Thank you for the invitation. I always look forward to coming to these important meetings and hope to do so more often in the future.
There will be an election for a new government in September this year. Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition has said that if we win government and he becomes Prime Minister that I will be the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. For the first time your Minister would be living in the Northern Territory. You would be able to come and talk directly to me as Minister and I would plan to be at as many Land Council meetings as I could- to talk to you face-to-face.
I would be responsible for the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. We all need to remember that the money paid for administration of Land Councils, royalty payments and the Aboriginal Benefit Account is paid by the Australian taxpayer not the mining companies. That mining money goes straight to the Northern Territory Government.
This year the taxpayer will pay over $100 million — over $1.5bn has been spent on ALRA since the land rights act began. Just like you – the taxpayers want value for money- but if they came up to this part of the world they would be disappointed- as you are. Sure, the lands have been claimed but there is little economic development, few jobs, poor education, lousy infrastructure and so on. We can do better than this together.
If I become the Minister I will be talking to you about how we can get more economic development, more jobs, better value for money, more local decision-making – more power and more independence for local Aboriginal people- for you and your families.
I want to hear your ideas about how things can be done better. I will want to talk to you as leader to leader. How do you think we can get better school attendance, what sort of jobs can we create, how do we tackle the social problems? The Chief Minister Adam Giles said recently that he would do everything possible to support local ideas and plans to create new businesses on Aboriginal land. I offer the same commitment if the coalition wins government federally. I will do all I can to remove the barriers, to remove the red tape, to prevent your good ideas for business development being realised.
As I go around the Northern Territory I am beginning to hear more people say that they want a breakaway land council. I do not think that is a good idea but clearly a growing number of people are becoming unhappy with the way things are now. You cannot ignore that and hope that the complaints will go away. They have reasons for being unhappy and the Minister and the land councils together should respond to their complaints in a real way.
So, the question is, how can we make them happy without pulling apart our Land Councils. I think there is a way out where everyone’s a winner.
It is not because they really want to start up a new Land Council with all that goes with it – but they tell me they feel like they are not being listened to – they feel like they have no say in the decisions that affect them. They say they are frustrated and I think we can do something about that.
I will want to talk to you about giving local people some Land Council decision-making responsibilities if they want it and when they are ready for it. Some won’t be interested. The NLC would continue much as it is but some of the decisions you make now could be made by local people in some places. I cannot see much wrong with that and you could release some of the pressures that build up over time. It is just about keeping up with the times. It is in fact contemplated in the Act, Section 28 of the Land Rights Act provides for devolution of certain powers such as Section 19 and 19A leases and the mining provisions of the Act. I have spoken to your lawyers and it would be important that any decision to devolve can be revoked or taken back under certain conditions.
I do not intend to force this on anyone. I want to support the Land Councils and I want you to be a part of it. I want Land Council’s to be strong.
The same goes for permits. If I am Minister I will not be lifting permits on roads unless the traditional owners ask me to do so.
If we do win government there will be a lot of work to do.
I am not happy with the way this Labor Federal Government has managed the SIHIP housing program in the Northern Territory. They have spent almost $1bn. Do you think Aboriginal people got good value for money? I don’t.
Do you think this Labor Federal Government has done a good job in creating jobs for your young people or providing them with a decent education? I don’t.
It is time for a change. It was Aboriginal people like you that threw out the Northern Territory Labor Government last year. You can be proud because you spoke up for the first time and it was you, the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory ,that changed the government. Good on you.
I think this Federal Labor Government has been even worse than they were. For too many years they have been thinking that they own the Aboriginal people. They think that you will vote for them no matter what. Just by making promises and spending a bit of money here. Well, they cannot take Aboriginal people for granted any more – because you will make decisions based on what is best for Aboriginal people.
Labor has not done a good job .They mismanaged the SIHIP program, they raided the Aboriginals Benefit Account, they made plenty of promises that they did not deliver. Now they will make some more promises in this election campaign. That is the way they do business.
The CLP candidate for Lingiari Tina McFarlane unfortunately, given the short notice, could not be here today. Tina and her husband have been working in the cattle industry at Mataranka for many years. They know Aboriginal people and they have established respect that goes both ways. She would be a great local member. You would not be disappointed if you voted for her.
In the end it will be you who decides on the basis of what you think is best for you and your family and your people and for the Northern Territory as a whole.
Whichever way it goes my friends, whether we win the election or not, whether I become the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, I will always be on your side and I will always want to work with you.
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130529 NLC speech.pdf