Senate debates

Thursday, 26 November 2015


Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2015; Second Reading

12:54 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in relation to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2015. I am pleased to speak in support of the amendments proposed in this bill. The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 is one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in this parliament. It is steeped in the history of Indigenous struggle for land rights and safeguards those rights now and into the future.

Just last night the Australian parliament was gifted a sacred churinga from the Yuendumu community, in the Northern Territory, which was presented to the Hon. Ian Viner when this historic law was passed, recognising the traditional ownership of the land. I too would like to thank the Yuendumu community for giving to the Australian parliament such a special and sacred piece of your culture and history.

I would also like to acknowledge the recent celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Uluru hand-back to its traditional owners, the Anangu peoples. Through these amendments, the Anangu peoples will gain more control over their land and increased capacity to pursue social and economic development opportunities. This is in keeping with the spirit in which the land rights act was enacted.

Labor supports a community model of leasing that enables traditional owners to decide how to progress their participation in northern Australian development, acknowledging the importance of their aspirations for their own future. The bill returns parcels of land in the Wickham River and Simpson Desert and the Vernon Islands to their traditional owners, under schedule 1 of the Aboriginal land rights act. I congratulate the traditional owners of the land on its return to their custodianship.

It is important that changes to this legislation have the full, free and informed prior consent of traditional owners. This has been done here. I note that all four land councils, representing traditional owners in the Northern Territory, have been consulted and have given their support for this legislative amendment. As such, Labor supports the amendments in this bill. The bill makes some important amendments in relation to the delegation of land council functions to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations.

I am pleased that the minister has adopted a different approach than he has done previously in this place. Last time the Senate considered changes to the Aboriginal land rights act, it was in the form of a regulation proposed by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs to strip land councils of some of their most important functions. We could not offer bipartisan support in this place then. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs had not sought and did not have the consent of traditional owners and the land councils to effect those changes to the Aboriginal land rights act. Labor could not support that and, with the Greens, disallowed that regulation.

I am glad that the minister seems to have learned a valuable lesson since that time. The minister has undertaken to consult and, more importantly, to listen to the concerns and aspirations of land councils and traditional owners. Changes of such a serious nature should not be made without the genuine participation and free and informed consent of traditional owners. We welcome the amendments to repeal provisions that would impede the land councils' decision-making capacity in respect of traditional land. I am pleased to support the passage of this important bill today.

12:58 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Cameron, for your contribution. The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2015, which makes amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, will empower Indigenous landowners and community members with localised decision making about the use of their land. It offers the opportunity to resolve tenure issues and streamline land council operations to promote landowners and community members playing an integral role in fostering economic development in their communities. It also meets this government's commitment to return Aboriginal land to Aboriginal people by scheduling three parcels of land, which will be granted to land trusts.

I would like to thank, on behalf of this government and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, the Northern Territory land councils for their participation in developing this bill. It is a testament to our relationship and joint commitment to empower Indigenous landowners and improve outcomes for Indigenous communities. I commend the bill to my colleagues.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.