Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE ( 20:24 ): On behalf of The Greens, I indicate our support for the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Local Aboriginal Land Councils) Bill 2016, noting that we are standing on Gadigal land. I pay my respects to the elders past and present of the land on which we meet. Like the rest of this State, this land always was and always will be Aboriginal land. When The Greens review measures relating to Aboriginal land rights and land councils we commence our analysis by considering the extent to which the bill complies with the principle of self-determination. Does it give power back to Aboriginal people to determine their affairs and what they do with their assets and resources in their communities? On those crucial tests this bill gets a big green tick.
The bill hands power to the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council [NSWALC] to allow the Aboriginal community through its peak body to intervene where it thinks appropriate and to work with local Aboriginal land councils where necessary to put in place advisers to assist them to get their affairs back in order. The bill gives the power to the democratically elected peak body for Aboriginal people in New South Wales and not to the registrar, whether or not the registrar is an Aboriginal person. It does not hand the power to a statutory office controlled by the Executive or to the Minister, who is most often a non-Aboriginal person. We say that handing power to the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council is a positive step forward in self-determination and that is the principal basis upon which we support this bill. I indicate my respect for former Minister Williams. She was not a flashy Minister who engaged in large amounts of self-promotion; she knuckled down and did good work. I can think of a number of areas in which she did that. This bill is the result of the work of a Minister who did her job, and I commend her for it.
The bill has four key objects. The first is to authorise the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council to make a performance improvement order to a local Aboriginal land council if NSWALC considers action must be taken to improve the performance of the local Aboriginal land council. I will deal with that in slightly more detail in a moment. The bill also restores the authority of local Aboriginal land councils to own and operate corporations, which I will touch upon briefly, as well as clarifies the role and functions of an administrator or interim administrator appointed to an Aboriginal land council. I believe the observations of the Minister and the Opposition adequately identify that aspect of the bill, so I will not go into it in more detail. The bill also provides for the payment of an interim administrator. As expected, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council is a strong supporter of the bill. It has been working with the Government to try to come up with these measures since the 2012 review.
As we often see in matters involving the regulation or interests of the first peoples of this State, it seems to take a long time for governments to get the collective will to bring in legislation. I think all participants in the 2012 review would have liked action within less than four years. Nevertheless, the review included detailed consultation with local Aboriginal land councils around the State and the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council. Amongst other things, the review found that the intervention mechanisms in the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, being the appointment of administrators, investigators and advisers, needed to be reconsidered. The fundamental concern was that administrators represented an extremely heavy-handed and expensive response, but they were really the only viable tool in the toolkit. Rather than working with a local Aboriginal land council that was having trouble, the Act effectively said to wait for it to fall over first peoples, then sack it, put in an administrator and go to a vast amount of expense to try to bring things back after 12 or 24 months of the administrator being in place. That has not worked.
Any of us who has been observing the sector could probably point to a couple of land councils in particular that have been cycling through administrators. They have an administrator in for 12 months, but nothing seems to get fixed culturally. They have an election, they have a board that goes for two years and, bang, they have another administrator. This cycle appears to be repeating, and there has to be some way of breaking it. The method proposed in this regard is to allow the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, when it sees a problem or a need to build capacity—which often comes about through its financial oversight of Aboriginal land councils, although sometimes it comes about through reporting from the community—to instigate a performance improvement order process instead of having to go to the Minister or petitioning the registrar to perhaps seek to have an administrator put in place when things go pear shaped.
I know this has been taken from the Local Government Act, and I think many people have questions about how effectively it works in local government when there seems to be some politicisation. But The Greens support the basic structure in local government, and we support the concept of performance improvement orders for local Aboriginal councils. The proposed part 11, division 4, will put in place a performance improvement orders process, and I am grateful for the summary provided by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council. First, it authorises the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council to issue performance improvement orders to local Aboriginal land councils if NSWALC reasonably considers, having considered criteria that are to be prescribed in the regulations, that action is needed to improve the performance of a local Aboriginal land council. Again, the decision is being made by a democratically elected Aboriginal body, which is a good thing because it incorporates self-determination.
Secondly, it requires local Aboriginal land council boards to ensure that the land council and the board, as well as individual board members and, where there is one, the chief executive officer of the land council to comply with a performance improvement order and carry out the actions set out in the performance improvement order. That means that there is a compliance mechanism. Thirdly, it requires local Aboriginal land councils to report to the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and its members on the compliance with the performance improvement order. Fourthly, it authorises the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council to appoint an adviser to advise and assist a board of a local Aboriginal land council that has been issued with a performance improvement order. Lastly, it requires a local Aboriginal land council and the board and staff to cooperate with an appointed adviser. In other words, this process puts in place someone to work with the land council to try to get things back on track before they go pear shaped.
The Greens believe this is a positive step forward. Are there problems in land councils? Of course there are. Is there politics in the Aboriginal community? Of course there is. Is there politics in the non-Aboriginal community? Of course there is. Are there problems in the non-Aboriginal community? Of course there are. Who is normally best at sorting out problems in the Aboriginal community? It is the Aboriginal people themselves. Too often reporting about land councils focuses upon failures, problems, divisions. I can tell you there are land councils all across this State—and somewhere like Darkinjung comes to mind. I do not pretend I agree with everything Darkinjung does; we probably have issues with some of its development applications. But it is a well‑run, democratically responsible local Aboriginal land council getting on with the business of helping local Aboriginal people in that area.
I commend Darkinjung for that, and I commend the work many Aboriginal land councils do around New South Wales. They often face difficult local politics—we know that all local politics is difficult. Aboriginal land councils have constrained resources and work in tough communities, but they get on and do the work, and we need to put in place structures that assist them in doing their work, rather than just whacking them when they make mistakes. We need to assist them through self‑determination, first and foremost, and that is why we support this bill.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE ( 20:33 ): On behalf of the Christian Democratic Party I wish to make a policy statement on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Local Aboriginal Councils) Bill 2016, and my colleague the Hon. Paul Green will deal with the details of this legislation. I am very pleased to support this bill. The bill amends the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983. As members will remember, this is a unique Act of Parliament that established a network of Aboriginal land councils. It provided a mechanism for them to claim and manage land as compensation for historic dispossession and to provide economic, social and cultural benefit to their communities.
I am probably the only member of the House who was present during the debate in 1983. I had been elected in 1981 and there had been some minor controversies in 1981 through to 1983, but 1983 was when the explosion happened when the Aboriginal land rights legislation was introduced by the Labor Government at the time. That legislation was strongly opposed by the Liberal and the National parties; they fought it vehemently every inch of the way. I was like the ham in the sandwich—the new boy working out where to go with this legislation. I had a lot of support for my election in 1981 from the country regions and from farming areas, but they were all terrified that this Aboriginal land rights legislation meant that Aboriginal people would be able to claim their farm and they would lose their private land. Of course, the legislation did nothing of the sort; it was to enable claims to be made on Crown land.
But there was a lot of misinformation and a lot of people were very fearful. I received many threatening letters saying that I must not vote for the legislation and that if I did I would lose the votes that I had achieved in 1981. The threats meant that almost 50 per cent of my support would go if I voted for the legislation. I studied the legislation and I prayed about it. I always had a very strong identification with Aboriginal people prior to coming into Parliament and I have worked closely with Aboriginal pastors, churches, the church at La Perouse and so on. So working with Aboriginal people was not a new experience for me.
I believed the original 1983 bill was a right and just piece of legislation and that I could not do anything but vote for it and support it enthusiastically, which I did—and I probably did lose 50 per cent of my support because of it. I should not quote figures but I did have a very high vote—I think 1.25 million votes, which I have never achieved again—and I think I lost that support because I voted for this legislation. But I believe it was the right and proper thing to do and it has provided a base for Aboriginal people in this State and in other States to follow in the same steps.
I have had a lot to do with the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and local councils over the years, meeting with them and visiting the country centres where they are operating, and fighting here in this House in recent years for them to have opportunities to develop their commercial activities. That is why I am pleased that this legislation speaks about an opportunity for corporations to be established. It is good for Aboriginal people to become self‑supporting economically—to develop the land that they get and provide economic value to their communities. It is another plus for this legislation. My only criticism is the land claims that Aboriginal people have put in have been delayed for so many years—some for 20 years—and I think that is a disgrace.
I know the Government is working to speed up that process, but it is not an option for the Government to take its time; I believe it is a priority to have claims processed quickly. It is no good having legislation that is not enforced. It will take a lot of the tension out of the whole Aboriginal land rights issue when Aboriginal communities feel that Parliament has done the right thing and that claims have been agreed to where they are justified, so that Aboriginal people can get on with their lives in their communities and, where possible, in the economic process. On behalf of the Christian Democratic Party, I am very pleased to support this bill.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN ( 20:38 ): I look forward to the day that we revisit the votes of 1,250,000 for our party—hopefully that day is to come! I speak on behalf of the Christian Democratic Party on the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Local Aboriginal Land Councils) Bill 2016, and I acknowledge the custodians of this land, the Gadigal clan of the Eora nation. The objective of the bill is to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 in respect of: performance improvement orders and advisors for local Aboriginal land councils; restoring the authority of the local Aboriginal land councils to own and operate corporations; clarifying the role and functions of an administrator or interim administrator appointed to an Aboriginal land council; and providing for the payment of an interim administrator.
In 2012 the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs commissioned a review into the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 and appointed a working group of six to conduct the review. The working group was required to submit its findings and recommendations and, where possible, to provide proposals for improving the Act. The review, in consultation with local Aboriginal land councils, concluded that the intervention mechanisms in the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, particularly the appointment of administrators, investigators and advisors, needed to be reconsidered, a more cost-effective intervention prior to administration is needed, and the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council needs to have greater oversight with respect to interventions.
Earlier this week I met with the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and it advised me that administrators, as the principal mechanism of the current legislative interventions framework, are costly and poorly targeted at issues of capacity, performance and community governance. In comparison, the bill’s proposed mechanisms enhance self-regulation and are more cost-effectively targeted at capacity, performance and governance issues that emerge where the voluntary support of New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council is rejected. The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council went on to say that allowing other people to become advisors was “fixing the symptom, not the cause”.
It is more important to have the experience and knowledge of local people, tribes, groups, lands et cetera. The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council was not happy with the 2014 amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which restricted the ability of local Aboriginal land councils to use corporations. It remains strongly opposed to the detrimental and discriminatory restrictions imposed in 2014. The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council also expressed its pleasure that this bill amends section 52 of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act to gives local Aboriginal land councils the ability to pursue economic development opportunities. The Minister in the other place stated:
The purpose of this bill is to provide an alternative mechanism—a mechanism that is more supportive and proactive, and which will address and rectify capacity and compliance issues at an early stage.
The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council supports the amendments in the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Local Aboriginal Land Councils) Bill 2016. The Christian Democratic Party concurs with the Minister and the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and commends the bill to the House. My final reflection is that the Standing Committee on State Development recently finished an investigation into economic opportunities for Aboriginal people. It is shameful that, although we will hand land back to Aboriginal people—the original people of this land—we will shackle it with our “white man’s” boundaries and continue to tell them what they can do with that land.
Until we get to a place where Aboriginal people have absolute autonomy and can be captain of the ship, I believe they will not get to where they want to be, which is to be totally self-reliant, to feed and educate future generations, and to enjoy some of the most prosperous times this State has seen. They have been short of that goal. I am sure that, as we continue to work towards amendments like these, we will see prosperity for these people through their capacity to be self-determining and self-providing in the way that many of us dream of. Until that time, I commend the bill to the House.