Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (13:22): I rise to speak on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Economic Empowerment) Bill 2021 and I make the point from the start that, as I’m the member for Grey, this legislation doesn’t apply across the border to the south; it is about the Northern Territory. But, while the structures and formulation of land ownership and asset ownership in South Australia are different to those in the Northern Territory, there are many implicit messages in this piece of legislation that should carry through to our state parliaments. Those parliaments should, where they can, act in a way that will empower Indigenous communities and make decisions—hopefully good decisions—on their behalf on the use of the income stream derived from the land rights legislation. The member for Solomon pointed out that 47 per cent, so almost half, of the Northern Territory is now Aboriginal land. In itself, that tells us two things: first, that the policy of accumulation and land transfer has been a spectacular success; and, second, that that is a double-edged sword because the benefits that the Indigenous people have derived from this ownership have been a spectacular failure. Certainly, that is the case south of the border in South Australia, where we’ve seen large amounts of money and large landholdings now in the possession of Indigenous groups and yet we seem to see very little advance in their economic and social outcomes, at least those outcomes that are directly related to the new-found resources.
It’s worth pointing out that it’s the 40-year celebration—although we’ve had to delay the celebration slightly—of the handing back of the APY lands to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara corporation by the Tonkin government, a Liberal government, in 1981. The celebrations have been delayed and will be held next year because of obvious complications around COVID isolation. I can remember talking to an Aboriginal elder who was involved in those original negotiations. He passed away about five years ago, I suppose. He said to me, ‘When we negotiated all this, we thought things would be a lot different to what they are now.’ It had been a great disappointment to him that they won the fight, if you like, but they didn’t win the battle—that they didn’t win the battle for economic success, growth and all those things that they had hoped land ownership would deliver. It is worth pointing out that the APY lands is a little more than three times the size of Victoria and supports a population of less than 3,000 people, and there is implied and hidden wealth there; it is just not well-exploited at this time.
This legislation will establish a new Aboriginal controlled body to handle the wealth that has been accumulated in the ABA. That will hopefully unlock a lot of the barriers to investment in a whole host of things that will benefit Aboriginal people—in particular, things like aquaculture, agriculture and tourism enterprises, which speak for themselves. There’s been some success in that area in the past, but there have also been many failures. It will also support community projects like art centres and youth centres. But I really hope that one of the things that the new corporation decides to invest in is housing. Wherever I go, particularly in remote Indigenous communities, there is a call for more housing. There’s been enormous investment by governments over the years to address the shortfall, but it still falls short. It seems to me that, for the rest of society, if we own our land then we build our own houses. But you can’t do that if you don’t have an income stream. But in the case of the Northern Territory, they do have an income stream, and they have money in the bank.
So I hope they will look at the projects of investing in Indigenous communities. As part of this legislation, there are adjustments to the land councils that will allow entities to lease township land and derive benefit from it. That is getting closer to a personal ownership model. Noel Pearson has spoken many times about the disempowerment of Aboriginal people because they’re not able to use their houses for collateral. They’re not able to own their own houses; they’re all owned by the government, for all intents and purposes. That can’t be a good outcome. We need this housing and these housing projects to be owned, controlled and operated by Aboriginal people who have access to streams of Aboriginal income. So I hope they put that up as a high priority, because I think that could make a real difference in these communities.
Also, a barrier has been lifted to the amount that this new corporation will be able to invest without seeking ministerial approval, from $1 million to $5 million. I think that simply reflects the cost of everything today, quite frankly. We speak about self-determination, and we have to entrust these bodies to make decisions on their behalf that are intelligent. In that, though, it is implicit that these corporations, this new body, should meet the same accounting standards as, say, a local council or a medium-size business. That is not the case at the moment—certainly in my patch, at least—and the accounting standards for the NGOs are also not held to the same standard. I think that in itself is a racist condescension, if you like. I think it is an insult to send this message that Aboriginal people aren’t capable of meeting the same standards as local councils. Those types of things should not be tolerated. We need to step up to the plate. There should be one set of rules for all. When you’re dealing with other people’s money you need to meet the same type of criteria as any other Australian enterprise would. That’s what this new organisation will have to be up to.
The bill repeals some delegation provisions, as I said before, which will further simplify land administration and certainly, as I said, allow the entities to engage in the leasing of townships and for them to enable an income stream from that. My comments have probably been abridged a little bit. I realise I have about five seconds left, so I’ll leave it at that.