BILLS - Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2017 - Second Reading

I wish to speak in support of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2017. There are three areas where schedule 1 to the act is to be amended. These are Kakadu National Park, land within the town of Urapunga, and land within Anthony Lagoon Station, NT Portion 5010.

The Kakadu plan of management is an interesting and important example of where First Nations interests in land, culture and heritage can complement and enhance national park priorities of environmental management and tourism. Each stage of the park includes Aboriginal land under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 that is leased to the Director of National Parks or land that is subject to a claim by traditional owners under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. Most of the land that was to become part of stage 1 of Kakadu National Park was granted to the Kakadu Aboriginal Land Trust under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in August 1978. In November 1978, 40 years ago, the lands trust and the director signed a lease agreement for the land to be managed as a national park. That was, I'm pleased to say, welcomed by the Prime Minister of the day, Mr Malcolm Fraser, who declared:

Kakadu National Park owes its existence in its present form to an unprecedented action by the traditional … owners of the area.

Stage 1 of the park, covering the lease land and the land required for the township of Jabiru and some adjoining lands, was also declared on 5 April 1979. These lease arrangements are also important acts of generosity from the traditional owners which must always be respected.

Stage 2 was declared on 28 February 1984, originally as Kakadu (Stage 2) National Park and later incorporated into Kakadu National Park on 20 December 1985. In March 1978, a land claim was lodged under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act for the land included in stage 2 of Kakadu. The land claim was partially successful, and in 1986 three areas of the eastern part of stage 2 were granted to the Jabiluka Aboriginal Lands Trust. A lease between the land trust and the Director of National Parks was signed in March 1991. At the time of preparing this plan the rest of stage 2, except the commercial lease near the South Alligator River, was subject to repeat land claims under the land rights act. The land may become Aboriginal land during the life of this plan and will be leased to the director.

In June 1987, a land claim was lodged for the land in the former Goodparla and Gimbat pastoral leases that were to be included in stage 3 of Kakadu. The other areas to be included in stage 3, the areas known as the Gimbat Resumption and the Waterfall Creek Reserve—formerly known as UDP Falls; UDP standing for Uranium Development Project—were later added to this land claim. Three stages of Kakadu National Park were declared progressively on 12 June 1987, 22 November 1989 and 24 June 1991.

Kakadu National Park has been in Mungguy land, which is of immense cultural and economic importance to its traditional owners. A further long-overdue measure of justice is finally being provided to these owners by this bill. The bill will resolve four land claims: Ngombur; Alligator Rivers Area III—Gimbat and Goodparla; the Kakadu, Jim Jim area; and the Kakadu region repeat claim. Some of these claims date back to 1978. This means that after some 30 years, from when the first stage of Kakadu National Park was declared on 5 April 1979, the whole of the park will finally become Aboriginal land and be jointly managed as originally envisaged. The park is a World Heritage area under the World Heritage Convention, recognised as part of Australia's national heritage, and includes wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar convention.

On the Anthony Lagoon Station, NT portion 5010, there is an amendment before us to include land on Anthony Lagoon station, and Labor supports this amendment. This settles longstanding claims over stock routes and bore reserves, which are unalienated crown land, by the recognition of an area of Aboriginal land for a community living area within the boundaries of the pastoral lease. It provides secure and certain tenure for traditional owners over a relatively small portion of their traditional country. It is by agreement with the pastoralists of the Northern Territory government. I note the claim was lodged by Michael Dodson, a senior legal advisor to the Northern Land Council at the time—some relation of mine, I think.

The Urapunga township was created in 1885. Historically, lots in the town remained unsold and the town failed to develop. Surrounding areas have been recognised as Aboriginal land. The Yutpundji-Djindiwirritj Aboriginal Lands Trust was granted a title to NT portion 2632 following a report in 1982 by the then Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Justice Toohey. The town was subject to a native title determination, in Ngalakan People v Northern Territory, on 5 June 2001. In the context of an appeal, an ILUA—an agreement—was reached in 2005 with the Northern Territory government to provide land within the town to become Aboriginal land. In exchange, security of tenure was provided to a local business.

This bill will finally bring to fruition the agreement of some 30 years ago. It is a good example of how land rights legislation can be used to provide just and flexible settlements for native title claims. This option is unfortunately not available in my home state of Western Australia.

In this moment of bipartisan respect for the land held by the First Nations people, I would like to join with the minister in congratulating the Mirarr people, who have been fighting to protect their land for years. I pay respect to those who have been in this fight and I recognise them as the owners of their own lands. The decision by Justice John Griffith in the special on-country hearing to recognise the native title rights of the Mirarr people is long awaited and well deserved. I also congratulate the Gundjheimi Aboriginal Corporation on their hard work in leading the fight for recognition and ensuring Jabiru is returned to the rightful owners. The last 38 years of operation of the Ranger Uranium Mine cannot compare to the 65,000 years the Mirarr people have been caring for country—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Dodson, you will be in continuation when debate resumes. It being 2pm, we will move to questions without notice.

In continuation, I'll go back to the point I was making earlier—that is, in a moment of bipartisan respect for the rights of land held by First Nations peoples, I would like to join with the minister in congratulating the Mirarr people, who have been fighting to protect their lands. I pay my respects to those who have been fighting for so long for the rights to be recognised as owners of the land. The decision by Justice John Griffiths in a special on-country hearing to recognise the native title rights of the Mirarr people is long-awaited and well deserved.

I also congratulate the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation on their hard work in leading the fight for recognition and ensuring Jabiru is returned to the rightful owners. The last 38 years of operation of the Ranger Uranium Mine cannot compare to the 65,000 years that the Mirarr people have cared for their country. It is vitally important that the legacy and impact of the uranium mine should not be seen as the ongoing responsibility of the traditional owners in this recognition of their rights. It is the responsibility of the Northern Territory government and the Commonwealth government to acknowledge the issues that the rightful owners now face and work in partnership to restore the health and environment of Jabiru and its surroundings.

I was in Jabiru a couple of weeks ago and had the opportunity to address the full council of the Northern Land Council and to visit the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation. There is a vibrancy in the discussions around the future of the park and the return of the town of Jabiru to the Mirarr. That's taking place, and it's good to see. I wish that those discussions come to fruition very quickly and that any impediments are resolved in a gracious manner. The delays in getting these lands back, getting the determination settled and then getting the lands leased back to the national park in some cases have taken over 30 years, and it's now time for all parties to build a shared future in which the traditional owners can truly benefit in their own right. I ask the minister, in the ongoing quest for bipartisanship, to get behind the Mirarr people and their efforts to rebuild their future on their own lands.

In conclusion, I wish to extend my congratulations to all involved in settling the claims on the basis on which they have agreed: the Commonwealth government; the board and directors of the Kakadu National Park; the Northern Territory government; the various traditional owners and their corporations; and the chairman and the board of directors of the Northern Land Council and its staff, especially the CEO, Mr Joe Morrison.

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