Novotel Pacific Bay Resort, Coffs Harbour
I acknowledge the traditional owners.
It is great to see so many people from across the country gathered here today.
Last year, in Opposition, I gave the closing address at the Native Title Conference in Alice Springs. At the time I thanked AITSIS for the invitation and I also thanked you for organising these fundamentally important events over many years.
I said you had made a major contribution to getting the best out of our native title system, not just for Indigenous people but for the whole country. I want to see you continue in that role.
I thank you again for the work that you are doing.
Today I talk to you as Minister.
I want to begin by saying that in terms of native title, I am on board.
I think that we have achieved a lot and we are on track to carve out something remarkable. But to do it, we must be prepared for continual change and we must have a vision for the future.
I think that the PBCs and local groups are going to be the main game into the future as the number of native title determinations continue to grow.
But there is no one type of PBC or local group and I think if we simply harness government funding in a one size fits all approach we won’t achieve what we could.
So today I want to talk about the future. About economic opportunity, land tenure and how we might break free of dependency on the whims of government.
By and large, I think native title has been going well considering the scepticism and outright hostility in the early days. But we are still at the beginning.
The big challenges are in front of us.
And these challenges are about economic opportunity.
In terms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders affairs generally, the results have been very mixed and in remote areas I believe the challenge has got larger.
Employment rates have got worse and school attendance has got worse. In remote communities in the Northern Territory, only 13 per cent of Indigenous children are getting an education.
So we have no choice but to change the way we do things. We cannot stay the same.
If you are not prepared to change you are not on my side.
Because I believe the opportunities are within our reach and we cannot wimp it.
Before I launch into land issues, I have to say a few words about the budget. I was interviewed by NITV on the weekend and they said that people were in fear of their jobs.
Misinformation is the weapon of choice for those that want to preserve the status quo.
Yes the budget heralds change, change for the better, a less complicated environment focused on results. We have a year of transition. Contracts are being honoured or extended.
No more multitude of programmes, multitude of agencies, different types of contracts and acquittals. We were suffocating organisations with red tape.
I have never made a secret of the fact that my portfolio would have to contribute to the budget deficit crisis facing this government. I can tell you that we got out of it lightly.
In terms of the dollars, a figure of a half a billion dollars is being thrown around. It is misleading.
I will tell it to you straight.
In terms of my portfolio and the Indigenous health portfolio we will have to save from what we spend around $320 million over the next four years. That is $320 million out of a total budget for the two portfolios over four years of $12,300 million.
Indigenous health has an increase of $500 million over the next four years
Don’t let the naysayers and spin doctors fool you.
Just simply putting the programmes in the one portfolio and getting rid of red tape can deliver that result easily. In fact, we should be able to generate more savings just by doing things better to re-invest in things that get better results.
Over time, organisations delivering services will have to step up to the mark of course. My focus is on improving results for local people. It is my view that Aboriginal organisations employing Aboriginal people is the best way of delivering these results.
If you get funding to deliver services to Indigenous people, preference should be given to Indigenous organisations and you must employ Indigenous people with the money.
And before I move to native title and land, the Australian and state and territory governments could do a lot more in terms of making sure that Aboriginal people benefit more from their procurement and contracting practices. And I ask you to watch this space.
We also need to change the way we think about housing overcrowding. It is about time that we approached it, not from the perspective of it being a problem, but as a commercial opportunity for local people.
It is about time we were brave to challenge the sacred cows.
Native Title and Land
So returning to native title, it is now more than 20 years since the Native Title Act become law. The nature of our work in this area has changed as we move towards making the most of economic opportunities.
The rate of change is about to accelerate.
In many ways, we have now arrived at a new beginning. And that is what I want us to start talking about. How do we harness economic development to land, reshape the relationship with government and change the discussion from welfare to development and independence?
While we are about to embark on the brave new world of economic opportunity and economic independence, we still have a back log of claims. I am sad that too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people pass away before their claims are settled.
While this is largely a matter for the Attorney General, NTRBS have a role to play and of course you are in my portfolio. I will always appreciate any views you have on how we can make this work better.
The review of the native title organisations by Deloitte Access Economics that I released two weeks ago had some suggestions to make in this regard.
The Review raises the recognition process and the role of NTRBs and questions the additional administrative burden that is associated. It suggests that the recognition process could be streamlined and I welcome your thoughts on this.
I will be consulting widely on the findings of the review including with industry and the Minerals Council before we take the next steps.
In terms of claims that are still to be determined, it is important that local people get the best outcome possible and not just a contract between lawyers that satisfies the lawyers.
The Review says that native title holding bodies need to be better equipped to make early decisions about how to use their native title rights. It suggests some ways forward.
When native title has been determined, often the real action will be in relation to the negotiation of future acts. But the problem can be that the local native title organisations do not have the wherewithal to engage in these complex negotiations at the level required to get the best outcome possible.
We need to explore how contractual arrangements put in place to provide benefits to native title holders can be bankable so local groups can draw from this in advance of anticipated income to give them the wherewithal to negotiate and train people for best possible result.
Opportunities for new models for managing native title benefits and other payments negotiated by traditional owners and indigenous groups need to be at the forefront of our work.
There are concerns about the way native title benefits are being used and that in some circumstances benefits are flowing to individuals but not creating opportunities for the broader group or being appropriately managed for future generations.
The work of Marcia Langton and others on the proposed Indigenous Community Development Corporation goes to this issue of native title benefits and warrants careful consideration. There may be other options that can be considered also.
I believe that ILC and IBA could have an important role to play in the landscape of economic opportunity from native title and land. This needs more work.
As well as my responsibilities for Native Title Representative Bodies, I am also responsible for the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in the Northern Territory and we are going through similar discussions with communities up there at the moment.
The Act has been in place since 1976 and the 2006 amendments have been left to languish by the previous government.
I have been talking to Northern Territory land councils about land tenure, local decision making and essentially modernising the landscape.
We need land tenure arrangements that support long term and transferable subleases. The type of lease that you or I could go to the bank with and get mortgage on.
We need leases to take advantage of the Northern Territory Government’s new policy on selling remote housing stock.
Township leasing has demonstrated economic development and home ownership outcomes through the long term subleases that have been granted on the Tiwi Islands and I keen to see a township lease signed on the mainland.
I will be going to Gunbalanya on Friday to talk to the land owners and to give them a choice. To choose between the existing land council section 19 leases or the section 19A leases.
It is their choice.
If you want to learn more about township leasing, I suggest you read the Senate Estimates transcript from last Friday of the Executive Director of Township Leasing. Or better still, get on a plane and go to the Tiwi Islands to talk to the traditional owners about what they have achieved there.
And it is not just in the Northern Territory where we need to keep us this work.
I am very pleased that the Queensland Government has introduced legislation to allow the choice of freehold title on Aboriginal land.
I call on the South Australian Government to work with local people to modernise the APY Land Rights Act.
It was almost a year ago, in the presence of the Prime Minister at the Garma Festival, that Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the father of land rights in the Northern Territory, said that while land rights was not dead, it was sleeping and it needed to be woken up.
I think that means that land rights is in a bit of a rut in the Northern Territory at least. And I look forward to talking with Galarrwuy and others about how we might wake up the Land Rights Act in the future.
It is very sad that after almost 40 years of the Land Rights Act in the Northern Territory, we still find it difficult to contemplate devolving real decision making to local people.
Under native title, we have already taken this step through the establishment of a pivotal role for local native title organisations
Finally, I would like to acknowledge that you are all important and influential people. You are all making a difference beyond your day to day work in native title.
I want you to join with me in a great endeavour for change. We must get Indigenous children to school.
It is a national disaster.
There is no point talking about economic development and jobs if people don’t have an education to take advantage of it.
So today I am pleading for your help. It could be by making sure that royalty payments are not made during the school week. Or just by talking within communities about the issue. Or factoring it in to native title agreements.
If we do nothing we are all culpable.
It wasn’t always this way. Let’s turn it around.
I thank you for your time and look forward to working with you in the future.
Download media release:
2014-06-02 Native Title Conference Speech.pdf