Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Regulations and Determinations
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Delegation) Regulation 2013; Disallowance
Minister, you will have your go—as you always do. The process outlined in the regulations includes a three-month turnaround for decisions which must involve careful scrutiny of the proposal for a corporation to take over key functions—and that scrutiny would be expected and must occur. But this is not a workable expectation: Aboriginal land councils have a clear schedule of meeting times, which we all know; when and where these councils meet is public and transparent. Their people know when they meet; we know when they meet. Not one of them would be able to turn around a decision of this nature within a three-month period. To put that forward in this regulation just does not make it workable. And the thing that comes behind that, of course, is that if there is not a decision made—and a response given back—by one of the land councils about a proposed devolution of authority to a corporation, the expectation is that the minister will step in immediately.
I have heard the current minister speak many times, both as a minister in the previous government and as the shadow minister for the last six years. He has told us consistently—in this place, in meetings and in regional meetings—about the importance of having effective ownership by Aboriginal people of their decisions. That is a statement by which he consistently stands. I agree with him. I respect the position he has taken. But the proposal in terms of these regulations does not reflect that position.
If we are going to be—as we always agree we should, here in this place—respectful of Aboriginal land councils, and if we were acknowledging their work and their place in history, we will ensure that any expectation from the government or the parliament will include the opportunity for them to do their job. That has always been the process. The regulations we have before us in this chamber do not allow that to happen. I have read here about the processes that the minister is trying to put in place. In short, if the aim is to engage the councils and give them more flexibility, the best and most effective way forward—in fact, the only way forward—is to let the land councils see that they are partners in this process, and not being imposed upon by government. That has consistently been the argument that we have put up.
In terms of the process, we believe there is much more discussion to be had. No-one believes that everything should be locked in stone, and that no changes should be made. That has never been the position of the opposition. I believe that there is a willingness to maintain the discussion around further changes and further ways to ensure that there is the best possible outcome for the traditional owners of the land—which was the intent of the original legislation. So, we are not closing down the discussion; what we are saying is that the most effective way to move the discussion forward is to ensure that due process is put in place. The regulations as they are now drafted do not allow that due process.
We need to ensure that we have effective consultation, and an effective response to the issues that have been raised by the councils themselves about why they are uncomfortable with what has been put forward. We need to ensure that that consultation is there, that it is open, and that it is as engaging as possible. And I would suggest that it involves this place, Minister—not just outside. I suggest that it involves all of us in this place—because you know more than anyone else the interest and the commitment that people in this place have to ensuring that we have effective services and effective accountability in Aboriginal communities. These regulations do not provide that. In fact, there is a real danger that if these regulations are pushed through, it will further alienate the people who are most deserving of being consulted.
I know Senator Peris and Senator Siewert will have more to say, and so I will leave it at that. The opposition will not be supporting these regulations.