Bills - Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:36): I want to make a few brief remarks on the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017 as I was the Chairman of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee that conducted an inquiry into these proposed amendments. I indicate that my comments will be brief. This is an essential piece of legislation. It is important to so many people, particularly to Indigenous people who benefit from the way the ILUAs were constructed under what everyone believed was the law. It is also particularly important to people looking for jobs in Central Queensland around the Adani project and, I might add, to people in Weipa and Gladstone. For a moment it was thought that the failure to address this court decision would lead to the shutting down of Weipa and perhaps the consequent shutting down of the aluminium industry in Gladstone, so it was very important that that be clarified.

It is also very important for Queensland revenue. As a Queenslander I am very keen to see more development in my state, supported in this instance, I might say, by the Queensland state Labor government. It will not only bring jobs to Queensland and help Queenslanders currently without work but also help the state's revenue. With the government we have in Queensland at the moment, any assistance with state revenue is very important. As I said, it is essential it be clarified so that the Adani process can proceed and that Weipa can go ahead with its work without too many concerns. Of course, it is important for Australia. All Australians need the certainty that this amendment bill will bring.

Senators will understand that after the Bygrave decision in the courts a certain process was put in place. Everyone understood that to be the law to be applied. For six or seven years following Bygrave there was a process put in place where Indigenous groups had to agree to ILUAs and the majority ruled. That was thought to be the law. It was uncontroversial. It is the way we operate as a democracy. But the decision in McGlade changed all that. The judge there determined that, on the law, it required not just a majority but also everybody in that group, even including deceased people. I think the judge, in his commentary, when some comments were made about how this would throw the whole system into chaos, said: 'Well, I'm only here to interpret the law. If that issue needs to be addressed, then that is a matter for parliament.' That is why this bill is here. It is a matter that parliament should and must deal with, and we are dealing with it at the moment. It is important that it be done as quickly as possible. All congratulations to the Attorney-General and his department for getting this to this stage by this time.

As chairman of the committee, I acknowledge and thank all of those who made submissions to the committee, particularly those who were called, came and gave evidence to the committee. A lot of people put a lot of effort into this. The committee particularly appreciates the contributions made by all of the submitters and by those who were kind enough to come to share their views, their understandings and their wishes with the committee at that one hearing in Brisbane. I also thank the members of my committee, particularly Senator Dodson, who has already spoken, and Senator Siewert. Both have played fairly lead roles in the work of the committee to date. I appreciate their contributions, as I do for other members of the committee: Senator Pratt, Senator Fawcett, Senator Watt and Senator Williams. It is good to see that, as a result of the committee's work, an opportunity was given to all of those who had a view on this issue to come forward to give their advice. My understanding of the submissions and of the evidence given directly to the committee was that, by and large, most people understood the need for legislative intervention to overrule the impacts of the McGlade decision.

The committee determined to recommend that the bill be passed. There were, in the original drafts, some elements of the amending bill which were not directly related to McGlade. Members of the committee thought, as some of the submitters suggested, that it was not really germane to this particular issue; it was something that needed to be addressed, but perhaps not with the same urgency that the McGlade aspects were to be addressed. The committee recommended that those that were not directly related to McGlade should be removed. It suggested to the government that they bring them back later when more time is available to fully consider necessary amendments to the Native Title Act.

I understand that it is the government's intention to, at some time in the future, bring forward another bill with a wider range of amendments to the Native Title Act, which have been suggested to the government by Indigenous groups and by all of those involved with native title issues over a long period of time. It does need upgrading. I understand that the government will do that later on and that we will be fully consulted. The committee will no doubt meet at some time in the future when that bill does eventually come forward. But, for the moment, we are just concentrating on the McGlade decision to make sure that Australia, effectively, did not come to a halt. For the last six, seven or eight years since Bygrave, all of these ILUAs were entered into in good faith on the understanding that everybody had of the law—that a majority decision of the Indigenous group was what the law required. That is how it has been actioned and processed for the last seven or eight years—whatever it is—since Bygrave.

Since the committee reported, there have been a number of other issues raised that were not particularly raised in the committee hearings or by the government at that time. They have subsequently been raised. I understand there has been a lot of work done by the Attorney-General's Department and by the Attorney-General himself with Senator Dodson and others, including Carpentaria Land Council, Cape York Land Council and the Northern Land Council, to fine tune, if I could put it that way, some of the amendments—

Debate Interrupted.

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