Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee: APY Lands Visit | SPEECH


The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (11:35): As I hope is no surprise to this house, as the member for Stuart I have very deep engagement with Aboriginal people and communities, but the APY lands are not actually in the electorate of Stuart; they are in the electorate of Giles, represented by my colleague across the chamber. Nonetheless, this is part of the state that every South Australian and every South Australian member of parliament should take interest in, should be very proud of and should also be very aware of the significant challenges that exist and want to make a contribution to supporting Anangu who live on the APY lands.

I suggest that there is no-one more committed to that than our Premier. The Premier of South Australia has taken it upon himself to also be the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, which is a tremendously positive step not only with regard to recognition but also with regard to progress and getting things done. The Premier has established the South Australian Aboriginal Advisory Council, which has been invited to meet face to face with cabinet to participate in a cabinet meeting twice since the Premier and our team came into government. There is no other group that has met with cabinet twice in the same way the Aboriginal Advisory Council has. I think that is, again, a very important recognition of the importance of work that our government wants to do in this area and also a very practical approach to getting on and getting some results.

With regard to results, the Premier has also established an Aboriginal Action Plan. This is not only about the Aboriginal lands, but it is largely about the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands. It is a plan that is meant to support Aboriginal people all over the state, but of course many of the actions refer to that part of the state specifically. I am reminded of one of the comments the member for Giles made about short-term contracts, and I agree with him on that. It is very difficult when you have challenges that have evolved over decades and will take a very long time to turn around with people on fairly short employment contracts.

Extending those employment contracts, though, is not the only part of the solution because, as well as that, you need to find people who want to do the work for a very long time. I pick up on the example the member for Giles used of a teacher who might have a one or two-year contract and then, when the person is really starting to hit their straps with regard to educating Aboriginal students, the contract is over and so they go.

Even if it were a longer contract, a lot of teachers would choose to leave then anyway, but some would choose to stay longer. So it is not only about the structure: it is actually about the people involved. I know there are good people all around the state who want to contribute, whether it is in education, health, law and order, transport or recreation and sport. People in the APY lands deserve all the different things that government can contribute as much as anybody else does.

Our government is very committed to actually getting results—not just having policies, or just making announcements, or just making headlines in the paper. We are actually trying to get some results. Every member of our cabinet is tasked with some of the actions of the South Australian Aboriginal Affairs Action Plan. The Premier comes to us and asks, ‘How are you going, minister? How is your department going? What have you achieved? Are you on track? Are you going to achieve what I have asked you to achieve?’ so there is a very strong focus.

In my department (Department for Energy and Mining) we have an enormous amount to contribute. We have a program entitled Stronger Partners Stronger Futures, which is all about trying to share the tremendous employment and wealth-creating opportunities that energy and mining—but I have to say more predominantly mining—and potentially the petroleum industry have to offer to this part of the state. We want those opportunities to be shared with Aboriginal people. At the moment, very little mining can be done on the APY lands. I am very hopeful that this will change over time, not only for our state’s overall economy.

We do need to improve our economic performance; the Premier has also set a very clear 3 per cent economic growth target. Mining resources and other portfolios will play a very important part in that. We want to expand our mining industry so that we can contribute to the state as a whole through the creation of jobs and wealth, and through royalties. We received $300 million through mining royalties in the last financial year. Those royalties go towards building schools and hospitals, paying nurses, teachers and police officers, building roads and bridges, etc., and providing disability support services.

As well as that, we want those opportunities to be shared with people who live and who, in the future, can work on the APY lands. One of the most fundamental challenges for all of us in regard to the APY lands is: how do you support people economically and socially, and enable them to continue to live on their homelands? This is where they want to be. This is where they can best practise culture and live in harmony with country. How can you do all of those things when there are very few employment opportunities in that area?

Fly-in fly-out has been tried. It is a very good opportunity for many Aboriginal people; however, no different from the non-Aboriginal population, fly-in fly-out is not for everybody. Quite understandably, there are a lot of people on the APY lands who do not want to spend essentially half of their time away from the APY lands. That is no different from somebody who lives in Adelaide or Port Augusta or Port Lincoln or Mount Gambier. A lot of people who live in those areas do not want to be away from their homes either.

So how do we go about trying to do this? Firstly, respectfully and, secondly, practically. In my mind, we need to start with exploration. There is no point going through what is almost always a difficult process, even just in regard to effort, and sometimes all the way through in regard to heartfelt social issues that need to be addressed. You would not put people through those challenges if you did not know that there was actually something there to mine.

It seems that there is a lot of mineral wealth in the APY lands, but we need to have greater opportunities to confirm that so that we can put on the table the types of opportunities that could then be available to and accessed by Aboriginal people who live on the lands. Then, we can start the real discussion about whether or not they want to do that.

Interestingly, this is not an Aboriginal issue. We have these challenges all over the state. We have these challenges everywhere in South Australia in regard to trying to weigh up the opportunities of mining versus weighing up whether a community welcomes it. This is a human issue that we need to address, that we need to deal with respectfully and responsibly by considering the benefits and the wants of the individual people and families in an area and also the benefits and needs of the state.

It is also interesting to point out that we are going through a very similar thing in regard to the Woomera Prohibited Area, which is traditionally an Aboriginally inhabited part of the state. We are going through it not with the Aboriginal communities; we are going through it with the defence department, and they do not really want too much mining on the Woomera Prohibited Area either.

Just as I respect Aboriginal communities’ opinions, I respect the defence department’s opinions as well. But I view the Woomera Prohibited Area in exactly the same way as I view the APY lands. We want to see what is there so that then we can start to actually weigh up the pros and cons. I see many opportunities that mining could bring to the people of the APY lands, and I want those people to have the opportunity to consider whether those benefits are things that they would like to actually allow to happen and actually be able to grasp for themselves.