CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I would like to start by paying my respects to the Gurambilbarra Wulgurukaba and Bindal traditional owners.I extend my respects to their elders, past and present.
And I acknowledge all traditional owners and elders here today. It is so great to be amongst so many traditional owners of country to talk to you about native title.
The National Native Title Conference is one of the most important gatherings of the year.
Thank you to AIATSIS and the North Queensland Land Council for their hard work to organise this year’s conference and for your invitation.
In particular, I would like to acknowledge outgoing Chair Mick Dodson – what a contribution you have made and the success of the organisation is a tribute to your 26 years in it.
This year’s conference is being held at such a special time – the 25th anniversary of the Mabo decision.
I want to acknowledge Bonita and Gail Mabo and other members of the family who are here today.
This year’s conference is a time to commemorate what was a watershed moment in not just the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but the history of Australia.
Eddie Koiki Mabo’s story is one of a great Australian who against the odds changed Australia.
Bonita, you were the rock for Koiki. You were the foundation on which his hard work was fought. I want to thank you and acknowledge you for your part in this story.
I also want to acknowledge Gail – you have continued the legacy of your father and he would be so proud of the work you are doing.
The nation sat up and noticed the celebrations that were happening up here in North Queensland and across the Torres Strait.
I was so honoured to be invited to Mer to celebrate Mabo Day with the Meriam people on Saturday.
It was a special day for the eight tribes of Mer and their elders.
And I was privileged to have the opportunity to support the development of the grave site of Mr Mabo to ensure that it is a fitting tribute and mark of respect to this great man and his contribution.
Gail thank you for your support in making this possible. And can I tell you that you would have been very proud of the statement that William Mabo delivered on behalf of the Mabo family.
And Bonita and Gail, while I wasn’t able to be in Townsville for your celebrations some of my crew were there – it was great to get the photo of you Bonita with your sisters, and the one with you Gail in front of the Mabo day banner – while I was up on Mer Island.
I was also pleased to announce that we would be working with the community to restore the grave sites of all the plaintiffs of the Mabo case.
This is a story that must be acknowledged and it is fitting that the Government shares this respect.
Because native title has achieved a lot.
The Native Title Act was a major step in recasting the relationship between Indigenous and other Australians, recognising past injustices, and setting the scene for a more equitable future.
Since then, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights and interests in land have been formally recognised for around 40 per cent of Australia’s land mass.
I’m pleased to say that the number of determinations under the Native Title Act—387— now outweighs the number of claims currently registered which is 245.
These results are a credit to all traditional owners. You have been patient beyond what is fair and just and you have done the hard yards, provided evidence, undertook negotiations and made the difficult decisions required in the claims process.
It took this hard work to prove your native title – but the recognition of your native title has provided what you have always known to be true – this is your land and sea.
Your land is your birth right … as the theme of this year’s conference states.
But there is more to do.
Native title has not delivered the same benefits for traditional owners of sea country as it should have.
As Koiki Mabo said: “What is on the land and in the sea belongs to me and my people.”
But the struggle for the recognition of sea country has been just as hard as the original battle for native title.
Which is why I am pleased to announce today that the Commonwealth Government is allocating $20 million to support Indigenous people make use of their rights to fresh water and salt water country.
Sea country and fresh water country should be treated the same as land country – and the opportunities to manage and economically benefit from your rights over water must be a priority.
Government should be supporting Indigenous fishing businesses, acquiring licences and taking advantage of your ownership of sea and freshwater.
The Government has already contacted land councils seeking interest in accessing the funding and I look forward to working with you over the coming months.
But there needs to be more and ongoing support on top of this.
Over the past 22 years, the Indigenous Land Corporation has helped Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people care for their land, find work, and preserve culture.
However, the ILC has focused on supporting economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits derived from land, but not from salt and freshwater country.
This artificial distinction between land and water country should not exist.
I am pleased to announce that the ILC is going to be consulting on changes to make investment in sea and fresh water possible under its mandate and the approach of the Land Account to make sure it truly delivers on the original intent of the organisation.
Native Title Holder Support
So we must continue our work to make sure native title delivers on its promise and potential.
As I said at the native title conference in 2014, native title holders are increasingly where the focus must be.
And we must continue to increase the support we provide to native title holders.
We have already begun to roll out initiatives that will support PBCs to use their land, and have provided funding as part of the Northern Australia White Paper.
PBCs are now being funded to take up opportunities to unlock the economic potential of their native title rights.
I encourage you all to look at this funding and the opportunities it has for you.
I am aware disputes between PBCs and native title holders are unnecessarily holding some groups back.
I was really taken by something Greg McIntyre said on Mabo Day up on Mer Island. Greg, whose history with native title needs no introduction, was talking about the challenge of adapting traditional ownership of land and sea into whitefella law.
And the importance of making sure that the individual ownership, the family ownership of land and sea that Koiki Mabo was able to prove is retained – and not changed because of structures and systems imposed by governments, corporations, land councils or PBCs.
And I acknowledge the comments of Andrew Passi at his father’s grave site when he talked about his father’s land and sea being passed down the generations – Malo’s law is the law for the Meriam people.
So, I am working on ideas to address native title membership disputes and to increase transparency regarding the use of native title benefits.
There’s still much more to do to support PBC capacity but Government is now firmly at the table.
We’ve come from a situation three years ago, where there was almost no direct assistance for PBCs, except small amounts for basic support, to now, where Government has committed ongoing funding and is continuing to develop and implement initiatives to build capacity and create a sustainable PBC sector.
As always, there’s room for improvement, which is why the Attorney-General is working on broader reforms to the Native Title Act that will build on the good work that came out of the recent Australian Law Reform Commission and COAG Investigation into Indigenous Land Administration and Use.
We will be consulting with Indigenous stakeholders in partnership on this important work.
The Attorney-General and I are hopeful this work can lead to further amendments to the Native Title Act to improve its operation and deliver better outcomes to native title groups.
I assure you there will be consultations on the Bill and any proposed reforms because we need to make sure it works for you.
An important part of your native title rights is caring for and managing country.
Indigenous rangers are in my view a critical part of the Indigenous land rights system and they have become a crucial frontline support who will be funded now and into the future.
Funding for Indigenous rangers is at an all-time high but there is more to do.
We want to build the capacity of Indigenous rangers across Australia and ensure that they have the technical and leadership skills they need to develop as Indigenous land and sea managers.
Which is why a few weeks ago, I announced $30 million for a new four-year ‘Capacity building for Indigenous Rangers Strategy’. Indigenous land and sea rangers will have the same powers as any other ranger.
Indigenous land and sea rangers will be responsible for any work on country.
The strategy will enhance the already outstanding achievements of the Indigenous ranger and Indigenous Protected Areas initiatives.
There is a lot of work to do but we are achieving some great things together:
- We are funding more Indigenous organisations than before because of the IAS
- More children are attending school each day because of the Remote School Attendance Strategy and
- We are supporting more jobseekers into work across the country
It is an exciting time to be in what I reckon is the best job in Government.
I want to acknowledge the 250 delegates who travelled to Uluru and made a statement from the heart – this was a significant gathering and we are listening.
The Parliament looks forward to receiving the report from the Referendum Council and we will respond in good faith.
We must aim for the best as we step into the beyond, as many campaigners and governments have done before us.
We learnt this lesson in 1967. We learnt it again in 1992.
We must, with the determination of the campaigners in mind, capitalise on that decision which made possible the constitutional basis for our native title legislation.
It’s how we work with our First Nations people to make sure land works for them.
It’s how we care and protect country.
It’s how we honour the legacy of Eddie Koiki Mabo and respect the land and sea that is your birth right.