Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory) (4:54 PM) —I rise to speak on a matter of great public importance: the continued failure of the Rudd government in setting the pace for the development of Northern Australia. I am sad that Senator Crossin has left the chamber. I know that she is involved with other things, but she did ask us what we have done. I would have thought that, as a Territorian, she might have noticed that, whenever she turns left on her way out of Darwin, she hits this funny thing called a railway line, built by Shane Stone and John Howard. And, anytime she is sneaking around the waterfront, she might have noticed the port, which is now a fundamental piece of infrastructure that is the backbone of the pastoral industry of Northern Australia and has allowed us access to markets to make it viable. I thought she might have actually noticed some of those things and perhaps given credit to the previous government for its wonderful work.
I have read the grand vision in the report of the Northern Australia Land And Water Taskforce. Senator Sterle said that it was only the vision of the people in the task force. Well, it probably set the pace and the tone for the remainder of the report. I always commend my very good friend Senator Siewert for her comments, but, when the Greens start to support this sort of process—a coalition of lethargy and inaction—we have all got to be really concerned. I live in Northern Australia. To those people who want to lock it up and leave it because it all seems too hard or who say that we have to proceed with caution, I say that that is not in anybody’s interest, particularly the interest of those who live in the north. The vision in the report is probably correct in a couple of ways. It is probably quite likely that 50 per cent of the people who live in Northern Australia will be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, and that will be a fantastic thing.
I had this little mind bubble, when Senator Conroy was here, about the rollout of the NBN. If you are in a community of less than a thousand people, you are not going to be able to have any telecommunications. This is central infrastructure for Northern Australia, but, if you want to count all the towns with under a thousand people, you will find a lot of them in Northern Australia. That is where they belong. So the words of those opposite seem to be completely different from their actions.
I have read very carefully through many aspects of this report, particularly the vision, and it does seem to be condemning our First Australians—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians—to a very bleak future. Anybody who reads this report, having lived in Northern Australia, would say it is very negative. As my two fine colleagues Senator Macdonald and Senator Eggleston—and I thank Senator Macdonald for his fine contribution—would know, it is tough in Northern Australia. It is hot, it is further away from anything, the roads are bloody rubbish, it is harder to find people and the towns are smaller. It has always been harder. We do not expect it to be too much different, but it has got to be tied together with the aspirations of the rest of Australia. Because of that tough environment, Territorians and people from Western Australia and Queensland are tough. We are pioneers. This report is a complete slap in the face to anybody who lives in Northern Australia because it condemns them to a future of: ‘Just hang on a minute. Let’s not rush it. We’ll just leave it all on its own.’ It will be like some sort of zoo, where you have a little look around while moving across the countryside.
Somehow we—particularly the First Australians—are going to make money out of carbon trading. That seems to be one of the fundamentals of this report. The carbon trading process is very vague in here, but apparently it is going to be a lot to do with controlling and dealing with the savanna landscapes. I am quite sure that that will be a part of the future in terms of management of biodiversity. But this report effectively condemns Northern Australians to just being some sort of accelerated park managers who very vaguely deal with some sort of biodiversity management that is funded overseas by some carbon credits. I am not really sure—the report did not go into it in any great detail. It is a complete shock.
I will read an extract that characterises the approach of the report. This is with regard to the international significance of cultural landscapes:
Communities, landholders and governments now work together to conserve Indigenous protected areas, national parks, private wildlife sanctuaries, areas under conservation covenants, World Heritage sites and wetlands listed under the Ramsar Convention. Enhanced efforts in natural resource and biodiversity management have reversed the decline of small mammals—
have stopped them going out the door. The report continues:
An ecosystem services economy based on payments for ongoing management of biodiversity is now a mainstream part of the regional economy.
And the last line says that a third of the north of Australia is now going to be within a national reserve system. Well, that is a place where I know many of my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends do not want to live. If that is the only opportunity that we are condemning them to then the report has got it completely and utterly wrong. What is wrong with Indigenous Australians having the same opportunities? Why is it that they could not possibly run a pastoral property sustainably?
Senator McLucas —They can.
Senator SCULLION —I will take the interjection from Senator McLucas. No doubt she enjoys the next paragraph that will ensure that we enable the ‘destocking of marginal pastoral land’. You wouldn’t want to get too far west of the divide to see a lot of sad people in that regard. Again, there is a condemning of our First Australians to absolutely no opportunity—and this I think is absolutely and utterly reprehensible. It is a little bit like saying that this vision is like a national park. Unfortunately, we have now had the report recommending that the First Australians join them. They will be cuddling trees and doing something weird—I’m not sure what—with carbon credits but the vision is not of them actually enjoying the remainder of the opportunities the Australian economy can provide.
Why have we got a different approach? Are we asking the rest of Australia down south, ‘Just cuddle a few trees; just be a bit green. Manage the ecosystem,’ and everything will be right? I can tell you that any economy that is completely dependent on some rubbish idea that you can be sustainable into the future on some sort of carbon credit system and that you can somehow manage the environment while somebody—I don’t know where—is going to pay everybody to do that, is relying on absolute and utter nonsense. I condemn this report and I warn people to look very carefully at it, because if this nation is going down a line which says, ‘Aboriginal people can own land but they can’t use it,’ I think it is a step in completely the wrong direction.
Senator McLucas is from Queensland. The Queensland government has already decided to go and take away the rights of people to use their land correctly under the Wild Rivers Act, and we will be very active to ensure that their rights to use their own land are returned to them.
Senator McLucas interjecting—
Senator SCULLION —I am happy to take your interjections, Senator McLucas, all day. We should look very carefully at this report and treat it with a deal of caution because it does not treat our First Australians with the same rights afforded to the remainder of the landholders in Australia. That is why it cannot be supported. (Time expired)
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