I acknowledge the Gangalidda peoples on whose land we meet this evening and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
And I acknowledge the eight other tribal groups that make up the Land Council.
I thank my good mate Murrandoo for welcoming me back to Burketown. As always, it is great to be here.
Chairman, Board members, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen; it is an honour and privilege to be invited to speak tonight.
Since 1984 the Carpentaria Land Council has strongly represented the rights and interests of traditional owners here in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria.
Tonight, we are marking the thirty year anniversary of the Carpentaria Land Council and the twentieth anniversary of the Council representing traditional owners under the Native Title Act.
The struggle and journey that Aboriginal people in this part of Australia have undertaken to have their land, culture and vision recognised is inspiring.
You can be proud of the Wellesley Islands Land and Sea determinations made in 2004 and 2008.
And of the Gangalidda & Garawa determination and Waanyi determination in 2010.
You can be proud of the Yanner v Eaton decision in the High Court, which held that traditional hunting of estuarine crocodiles was a valid exercise of native title.
This was a significant win for traditional culture right across the country and one which has been talked about across the world.
This important work continues with much of the remaining land in the Gulf being subject to native title claim, including the outstanding areas of the Gangalidda and Garawa country and areas around Normanton and Karumba.
I look forward to the time when your claims all are determined.
I want to congratulate the Carpentaria Land Council on its dedication to delivering land justice for traditional owners and their communities over the last thirty years.
The Carpentaria Land Council has faithfully and expertly led their peoples through the native title process.
Over the years the nature of native title work has changed as we move towards making the most of economic opportunities.
But you know this first hand.
You are already working on how to convert recognition into meaningful practical benefits.
I’ve walked through the new tourism hub and information centre that the Land Council is opening here in Burketown with the support of the Burke Shire Council.
I’ll be telling everyone who says they’re coming to Burketown to take a tour through the centre. It’s a great starting point for people wanting to explore Burketown and surrounds.
I’ve also had the chance to see some of your country, to tour the ranger base, and hear from you what you want to do with this region.
The people I’ve met here are seriously committed to doing their best for their people.
Economic Development and Government priorities
One of the best things that the Carpentaria Land Council can do is find opportunities for investment, resource development and other commercial projects and help Aboriginal people who want to ‘have a go’ to navigate the complex world of business development and bureaucratic processes.
Native title benefits are a communal asset and are vital tools for increasing Indigenous economic development as well as improving education outcomes and making communities safer.
So today I want to talk about the future. About changing the discussion from welfare to independence, about land tenure and about how you might break free of dependency on the whims of government.
Let me tell you that the rate of change is about to accelerate and it will be to your advantage.
We are streamlining the bureaucracy so that funding gets to you.
We are making administration simpler so that things can get done faster.
And we are making sure that we are listening to locals about what local communities need and then we are getting on with it.
Apart from our priorities of getting children to school, adults to work and making communities safer, we are working hard on kick-starting and boosting economic development in Indigenous communities around Australia.
My hope is that in the not-too-distant future, you can operate and be assured of your own economic future, providing for your community and families.
So, by way of encouragement to you, I am going to tell you what the Government intends to do to wake up Native Title.
Native title, land tenure reform and benefits management
I have been talking to land councils around Australia about land tenure reform, about local decision making and essentially modernising the landscape.
Managing native title benefits, and other payments negotiated by traditional owners and indigenous groups, needs to be at the forefront of our work, in order to build strong communities.
At the moment we are working with people around the country to hear their views and ideas for improving outcomes for Indigenous people.
I welcome the passage through the Queensland Parliament of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land (Providing Freehold) Act 2014.
From 1 January 2015, the barriers to home ownership, can be removed, and you can obtain ordinary freehold title if you wish.
Native Title organisations improvements
In the meantime, we recognise that native title administration is a big responsibility that can be complex, and can be a burden on local community leaders.
We want to make sure that native title holders have confidence in those responsible for managing their assets.
We are looking at ways to boost the capacity and expertise of prescribed bodies corporate, recognising that across the country they face very diverse circumstances.
For instance, we need to examine whether there is more that ORIC, or other organisations, can do to assist and make sure that native title becomes a real asset, and not a burden.
We are also considering future funding arrangements for native title service providers.
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.
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.
What I have seen here this weekend, from the way that your Land Council is on the front foot and working in partnership with others, has demonstrated that there is a bright future ahead for native title holders.
With the right system and supports in place, the opportunities are going to present themselves so native title holders can achieve the best possible result.
White Paper on Northern Australia
One of the other initiatives that is going to bring great opportunities for the people of the lower gulf is the Government’s commitment to develop Northern Australia.
Currently some hard thinkers are consulting widely as they write the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.
The White Paper will set out a plan for making good use of the economic potential of the north.
It will be a long term plan for the next two, five, ten and twenty years.
I will watch eagerly to see how you take forward the aspirations of traditional owners to manage their country and at the same time join these aspirations with economic development opportunities in tourism, recreation and other industries suited to this part of northern Australia.
Indigenous Businesses in Carpentaria
Small businesses are at the heart of tourism, recreation, land management and small manufacturing, and I want to see more Indigenous businesses run by Indigenous people, employing the best Indigenous people.
It’s great that you are already getting on with it.
I am impressed with Land Council’s land and sea projects.
The simple fact is that the ranger projects and the Indigenous Protected Area program have given local people meaningful and important jobs.
Previously, there was little opportunity for local Indigenous people to enter a professional workplace or start a career that provides skills and economic, social and cultural rewards.
The Carpentaria Land Council is a genuine service provider in this part of the world—providing fencing, weed control, erosion management and reducing the disastrous impact of feral animals on native wildlife and ecosystems.
It has proved that it is capable of undertaking work to a high standard for its neighbours, local municipal councils and governments. From what I have seen here this weekend and on previous trips, I can say that this is a benchmark ranger programme that we can aspire to deliver across the country.
And that is why on Friday I was very pleased to announce that the Australian Government has approved funding of $784,700 over the next four years for the Nijinda Durlga Indigenous Protected Area.
This will allow Gangalidda traditional owners to implement their vision.
And it’s not just on Gangalidda country where traditional owners have made their views and aspirations for their country known.
In almost every direction from here—north to the Wellesley Islands, west to Waanyi and Garawa country, and east to Gkuthaarn, Kukatj and Kurtijar country–traditional owners have been planning for the future health of their people and country.
You have a lot to be proud of.
I am encouraged by what you have achieved and excited by the possibilities that you have.
You have the right attitude and some great capability and initiatives, and at just at the right time—as things change to your advantage.
I look forward to working with you to realise the goals of the native title holders and your communities here in the Gulf.
Download media release:
Carpentaria Land Council 30 Year Anniversary.pdf