Aboriginal Lands Trust Bill


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (16:48): I, too, rise to support the Aboriginal Lands Trust Bill 2013, and it is a pleasure to follow both the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Morphett, who, like all other opposition members of parliament support this bill and take these matters extremely seriously, but certainly those two people in this chamber are probably the ones who have led from the front from our team's position. I compliment both of them on that. I also happily recognise the Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, Ms Khatija Thomas, in the chamber today, who is also a constant in terms of working towards improved circumstances on Aboriginal engagement and a broader range of Aboriginal issues as well.

This bill has come together with exceptionally good intentions. There is absolutely no doubt about that, and I was very pleased to be fortunate enough to be with minister Hunter in Port Augusta to get a fairly brief and short but genuine overview of the bill. I had actually invited minister Hunter to come to Port Augusta to visit Wami Kata aged care home in Port Augusta, which is an aged care home specifically for Aboriginal people. It is for Aboriginal people from all over the place, not just Port Augusta, so there is a very wide range of backgrounds that people come from there.

He was good enough to come. I wanted him to see firsthand what an important job and what an important service Wami Kata provides at Port Augusta on Davenport land. When he was going through the intent of the bill before it had been tabled, I thought that is good and I was very grateful to see a minister so keen to work on the recommendations of the parliamentary standing committee, and that certainly has not changed.

I think anybody should get to use their land, within the responsible constraints of legality, responsibility, ethical concerns, caring for the environment and all the normal things that are pretty straightforward, anyone should get to use their land to the best advantage of the landholder and the broader community, and that is no different for Aboriginal people than any other people. So, I think the freeing up of that and, essentially, creating opportunities through this bill goes without saying, it is common sense. Certainly, that has been thwarted by the legislation and prescriptions that exist.

I was also very pleased to get a more structured formal briefing in my office from the minister's staff. Ms Nerida Saunders also participated in that day, and it was fantastic to get a more detailed understanding of how it works. The desire to enable ALT to use the land more flexibly for the advantage of Aboriginal people is a very important principle. Certainly, that land is already held by ALT for Aboriginal people and for their benefit, as it should be, but the freeing up of flexibility for them to be able to do that is very important.

I have some real world type concerns about how that might flow on, but it does not slow me down in my support for this bill at all. You have to do these things sometimes a step at a time and it is not always possible to predict some future hurdles. Some of my concerns may prove to be true but some of them may prove not to be founded as well, so I am very supportive of taking this step forward. Where I have some concerns is about the real world practical implementation of what is in this bill: how would some of the commercial agreements actually be reached for the use of the land?

If it is a piece of property in the Adelaide CBD it is most likely that that land is already being used for some very constructive purpose, but if some commercial agreement wants to be entered into it may well be with a non-Aboriginal group in a very straightforward commercial way and presumably including some rent which goes back to the ALT and Aboriginal people. So, it is pretty straightforward. If it is also in the city, it is very likely that it might be to an Aboriginal group but far more likely to be an Aboriginal group that is a really structured Aboriginal group and they want that land for commercial purposes. So, again, I think it would be much easier to come up with a commercial arrangement to deal with the land which will advantage the owners of the land, the holders of the land.

The further away you go from the CBD I think the more difficult it is going to be to reach these sorts of agreements. We have land at the moment that is already held in trust for the benefit of Aboriginal people. So, if that land, as it most often is, is way outside of the city—it could be on the Murray, it could be on the Lower Lakes, it could be in the outback—it certainly will not be only Aboriginal people who would like to use that land, but it is very likely—and the further away you go from the CBD the more likely—that it will be Aboriginal people who would like to use that land.

So, they would like to be on the other side of this commercial arrangement, and the commercial arrangement that we are establishing is essentially so that the lessor or the licensor, or whatever form the commercial arrangement might take, is the beneficiary and that the benefit is passed onto Aboriginal people. The lessee or the licensee (or whoever the person on the other side might be) is going to think, 'But this is actually already my land. Why would I pay rent to access this land for the productive commercial purpose that I would like to put it to?'

To make up an example, it might be an Aboriginal person, an Aboriginal family, an Aboriginal corporation that wants to lease a station or lease some land, perhaps for pastoral activities, cultural activities or tourism activities, or whatever is appropriate an appropriate use of the land, but that piece of land is held by ALT in trust for Aboriginal people. That piece of land that is a long way from Adelaide is already very likely to have some Aboriginal custodial ownership that goes with it, even if not technically defined. It is likely to be the case in the minds of the people who live and come from that area, and so they would say, 'Yes, please. I would like to lease this land or get some access so that I can run my business so that my corporation or my family or myself or whoever can get a really good business opportunity,' and I think this is where the real strength of this is.

Local people can enter into a business opportunity that advantages local people, but ALT can also enter into the commercial arrangement that benefits the Aboriginal people that ALT represents more broadly. But when ALT says hypothetically, 'Okay, we will lease you this land for your business venture and we want X dollars in rent,' the person who lives and works and wants to create a business on that land says, 'But why do I want to pay the rent? It is already held essentially for me and my people.' I suspect that is what is going to go through that person's mind, 'Why would I have to pay to access it from ALT when ALT actually holds it for me or for us?' I think trying to get around that in a real world commercial way is going to be challenging. I do not say it is impossible, and it is certainly not a reason not to support this bill. This bill pushes us down that path and opens the door for access for Aboriginal people to realise a commercial benefit from the land.
Sometimes the only way to deal with a challenge, a conflicting issue or a difficult issue is just to take a step forward and deal with it. I am very hopeful that that is exactly what will happen but I do think that is going to be a challenge for people. If the person says, 'I don't want to pay rent. It is essentially mine (or ours) already,' then you have not actually freed up any income from the land and you have not actually created a commercial benefit that flows back to the trust that then flows on to the Aboriginal people for whom the trust holds the land. That is something I think we will probably all be dealing with in this place down the track. I am sure that we will deal with it in a bipartisan way.
As the Leader of the Opposition said, he has worked very openly, productively and cooperatively with minister Hunter. I have to say that my involvement with minister Hunter, whether it be on a local electorate issue that is tied up with any one of his portfolios, has been a very open, productive working relationship. I hold him in high regard as a person. I do not mind saying I hope he is not the minister next year, and I know that he would not mind me saying that. He certainly worked very well towards this and I am sure whoever the minister is will do it in a bipartisan way, whether they are a Liberal or Labor minister.

I would also like to share with the house a suggestion that has been put to me by Aboriginal people in my electorate which I think has some merit, and that is that land held by ALT for which formal native title has already been declared under this act could and should be transferred to the prescribed body corporate that already holds that declared native title. To me, that seems pretty logical. Regardless of who it is or what part of the state it might be—as I said, it could be the Murray, the Lower Lakes, the outback or anywhere. Where native title has been declared—not where it is being discussed, claimed or negotiated but where it has already been declared—those native title rights have essentially been given to a prescribed body corporate in the vein of ALT holding that land for Aboriginal people and presumably holding land in a local area for local Aboriginal people where those local Aboriginal people have already been given a legal native title right over that land, so why not have the corporation which holds the right hold the land in exactly the same way as ALT currently does?

I throw that open as another thing to think about down the track. It is not going to be dealt with here. It is too late for it to be dealt with here. Regardless of what anybody in this house might suggest, this bill will go through this lower house on the numbers with the government and I am very comfortable with that, because the steps that are being taken are all positive ones. However, to me, there is a great logic in that suggestion.

It is my understanding that in the electorate of Stuart that would certainly involve the Adnamatna people and also the Arabunna people, but I do not propose that for my electorate only. I propose it as a logical way of giving the best possible way of guaranteeing that the local Aboriginal people for whom ALT currently hold the land would be the beneficiaries of the commercial benefits that we all hope would flow from that land to Aboriginal people through this bill.

There are a couple of things to think about. There is more work to do. As both the member for Morphett and the Leader of the Opposition said, this has been a slow process. It has been too slow a process for us to get to this stage, but I hope that progress from now on will be much swifter. I am confident that progress can be made in a bipartisan way, with members of parliament working together and taking advice from people outside of this chamber, who usually know far more than we do about the specifics of these sorts of issues. This can mean that progress can come far more quickly in the future in terms of making even more improvements than has been the case in the past, in the past in terms of us getting to this stage. I wholeheartedly support the bill.


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