Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Regulations and Determinations

Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Delegation) Regulation 2013; Disallowance

6:05 pm

Photo of Nova PerisNova Peris (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in support of this disallowance motion, as it has direct relevance to the Northern Territory. As my colleague did earlier, I would like to acknowledge in the gallery today Northern Land Council members, Mr Sammy Bush-Blanasi and Mr John Daly, and deputy chair and CEO, Mr Joe Morrison; and also Central Land Council chairman, Maurie Japarta Ryan.

I support and applaud the very important role that the land councils play in representing Aboriginal people. We have four land councils in the Northern Territory: the Northern Land Council, the Central Land Council, the Tiwi Land Council and Anindilyakwa Land Council. They represent the traditional owners of the land and they also represent the concerns of Aboriginal people on many fronts. Aboriginal people have an extremely important connection to the land. The land owns Aboriginal people, not the other way around. Every aspect of our lives is connected to the land. We have a very deep spiritual connection to it. We have, in fact, 40,000 years of an inherited responsibility to the land and the sea. Aboriginal law and spirituality are intertwined in the land. This forms our culture and sovereignty. The health of the land and water is central to our culture. The land councils in the Northern Territory protect this connection but they also understand the importance of jobs and economic opportunity for our people. It is terrific that representatives of the land councils are here today, because this is a very important issue.

The essential reason that this disallowance motion exists is the lack of consultation from the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. The minister simply did not properly consult with affected stakeholders, in particular the land councils of the Northern Territory, when he amended the regulations that this motion seeks to disallow. Late last year, on December 12, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs tabled an amendment, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Delegation) Regulation 2013. This regulation directly affects land councils in the Northern Territory and I reiterate that the minister did not properly consult with them. The land councils do not support the regulation—and I will explain in a minute why the land councils are opposed—but what land councils and all Aboriginal people are sick of is, when changes that directly affect them are being made in Canberra, Aboriginal people do not have their say.

That is what has occurred here: no real or meaningful and respectful consultation process and no formal opportunity to comment on the changes that directly affect them have taken place. Nothing upsets Aboriginal people more than being ignored on matters that affect them, and being ignored by the minister who is meant to be responsible for Indigenous affairs is especially wrong. The Prime Minister says that he will be the Prime Minister for Aboriginal people, yet this government makes changes to Aboriginal rights regulations without properly consulting with Aboriginal people. That is not right.

This is not the first time we have seen this approach. Last month, without any consultation, $10 million was scrapped from Machado–Joseph Foundation. There was outrage, even from members of the Liberal Country Party of the Northern Territory. Party members were calling the decision disgraceful and disgusting, but that is what happens when you do not talk to the people when making decisions that affect their lives or without telling them. The minister, to his credit, back flipped and has restored some of the funding, but the damage has already been done. I hope that the minister now understands that Aboriginal people do not like having decisions thrust upon them.

I will now explain why the land councils are opposed to these regulations. First and foremost, they impose new requirements on the content of applications for delegation for Aboriginal corporations. The regulation seeks to impose criteria by which land councils would be required to consider delegation applications. The changes also impose a three-month time limit for land councils to consider an application for delegation on an Aboriginal corporation before it may be referred by the Aboriginal corporation to the minister for approval. If the proposed changes are not allowed, land councils will not receive adequate information so as to make an informed decision as to whether a delegation should take place. This will be subject to an unreasonable time frame for the consideration of potentially major and permanent transfer of core land council functions.

The two biggest land councils, the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council, have submitted a joint submission opposing this regulation. It is a very comprehensive submission and it supports this disallowance today. I want to read out an extract from the submission that outlines their objections. The submission says:

The regulations require a Land Council, to respond to an application for delegation of functions within 3 months, failing which the Land Council is deemed to have refused such that the Minister may force a delegation. The response time for adequate consideration of such a request must accommodate both the investigation and decision making processes of the Land Council. During the period after an application has been received the Land Council will need to:

                    The period of 3 months is utterly inadequate as the Land Councils decision will need to be made by the Council at one of its Full Council meetings (triannual for the CLC, and biannual for the NLC) following the completion of the above investigation and consultations. Further, the regulations fail to adequately prescribe how the proposed area in which the Aboriginal corporation wishes to exercise Land Council functions is to be described in the application. Precision is needed in this regard to provide the Land Council with an accurate basis for determining whether the corporation, membership complies with eligibility requirements, and to look at whether the area provides logical administrative boundaries for the delegated functions. Precision is also needed, because the Land Councils will need to be certain about which body, it or the delegate, may exercise functions over a given area, and third parties need certainty about who they should be dealing with.

                    It is plain, from experience regarding applications to create new Land Councils, that the period of 3 months to consider a delegate corporation's 28A application is manifestly insufficient.

                    As you can see, their objections are very comprehensive, very considered and very well founded.

                    The Anindilyakwa Land Council from Groote Eylandt have also written to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs opposing this regulation, and I will quickly read an extract from their letter. They say:

                    We have a grave fear that even the threat of an application for delegation, by maverick groups and/or 'carpetbagger' advisors purporting to act on their behalf, will lead to intra-community disputes and even possibly litigation, which the ALC, and possibly you, Minister, would have to defend at great cost to us all.

                    We respectfully request you give consideration to our grave concerns, to avoid these many serious unintended consequences.

                    There has been absolutely no consideration of their grave concerns by this minister. I am also advised that members of the Tiwi Land Council share the concerns of the other three land councils. So the land councils' opposition to this amendment from the minister is clear. Not only is the rationale behind their objections very clear, but they are also upset by the fact that they have been ignored. I also understand that the Northern Land Council have found that their dealings with the minister on this matter have been extremely unsatisfactory. That is extremely concerning, not just in relation to this issue, but in relation to the government's approach to land councils and to Aboriginal people. It gives me no pleasure that the minister and the land councils are at loggerheads because, for the good of the Northern Territory it is very important that the Commonwealth government's Minister for Indigenous Affairs has a good relationship with the land councils.

                    I want to quote from a speech by the now Minister for Indigenous Affairs that was given at a Northern Land Council meeting in Timber Creek in May last year when he was in opposition. He was talking about potential changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and said:

                    I do not intend to force this on anyone. I want to support the Land Councils and I want you to be a part of it. I want Land Council's to be strong.

                    They are such beautiful words, but they were just words. They remind me of the late Dr Yunupingu's famous lyrics:

                    All those talking politicians

                    Words are easy, words are cheap

                    Much cheaper than our priceless land.

                    The minister concluded his speech to the Northern Land Council by saying:

                    Whichever way it goes my friends, whether we win the election or not, whether I become the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, I will always be on your side and I will always want to work with you.

                    If this disallowance is supported, then the Minister for Indigenous Affairs should go back to the drawing board and begin talking to Aboriginal people, in full consultation with land councils, in an honest and open manner. He should do what he said he would do before the election.

                    I support the disallowance, and I call on both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs to ensure that, next time they intend to make changes that affect Aboriginal people, they do the right thing and have the decency to properly consult with them. I thank the land councils for coming here today and for the work they continue to do in protecting our land and for standing up for Aboriginal Territorians.


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