Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Regulations and Determinations

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

6:30 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

As other speakers have done, I would like to acknowledge my good friends in the gallery from the Northern Land Council and from the Central Land Council. But, more importantly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the Northern Territory, which is whom this debate should be about—not their representatives, not the bodies that represent them. I am here, as Senator Peris should be here, to represent the interests of my constituents. That constituency is part of the fabric of the Commonwealth government, within which the Northern Land Council is a statutory body. My responsibility as minister is to ensure that you carry out your functions in a way that is lawful and provides procedural fairness to your constituents, whether you do so or not. That is my role in this.

It was with some sadness that I heard what Senator Siewert said. I would like to be cranky with you but we have had a very long relationship. I would like to sit down and explain a number of things, Senator Siewert—a couple of things, just technical changes. This change was made in 2006. It was not associated with the income management process; it was done well before that—

Senator Siewert interjecting—

Just in terms of a correction, Senator. This regulation—and I do not have time to just make up regulation, to just slip in here and throw a few regulations around—was the subject of a significant consultation process with all the land councils and with Aboriginal corporations. There were a series of consultations, and the reason those consultations were had was that there was mischief afoot. Certainly, the land councils in that consultation had indicated a whole range of things, and in response to that we made some changes. On the basis of that very clear advice, we put the regulations forward.

Now, those on the other side seem to think this is an opportunity to talk about section 28. That is actually our law. That is our law now and that is the law which the Northern Land Council, which is a servant of this, being a Commonwealth statutory authority, needs to respect. Section 28, effectively, is land rights plus. It is a law that allows people to make some significant decisions themselves on their own land. It is real land rights. That is not just a statement. I have no interest in this. None of these processes actually provide the minister with any decision-making power. It is there, as always, as a default position, but we do not get any land. I genuinely have no interest in who is speaking for whose country; that is entirely a matter for traditional owners. But there was a fair bit of mischief going on.

If I could just use a short anecdote about a friend of mine who would be well known to Maurie, perhaps not to Les. There was a guy called Herman Malbunka—he has passed away, bless his soul—who was a good friend of mine. I can remember him sitting on the side of his road, and it is a road that goes past Hermannsburg over to the west. He used to think, 'People have to get jerry cans to get all the way. Wouldn't it be good if I could have a service station here?' I said, 'Why don't you get a service station, apply to the land council?' He said, 'I've been trying.' I said, 'How long have you been trying, mate?' 'Oh, I don't know, Senator; maybe for four or five years.' I said, 'Oh, okay.' He said, 'My vision is, with the least money I can get from this, I want to buy cattle, because I'm a cattleman.' He was always proud of wearing his big belt buckle, and his sons were cattlemen. He said, 'That's our future, because I want to buy cattle and put it on the rest of my land and this is how I can do it.'

But the process of the land council—and it is no reflection, Maurie Ryan, on the Central Land Council; it happened a long time ago. It is more of a reflection on the sorts of things that Senator Peris brought up. They only meet every now and again. It is a terribly cumbersome process. Wherever I go, Senator Peris—and, after you start travelling a little bit more, you will find this—almost everyone says, 'Look, I'd really like to have a faster process or something where we can actually make a decision, where we can make a decision in our own lunchtime,' because sometimes in a business sense that is really important: 'I want to make a decision today.' 'I know—I'm sorry; you're going to have to wait a long time.' And that is in circumstances where the land council is going to cooperate.

So why do we actually need this regulation? First of all, despite what has been said about the consultation, we consulted considerably. We had the consultations start in November 2013. We introduced this last year, in December. I spoke at length to the full land council, and this is the important point—and thank you very much, Senator Peris; I omitted to find my speech and you managed to quote for me the exact part I wanted to quote, which was: 'I'm here; I'm talking about section 28.' If you had read the remainder of the speech, you would have seen that section 28 was the preference to what seemed to be the only alternative, which was an entirely new land council. I spoke to the Central Land Council. I spoke to the entire Central Land Council. In Tennant Creek—because I spoke about it twice to the Northern Land Council—there were a whole range of questions. The second time I spoke to it, which was in Darwin, to the entire Central Land Council—the first minister to have appeared before them, I understand—there were a few questions of interest, but none of the rank and file were saying, 'This is a bad thing.' I speak to the rank and file and I have to say it is pretty interesting. Maurie Ryan has not said to me that he has spoken to the land council and, 'This is the view of the land council.' Nor have the Northern Land Council. You did not have a resolution of the meeting that I was at that said, 'Suddenly, section 28A is odious to our organisation,' and you are empowered as the executive to come down to Canberra and say so and make a submission because you would be the only ones who knew about it. Your constituency knew nothing about it and know nothing about it today.


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