go on at length about this, but I would note the report tabled earlier today by the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances about that whole issue of consultation as a requirement in producing any legislative instrument and that the relevant department consult with affected people and detail in the explanatory statement what consultations have occurred or, if they have not, why not. Even though it is a requirement in that act in preparing all legislative instruments, a large number of departments simply do not conduct that consultation, even though they are legally required to, because there is no penalty if they do not or they give very inadequate explanations. Putting in place a piece of law saying consultation must occur does not guarantee it will happen or that it will happen adequately, but it does at least give some extra recognition and some extra urging.

I suppose it could be argued that if you are going to say they have to consult with Indigenous people then you should put in that they have to consult with fishing interests, tourism, onshore activities et cetera. I would respond to that by saying Indigenous communities and peoples are unique in this perspective; they do have a special role. That really must be considered as separate from just your everyday sectoral interest. I would also say that, whilst governments across the board of all persuasions, colours and levels do not always consult as well as they should, it is very fair to say that the area where we fail more regularly than any other is in adequately consulting with Indigenous peoples. That is partly because we are not very good at it—because of different cultural backgrounds and a whole lot of reasons—and that is why I think that extra requirement, that extra obligation, through these amendments would be desirable. I think this is completely consistent with the review that generated this legislation. It specifically recognised the importance of consultation as part of what the whole review was about. I think it would be beneficial to more specifically include requirements like this in the law.


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