Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (12:52): I rise to support the original motion but not the amendment. I congratulate the Mirarr people on the decisions and the pressure they have put to bring about this outcome for their people. They are going to convert Jabiru from a mining town into a tourism town. I’ve often thought that tourism in the remote areas of Australia offers the most possibilities for economic outcomes to the advantage of the people who own those areas and live there.
The Ranger mine is closing in June 2021. This has been on the cards for a few years now. It is good that, as that date approaches, we are seeing movement. Jabiru is a mining township, and the federal government has committed $216 million to repurpose and revamp the town so it is fit for purpose, fit for investment and fit to operate a tourism industry. To achieve investment in any remote community, what we need is investment certainty. One of the problems that we’ve had with Indigenous owned land over a long period of time is the community ownership model.
There have been moves, in the Northern Territory, to set up 49- to 99-year lease proposals, which allow for people to invest with some kind of certainty. As far I’m aware, we haven’t managed to get that over the border in South Australia yet, and I will come to that a bit later. I think it is something that needs to happen. No-one less than Noel Pearson talks about the value of people being able to individually own their own land or to have certainty around their continuity of occupation, if you like, and I concur with those thoughts. These are interesting and sometimes vexing questions—how a community can go from community ownership to individual rights within that community—but I think they are a very important economic step which need to be recognised.
Jabiru is being transferred to the Kakadu Aboriginal Land Trust, which, as I say, will enable somewhere between a 44- and a 99-year lease on the township. The ownership of the land will lie with the Kakadu Aboriginal Land Trust. The management of that can lie with the Aboriginal corporation, or they can lease out the management as well. Either way, at the end of the day, they still own the land and will still call the shots. So that is a very good outcome. What we hope the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020 will do and what the Mirarr people absolutely hope is that it will maximise employment, economic activity and underwriting of social services of communities and maximise the benefits of the Kakadu Aboriginal Land Trust asset.
It is so important that, in relation to the remote areas of Australia that are owned by Aboriginal corporations, we find an economic future for them. In my patch of the world, we have, amongst other things, the Aboriginal lands of the APY—the APY Lands trust—but we also have other Aboriginal lands that sit within South Australia. APY, for instance, covers over 10 per cent of South Australia. There’s a population there getting up towards 4,000 people. Traditionally, much of that country was cattle country operated by white companies, if you like, and the Tonkin government actually bought out those rights in the eighties and passed full ownership to the APY Lands council.
Those traditional industries, at their peak, probably employed 200 or 300 people across that area of land. If those same old, original cattle stations were operated at peak efficiency now, they would probably employ 20—such is the case in agriculture right across Australia. We employ far, far fewer people than we used to do. So there is an opportunity there for the local populations to participate in economic activity, but it’s pretty limited. The most successful private enterprises or industries on the APY Lands at the moment are probably the arts centres, where Aboriginal art has become very popular. They’re turning out a fair bit of it, and it’s highly prized. In fact, this government has invested money in an art gallery in Sydney, which I had the great privilege of opening about three years ago, and another one now in Adelaide, which is also an art centre where they can develop their skills. This is particularly for people that might be in Adelaide for medical purposes, for instance. Either way, this is one of the economic lifelines, if you like. But it’s nowhere near enough.
What I really like about the Mirarr proposal for Jabiru and Kakadu is that it is focusing on an industry of the future. It’s why I have always been a supporter of the Yulara concept, for instance. I think the idea of actually bringing people together in a concentrated workplace where you can manage their training is one of the transitions to the wider world. We should be able to produce people that can work in the tourism industry in remote occupations that may wish to go and run a hotel in London eventually—that’s what one would hope.
I think tourism offers the great prospect, but of course our APY Lands—and I said it covers 10 per cent of South Australia: 103,000 square kilometres—are about 500 kilometres across and 200 kilometres from north to south. There are some magnificent environmental assets in the APY Lands. There are three fantastic mountain ranges: the Tomkinson, Mann and Musgrave. The Musgraves feature the highest mountain in South Australia, Mount Woodroffe, which is a little under 5,000 feet in the old money.
It is stunning country, I have to tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it is country that very few Australians see because it is closed country. It’s a decision of the APY Lands trust that you need a permit—we need a permit—to go into that area of South Australia. It’s a little hard to set up a tourist industry if you don’t actually allow tourists to come in. This is a big leap for the APY Lands that in many ways have not achieved the levels of education that we would like to see in remote populations, despite pretty strong efforts from both sides of politics and state and federal governments. We still are not hitting those milestones that we need to in these remote communities.
But one thing I am absolutely sure of is that if you want to destroy a culture the best way to do it is to destroy people’s purpose. The people that lived there traditionally had a purpose. They had to hunt, gather and feed their family, and protect them and keep them out of the elements. Largely as a society, we have taken over that role in remote communities. We’ve put in shops. I make the point: one of the biggest sellers in the shops is frozen roo tails. That tells you something. It’s a sharp underlying factor of what has changed in those areas. Hunting and gathering is out the window. We supply an income to people that enables them to live—some would say live okay. We provide housing, we provide health care and we provide education and schools, and a lot of that infrastructure is first-class, I have to tell you. There are still some things, I think, that could be better—there could be some more housing—but most of it is first-class.
At the end of the day, despite any effort in education, if there is no natural economy there’s nothing to do. You can’t get a job in an industry that doesn’t exist, and so we really need to focus on what it is we can do in situ that looks like we could make a success out of it. The mining industry is often thrown up as being a possibility—and of course it’s interesting that in this bill we’re actually talking about the closing down of the mining entity at Jabiru, but that mining operation has ceased anyhow. But the mining industry does offer opportunities. However, I make the point when it comes to the APY Lands: gee, it’s got to be a good resource; it’s got to be an excellent resource, because it’s more than 1,000 kilometres in any direction to the transport routes, to the sea. Anything you do in the outback of South Australia has to be so much better than somewhere else.
You’re talking about populations that are going to be expensive to maintain onsite. You’re talking largely about a FIFO population, supplying electricity where no grid exists, supplying road networks where the network is poor at best even though we are spending a significant amount of money on doing up the main road into the APY Lands. But, essentially, you have to focus on what it is you can do. I think tourism is one of those things. I think maybe we are a few years away, but that’s what this bill is telling me. There’s a shining light there: the communities have actually recognised that this is their pathway to a better future.
The point I’m making, in using this bill to speak about my patch—which is what members in this place often do, and we should—is for my people to lift their eyes up to the opportunities of the moment. We have people that have gone through the trade centre on the APY Lands up to Yulara for trading. Sadly, in my opinion, too many of them come back. Whether it’s the draw of home, the draw of the land, or whether it’s just too big a leap, I’m not too sure. It’s one of those things that is a little frustrating, because I think, given the opportunity, we really need to see people take those steps up the ladder. But the steps up the ladder would be nowhere near as great if we actually had an operating industry on the ground, in situ.
To make the point: for anyone who has ever driven to Uluru, or Ayers Rock, coming up from South Australia, the main road in—with deference to those traditional owners and pastoralists who live along the route—is as dull as, um, something to do with dogs, I’ve got to tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker! It isn’t an inspirational drive. But I can tell you what: if you turn off at Indulkana and drive out to the lands, past the Tomkinson and Musgrave ranges, and take the route over the border and up to the rock from there, you are in for an exceptional drive. It’s some of the most beautiful country in Australia. So we have this incredible natural asset that, to this point in time, we have not been utilising.
As I said, it’s a fairly big leap, but, unless we have our eye on an objective, we’re never likely to get there. We’ve actually got to be planning for this as being the future, because, as I said, if we don’t find an economy for the 4,000 people who live up there, in another 50 years they won’t remember what their culture is. We’ve actually got to find a useful means. Everybody in this world needs to feel useful at what they do on a day-to-day basis. Our religions alone are not enough to sustain us. We actually need to be actively involved in feeding, clothing—making our mark in the world. That is no different for white culture or for Aboriginal culture or any other culture that you’d like to cast your mind to around the world.
In this case, I say to those people who live in those parts of my electorate, and to others who live in remote communities: have a look at the tourism industry. Think about it. It’s interesting that, in this time frame, just recently, down further south, on the Maralinga lands, a tourism operation has begun, taking people out to the sites where the atomic bombs were set off when the British were there testing bombs. Who’d have thunk it, quite frankly—that we’d be taking people out to this site that has caused so much distress for the nation and particularly for the local Indigenous owners over a long time? But they are now seeing the opportunities and making the most of them, and I think that’s a very encouraging sign.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Gillespie ): I thank the member for Grey for that thoughtful contribution. The question is in the form that the words proposed to be omitted stand as part of the question.