Senate debates

Thursday, 27 November 2008

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

In Committee

8:40 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Nationals) Share this | Hansard source

I move opposition amendment (11) on sheet 5566:

(11)  Page 18 (after line 12), after Schedule 3, insert:

Schedule 3A—Access to Aboriginal land
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976

1  Subsection 70B(2)

Omit “may” (first occurring), substitute “must”.

This is a very simple amendment. This is an issue that simply deals with the current discretion of the minister in whether or not they change regulations or impact on regulations to ensure that the permit system changes are invoked. I am not sure of the exact events, because we are no longer in government, but I am simply assuming that this was a drafting error that was not picked up in the House of Representatives. It certainly was not picked up here in the dozens of hours that we have been here. It is a bit of an old chestnut in politics—‘may’ is one term and ‘must’ is another. One is a compulsion and the other is obviously a matter of discretion. The legislation says that it is a matter of discretion.

As I have indicated before, the Labor Party have been consistent on this matter. During the debate on the intervention, they actually voted against the permit system. They lost that vote. Everybody thought it became law. That in fact was not the case, and my best recollection is that the legislation said, ‘On or before 18 February the minister may make regulations with regard to changing the permit system.’ On 17 February this year, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs released a media statement to say that the permit system currently in place for the use of major roads to communities in the Northern Territory will continue, so certainly any notion that people have had that this is a reinstatement of the permit system is a falsehood. It is no mischief that there has been always been a permit system. You have always been required, in any part of Indigenous land, to have a permit. I think a lot of people were confused by that, and perhaps the media release was not circulated widely enough, but certainly that is the way it is. As I said, I am quite happy to accept the fact that the Labor government have done that—that has been completely consistent with their position.

What I think is so important is that when we go from this place, whatever the vote is on how we go about this matter, this is not a matter of discretion for the minister. It was never intended to be a matter of discretion for the minister and should not have been. When we pass things in this place, we do not say, ‘Whatever you reckon.’ We say that this is the way it should be, and that is why I think it was a drafting error. Our amendment simply puts beyond doubt the fact that the minister actually has to regulate to ensure that there are changes to the permit system that allow economic benefits to flow to these Aboriginal communities.

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