Senate debates

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008

In Committee

6:52 pm

Photo of Nick SherryNick Sherry (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) Share this | Hansard source

I am anticipating closing the contributions on this. I did want to just respond briefly to some of Senator Scullion’s points. On the issue of journalists, the ministerial authorisation power, proposed section 70(2BB), allows the minister to specify persons or classes of persons authorised to enter and remain on Aboriginal land without a permit. The ministerial authorisation power operates only for the duration of the emergency response. The previous minister made an authorisation allowing people working on the emergency response access to Aboriginal land without a permit. This bill is refining the authorisation power in order to clarify that authorisations can be limited to particular areas of Aboriginal land. Authorisations will also be able to be issued subject to specified conditions. If a person breaches a condition, they will no longer be covered by the authorisation. These refinements will allow for better targeting and effective authorisations to be made.

Following the passage of the bill, it is proposed that an authorisation be made allowing journalists to visit major communities without a permit. The authorisation would allow journalists to visit communities in their professional capacity to report on events in the communities. We would expect the authorisations to include conditions preventing journalists from entering sacred sites, premises or living areas and from interfering with ceremonies. The government has consulted with the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Northern Territory land councils on the details of the proposed authorisation.

On the general issues, the government opposes the amendment moved by Senator Scullion on behalf of the opposition. The opposition has obviously stated that it opposes the restoration of the permit system. I just want to make some points briefly. I referred to them in my earlier remarks at the conclusion of the second reading debate. The permit system has nothing to do with protecting children. That is why we made an election commitment to restore the permit system for major communities. Schedule 3 of this bill restores the permit system for major communities. Policing, income management and improved infrastructure can all be delivered without interfering with the privacy of Aboriginal people. Everyone associated with delivering the emergency response can access Aboriginal land.

We reject the amendment about access roads into Aboriginal communities. The minister has made the decision not to exercise this determination power, in line with our election commitments. We are getting to that shortly, I know, but I am anticipating a reasonably rapid conclusion. We are refining the ministerial authorisation power so that the government can ensure access for journalists to major communities. I have outlined the issues in respect of journalist permits helping to keep grog, drugs and criminals out. The Northern Territory Police Association says that permits are a useful tool in protecting communities. Unfortunately, the opposition continues to simplistically support the abolition of permits. We need to base our policy on evidence and not ideology.


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