Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 – Second Reading Speech

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This bill makes amendments to legislation related to Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. The amendments are aimed at allowing greater flexibility in dealings with land which is owned or controlled by Aboriginal people, and at facilitating the provision of improved housing and infrastructure for Aboriginal people by better allowing for security of tenure to government providers of facilities.

The bill allows for additional flexibility in relation to township leases under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to encourage more communities to enter into township leases. In particular, a minimum term of leases will be set at 40 years and leases will be able to include provision for extension of the original term of the lease to a maximum of 99 years.

These changes will allow traditional owners to propose a lease tailored to the needs of a particular community. The government sees many advantages to whole-of-township leases and will work with traditional owners through land councils to progress these leases where communities are interested.

The amendments will allow the finalisation of the Regional Partnership Agreement in relation to the Groote Eylandt region signed on behalf of the Australian and Northern Territory governments and the Anindilyakwa people on 20 May 2008. That agreement includes township leases over the communities of Angurugu, Umbakumba and Milyakburra for an initial term of 40 years and a renewal period of 40 years. This flexible position which was taken on the term allowed agreement to be reached with people who were understandably concerned at committing future generations to a century-long land arrangement. The amendments will allow these leases which have been agreed to be put in place.

The bill also allows the Executive Director of Township Leasing to hold other types of leases or subleases over land held primarily for the benefit of Aboriginal people. This simply provides a further option to Aboriginal people in considering whether to grant leases over their land. Aboriginal people may prefer a position where a lease granted for the purpose of supporting housing and infrastructure is held by the Executive Director of Township Leasing that is a Commonwealth statutory office with a measure of independence.

This measure is an additional avenue for landowners to consider when leasing or subleasing their land to government to enable much needed housing and infrastructure construction to occur with certainty for both governments and landowners.

The bill contains some minor changes to the land related provisions of the emergency response legislation. In particular, it provides streamlined processes for payments to landholders for the acquisition of five-year leases.

The bill amends schedule 1 to the Northern Territory Land Rights Act to include 13 parks and reserves which were the subject of land claims under the act. This arises from a landmark agreement struck in September 2003 between the Northern Territory government and the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land about the future tenure and administration of the parks and reserves.

The government is pleased to be able to finalise the agreement, and notes that the previous government failed to do so in the more than two years between the request for scheduling and its losing office. Resolving Indigenous land claims by agreement where possible and not through the courts is the position this government takes when approaching Indigenous land issues.

The government recognises the foresight and determination of the Northern Territory government and the Northern and Central land councils in reaching an agreement that provides lasting benefits for all Territorians.

As a result of the agreement, the land will be granted to the traditional owners on the basis that it will be immediately leased back to the Northern Territory government to continue to operate as national parks. This is similar to the arrangements the Northern Territory government has with the owners of Nitmiluk National Park and the Commonwealth has with the owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu national parks and ensures that Aboriginal people and other Australians can jointly enjoy the benefits of significant pieces of the national estate. I commend the bill to the House.