Thursday, 20 March 2014
Regulations and Determinations
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Delegation) Regulation 2013; Disallowance
If you disallow this regulation, you take away the legal rights for local people. You still have time to change your mind. I will not stop pursuing procedural fairness for Aboriginal people.
Despite those very effective 10 seconds, we continue to disapprove of these regulations as now presented to the chamber. I want to restate what was said by this side of the chamber last night, which is that we are not closing down any further discussion on the need for change. There is no intention of that. What we said clearly last night, I hope, was that on two basic issues we reject these regulations as they now stand. One was the issue of consultation. Despite the Minister for Indigenous Affairs's efforts last night, talking about the wide range of consultation that took place, we submit that there was a short period of time in which the land councils were able to respond, as they did, to the issues around regulations which are going to impact very seriously on their operations but, more particularly, on the way the process was going to operate across the Northern Territory.
Letters went out from the minister, allowing for the fact that the government was changed, late in the year. We believe that the letters went out to the land councils with the draft regulations—and it was the first time they had seen them in a written format—on 23 October 2013. The minister told the land councils that he wanted them concluded by the end of 2013. Three of the four major land councils sent back detailed written statements about the concerns they had with the regulations as they stood. In those letters they pointed out detailed aspects which needed further consultation and discussion. The minister's discussion about the discussions that he had is all fine and good, but the minister's job is to go out and consult with the community and the land councils themselves, who are the traditional owners of the land and represent the traditional owners of the land. They have their own consultative processes. They are working every day, talking about the issues that impact on their people and on their land and looking at development and the best possible outcomes for people in the Northern Territory.
The minister said last night that he went to a couple of meetings—and I think the most insulting thing was that he said he was out consulting with 'the real people of the Northern Territory'. That does not acknowledge the role the land councils play, the responsibilities and commitments these people have to the people whom they represent. So while the minister may have been consulting with 'the real people of the Northern Territory' the land councils were working across the board with the people they represent. Yelling at people from the land councils who were in the chamber, in the gallery, last night is not effective consultation. We were here last night. We saw the people in the gallery. They made no statement and did not draw attention to themselves. However, when they come to their Parliament House to listen to deliberations that impact deliberately on them, I would think there would be an expectation that a bit of respect would be shown.
We acknowledge that there is a degree of frustration when you are working on issues that you care about over a period of time. We have all been in a situation where we care seriously about issues and there are people who oppose some of the things we want to do. But I trust that we can expect in this place a bit of decorum and respect. Yelling and engaging in direct statements to people in the gallery which were not particularly complimentary about the way they operate is not the way this chamber should operate. We attempted to take a point of order last night but it was not accepted. I am not quite sure why. Nonetheless, we were in the middle of a discussion about consultation and respect, and Senator Peris, Senator Siewert and I all made the point in our contributions that respect is the core aspect of this process.
We raised other points last night around consultation, accountability and practicality. These are all issues that were pointed out in the submissions that were put forward by the land councils. They were concerned about the appropriateness of processes that would occur so that, should there be further applications through regulations, should there be any further changes, the processes would come forward and we would be able to work out exactly how they would operate, the resources impacts across the board, and also the protections and accountability of decisions. We put that through last night and it remains a concern for us.
We also got the impression from the minister's comments last night that there were all these applications from corporations sitting untouched by the land councils—who were not the process. The implication was that there was no action taken. We know that there have in fact been two successful approaches through the Northern Land Council to set up two new councils—the Tiwi Island council and the Anindilyakwa council. That had gone through a process. We do not pretend that it is an easy process; it was never meant to be an easy process. We are talking about complex issues. The minister, I know, has a clear intention of moving forward. We are not opposing that process. We are looking at how we can do things better because there is a shared commitment to doing things better. But at this point the regulations, as they have been put to this place, do not meet what we believe are the effective tests of consultation, respect in that consultation and also how you get the details right.
We talked last night about the time frame. The minister explained that the three-month clause in the current regulations could be amended by asking for an extension. We can see that an extension could be provided. I ask: if there was acceptance, as there seemed to be last night, that in the current set-up of the way the councils operate the three-month time frame was not going to be effective, why put it in there? Have a time frame—
Senator Scullion interjecting—
Before the minister yells across the chamber at me again about the need for timeliness—and I accept that, and I accept the fact that we have to have these things put in place—I think it would be useful, if you are putting out regulations for immediate approval, to acknowledge that you have something in there which is just not right. You would not put 'three months' in there, because it creates a little bit of fear. They say things have to be turned over in three months.
In terms of the process, what we do is we go forward. We see how we can do this better. There must be a way of doing this better. We know that there need to be better processes in place. They can be extended, but at this point we do not accept that the full consultation processes have been effective and we do not believe that the technical details about accountability for any new set-up that is put through the regulations have been effectively addressed. So we are moving for disallowance of these regulations.