Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory) (6:50 PM) —I rise to support the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 [No. 2]. This is a very simple piece of legislation. It does two things, in effect, but they are important things. It will require the agreement of traditional owners; that the development and use of native title land in a wild river area cannot be regulated under the relevant Queensland legislation unless Aboriginal traditional owners of the land agree. There are three other parts to it: one gives the capacity for the Governor-General to make regulations and the others are a transitional provision to ensure that the time line does not go forever and it deals with the capacity under the Constitution about how we can make this law.
Aboriginal people in this country have been through a long and arduous process of having their legal rights recognised, and I know that many of those in this place have supported that process. But it seems in many cases that when you get to the end of that process everybody says, ‘Oh, fantastic—wasn’t that great?’ Aboriginal people, if you like, for a long time have been in the struggle for land rights and have gathered the eggs. They have gathered them in, and often the processes by which they gather those eggs are limited. They might be land councils, and we only give them money to gather eggs. There has not been much story in terms of the development. So we should not see the involvement of land and sea based economic activity as the endgame. The first step is over; they now need to be able to be involved in that process without any impediment. So that should be the beginning of the process—certainly not the end.
Many of our first Australians—I see this as I move around Australia, not only in Queensland but in a number of places—have seen their lands locked up as national parks, in some cases as part of a deal. A New South Wales land council speaking to me the other day told me it is not part of a deal; it is part of meeting some weird quota that they have in New South Wales. So we need to ensure that Aboriginal people have the same access to economic opportunities from their land as every Australian should.
As people interested in this debate will all know well, there is a great tragedy visible when we enter Aboriginal land. I worry that they might have very few things and they live in very sparse conditions, and many people would see abject poverty. They smile at me and say: ‘But, Nigel, look at our land. Look at our country. Look at our riches.’ It recalls, of course, the old phrase ‘land rich and dirt poor’. I wonder why this exists. Here is an opportunity today to support a piece of legislation that is not symbolic. It might not get it completely right, and I understand why some people would choose not to support it, but what it says is that we need to make sure that we take every single blockage that is not an essential blockage out of the way so that our first Australians can have equity in the simple process of being able to use their land.
We go out of our way sometimes to protect values, whether they be biodiversity values or cultural values, but we do not seem to spend enough time protecting economic values and opportunities for people to use the land that they have. Of course, Australians would have no problem at all with unique biodiversity or other particular cultural values being protected, and of course the very first people that will tell you that they need protection are our first Australians. They will tell you that that protection is absolutely needed. When we particularly protect unique and rich biodiversity—and that is effectively the motive behind the wild rivers legislation—nobody would disagree, but if that is going to be the case then everybody should bear the cost. We as Australians should all bear the cost. But the sad part about the wild rivers legislation is that the cost is fundamentally borne by the people who live in that area, because it is the cost of not having economic opportunities. That is a cost that I think is inequitably imposed on them. If there is unique biodiversity on some farmers’ land or in other areas, there are a whole range of other processes that take place to ensure that there is no inequity in that regard. So this is a piece of legislation that we cannot allow to remain in place, for that reason.
The notion of sustainable development of land and conservation being mutually exclusive, of course, is insupportable, and I have spoken about that before in this place. Supporting Aboriginal people to create economic activities for future generations is not asking anything special. It is not that we are asking anything different from any other Australian. If land has any special biodiversity or cultural values, yes, it should be protected, but we need to support the protection that will already be given by our first people; we do not need to take it over.
I can recall that when this first came up Mr Abbott did not raise this issue, as has been claimed, to somehow belt up the Queensland government. Aboriginal people should have the right to develop their own land, because they also have a right to ensure that they leave an economic legacy to their children. We have heard Noel Pearson, who spoke so eloquently about how this is not an issue about a decision for himself; this is an issue about a decision for his grandchildren. To leave a legacy in this place should be one of the smartest things we ever do. Support this legislation and provide that legacy. (Time expired)
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