Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011



About this Item
SpeakersDominello Mr Victor; Burney Ms Linda; Rowell Mr Jai; Lynch Mr Paul; Speakman Mr Mark; Hornery Ms Sonia; Brookes Mr Glenn; Cornwell Mr Andrew; Holstein Mr Chris
BusinessBill, Agreement in Principle, Passing of the Bill, Motion



ABORIGINAL LAND RIGHTS AMENDMENT (HOUSING) BILL 2011
Page: 7060

Agreement in Principle

Mr VICTOR DOMINELLO (Ryde—Minister for Citizenship and Communities, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [5.06 p.m.]: I move:
      That this bill be now agreed to in principle.

First and foremost, it is appropriate for this legislation, which amends the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983, that I commence by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and I pay my respects to their Elders both past and present. The object of this bill is to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to facilitate entering into and managing of residential tenancy agreements of less than three years, or periodic agreements, by boards of local Aboriginal land councils where other parties to the agreements are natural persons. The bill amends section 42E of the Act to explicitly exempt residential tenancy agreements of less than three years from the operation of a section in the Act, which imposes specific requirements on how local land councils deal with their land and an amendment to section 52G (e) of the Act to ensure that short-term residential tenancy agreements are excluded from the types of land dealings that require approval by resolutions of voting members of a local Aboriginal land council.

The amendments define "short-term residential tenancy agreements" to align the Act with the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. This will greatly assist the administration of residential tenancy matters concerning Aboriginal land councils by the Consumer, Trading and Tenancy Tribunal. An amendment to section 62 of the Act will also confer directly on the board of a local Aboriginal land council the functions of entering into, managing and terminating short-term residential tenancy agreements, in relation to land vested in the council. By adding this specific function, the board becomes empowered to delegate the function to the Chief Executive Officer of the Land Council in accordance with section 72, which provides that boards may delegate their functions.

Additional provisions are an amendment to section 230 of the Act to make it clear that an administrator of a local Aboriginal land council is empowered to exercise this board function in relation to short-term residential tenancy agreements without requiring the consent of the council at a meeting. However, to put the amendment in context I need to provide an overview of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and the land council network. The Aboriginal Land Rights Act commenced operation in 1983. The essence and beneficial nature of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act is captured in the preamble, which states:

      1. Land in the State of New South Wales was traditionally owned and occupied by Aborigines:

      2. Land is of spiritual, social, cultural and economic importance to Aborigines:

      3. It is fitting to acknowledge the importance which land has for Aborigines and the need of Aborigines for land:

      4. It is accepted that as a result of past Government decisions the amount of land set aside for Aborigines has been progressively reduced without compensation.
    The Aboriginal Land Rights Act provides a mechanism for compensating Aboriginal people of New South Wales for the loss of their land. Aboriginal land councils, of which there are 119, can claim Crown land, which if granted is transferred as freehold title. They may also acquire land by any other lawful means. Self-determination is the underlying theme of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and it is unique in that it provides the members of a land council with real power to utilise their land holdings for social, cultural or economic development or any other lawful purpose.

    Land councils have statutory functions for the acquisition, management, use, control, disposal or otherwise dealing with their land. Land councils are bodies corporate whose governing boards are elected every two years by the members of the council. Those members are adult Aboriginal persons predominantly residing within the geographical area of the council. An adult Aboriginal person may also be a member of a council if they reside outside the area of the council, provided the members have accepted they have an association with the council's area. The roles and functions of the members in elected governing boards and staff of land councils are set out in the Act. This enshrines a separation of powers, and specifies that certain functions are able to be delegated, which fosters a transparent and effective governance model for land councils.

    However, like all governance models, the land council model benefits from reflection and review over time. An issue that required review was the decision making by land councils in relation to "residential tenancy agreements", pursuant to the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. A powerful impetus for reviewing this issue was the Land and Environment Court's decision in Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council and Thatcher v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council delivered on 23 March 2011, concerning decisions by a local Aboriginal land council about residential tenancy agreements where the council is the landlord. The court relevantly found that decisions about residential tenancy agreements by a land council when it is the landlord are decisions that concern the use, management, control, holding, disposal or otherwise dealing with land.

    It was found that such decisions needed to be made by a valid resolution of council members at a meeting, and the decisions were found not to be able to be delegated. Consequently, they are not decisions that can be made by the governing board or the chief executive officer of a local Aboriginal land council. The court's findings identified particularly onerous circumstances for the management by local Aboriginal land councils of the 2,600 residential properties which they own and manage as Aboriginal community housing stock. If all decisions about residential tenancy agreements where a local Aboriginal land council is the landlord must be made by a valid resolution of members the burden on land councils would be significant and a number of serious governance and management problems may emerge.

    First, it would greatly increase the possibility of circumstances where conflicts of interest may arise. For example, it would be very difficult for a council member to vote on whether to evict a tenant for a serious breach of their residential tenancy agreement when they are directly related to the tenant. Untangling their familial obligations from their obligations as members of the council in this circumstance would be very difficult for any person to do. Another example would be when council members are required to vote in relation to rent increases when they are also tenants occupying those same residential properties. It is simply unfair to place the council and its members in these positions of conflict. In addition, given this finding would result in the need for more members meetings, this places an added financial burden on a land council due to the advertising costs associated with notifying members.

    The Land and Environment Court's decision in Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council and Thatcher v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council resulted in strong representations to me from the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, various local Aboriginal land councils, and the Registrar of the Act. May I say that I am grateful to the Land and Environment Court for the clarity of its decision: such clarity meant that the representations made to me were in turn clear and considered. The representations made to me have resulted in the amendment bill that I tabled in this House today.

    A significant benefit of the amended bill is that it empowers elected local Aboriginal land council governing boards to administer and manage fair, consistent and financially viable residential housing programs on behalf of their council. As members of this House know well, clear and definitive corporate governance is the foundation of our most valued institutions in our society, both private and public. We all depend on accomplished corporate governance to ensure sound and fair decision-making. Without attention and commitment to good governance we risk disarray and the erosion of what we expect and trust in our institutions, corporations and those that lead and administer them.

    The Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011 is the O'Farrell-Stoner Government's commitment, made together with Aboriginal stakeholders, to ensure that the governance of local Aboriginal land councils is free of potential conflicts of interest for members, elected officials and staff. As a consequence this will help build and enhance the capacity of land councils to deliver housing outcomes and services to their members, their families and Aboriginal communities across the State. Conflicts of interest will exist if tenants of residential properties owned or managed by a local Aboriginal land council are simultaneously members of the local Aboriginal land council. Managing conflicting interests is often wrought with complexities. However, these amendments go a long way to resolving the conflicts, which, if allowed to continue, would have undermined the functioning of local Aboriginal land councils.

    In addition, the amendments will provide greater certainty for all stakeholders involved in the management of land council housing. Aboriginal people from across the land council network have been telling me how the findings in this decision have led to poor compliance with housing policies and residential tenancy agreements. This has frustrated the efforts of land councils and in particular their governing boards to manage housing in a fair, consistent and financially viable way. By ensuring that housing owned and managed by local Aboriginal land councils is supported to become sustainable and financially viable the quality of living conditions of Aboriginal people residing in land council managed housing will be improved. This in turn improves the overall quality of the Aboriginal community housing sector.

    Importantly, most of the 119 local Aboriginal land councils manage community housing for their members and their families, making up the 60 per cent of housing stock in the Aboriginal community housing sector, or 2,600 of the total 4,300 dwellings managed by approximately 200 Aboriginal housing providers in New South Wales. The number of dwellings managed by any one local Aboriginal land council can be as little as two or three but ranges up to more than 80. In some remote areas land councils are the largest landowner. Management of their housing by land councils is a key, yet often burdensome, part of land councils' overall administration. However, at the same time, for many members, access to land council housing is the most tangible benefit that membership presently offers. Land councils are thus key players in the delivery and management of housing to many Aboriginal people. Yet the establishment of land councils as housing providers, whilst enacted with good intentions, has nonetheless created an often complex and challenging environment for housing management.

    While some land councils have adopted the role of housing provider, unfortunately, some land councils have had to deal with a poor tenancy culture, including low or sporadic rental collection and limited maintenance of stock. This has led to a substantial amount of Aboriginal land council housing stock being substandard, which is why reform in this area is so critical. These matters are of critical concern to Aboriginal land councils, which must balance the rights of tenants with sustainable housing asset management. They are also, for similar reasons, of ongoing chief concern and priority for the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and the New South Wales Aboriginal Housing Office. I acknowledge their present efforts to develop and implement policies to counter the tenancy trends of the past to ensure that the Aboriginal community housing sector of this State is viable and fares well into the future.

    The amendments provide greater clarity of Aboriginal land council board functions and roles. They significantly improve the efficiency of land council administration in land and housing asset management by investing boards with the statutory function of managing the residential tenancies of their councils' community housing assets and empowering boards, if they so choose, to delegate performance of that function to their chief executive officer or other appropriate person or body. It is my intention, through the amendments I propose here today, that the housing culture within local Aboriginal land councils be strengthened and refined by empowering governing boards and staff of those councils through a stronger and more appropriate legislative framework.
      Apart from those benefits, this improved efficiency will strengthen local Aboriginal land councils' ability to receive benefits under the current process of reform of the Aboriginal community housing sector. The sector reform, known as the Build and Grow Strategy, is partly predicated on ensuring arm's-length management of housing stock by Aboriginal community housing providers as a condition for receiving financial support and subsidies, and having maintenance carried out. That is a condition of the Commonwealth's funding support under the Remote Indigenous Housing national partnership agreement and its implementation by Housing NSW through the Aboriginal Housing Office.

      Finally, in relation to the discussion of members' rights, the point must be made that a critical element of tenancy and housing management by local Aboriginal land councils is the ability for both the councils and their tenants to have their rights and duties under residential tenancy agreements properly overseen and enforced by the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal [CTTT]. In turn, this means that it is very important that the tribunal is given clear guidance about the decision-making of local Aboriginal land councils in relation to residential tenancy agreements. This amendment will greatly assist the important work of the tribunal.
        It is true that these amendments take decision-making in relation to residential agreements from the members of a local Aboriginal land council, as found in the Land and Environment Court decision, and invest them in the governing boards of those councils. However, I note that land council boards must exercise their functions in accordance with not only the Act and regulations, but with the community, land and business plan of the council. Such plans are compulsory and must be approved by members of the council at a meeting. Such plans may cover a period of up to five years. Residential housing programs are an important part of community, land and business plans, so council members retain the function of approving the planning structure for the council's housing program.

        What local Aboriginal land council members are relieved of is the day-to-day management of the council's residential housing program. What they retain is the power to consider the actions and performance of their governing board in managing the residential programs that they have approved. In conclusion, it is well known that improvements in housing have a direct correlation with better outcomes in health, education and employment, as well as reducing crime and family violence. Access to stable and affordable housing can provide a base from which households can access support, develop positive relationships, and participate in the community and economy. In this way improved housing management will make an important contribution to closing the gap and opening up opportunities for Aboriginal people across New South Wales.
          I thank and acknowledge the critical role of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council in the development of this bill. It has provided insight into what measures are going to be serviceable and effective for Aboriginal land councils in a complex system, and provided skilled and professional advice about the amendments. I also acknowledge the work and commitment of the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and the staff of the office of Aboriginal Affairs NSW in the development of this bill. I also acknowledge the support of this bill by the Aboriginal Housing Office, which has reviewed the bill and confirmed its view that its provisions will assist land councils to meet the tenancy and housing stock management benchmarks, which are conditional to their receiving benefits under the ongoing reform of the Aboriginal community housing sector. The bill is a necessary addition to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. I commend the bill to the House.
            Ms LINDA BURNEY (Canterbury) [5.25 p.m.]: I will speak to this bill representing the member for Auburn and the shadow Minister in this area, Mrs Barbara Perry, who is very unwell and is unable to be here today. Having regard to the nature of the bill, I recognise traditional country and pay respect to the peoples of this particular piece of Australia. The Opposition will not oppose the bill. The Aboriginal Land Rights Bill commenced in 1983, so it has been around for some time. In fact, I remember being in Macquarie Street when there was a great deal of angst about the bill. I was not on the side of the bill that day, as I recall, but it was a long time ago.

            This bill was enacted by the Wran Government. It was a very important and quite far-reaching piece of legislation back in 1983, particularly having regard to the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council being funded by what I recall was 7.3 per cent of New South Wales land tax, which has meant an ongoing sustainable base for the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council. I know this legislation extraordinarily well as I had responsibility for the Act when I was Director General of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and I also had responsibility for the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which was an office co-located within the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. I had line responsibility for not only the Department of Aboriginal Affairs but also the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act here in New South Wales.

            The bill is very important because it recognises that land in New South Wales is traditionally owned and occupied by Aboriginal people and is of spiritual, social, cultural and economic importance to Aboriginal people, and it accepts that as a result of past government decisions the amount of land set aside for Aboriginal people has been progressively reduced without compensation. Many in this Chamber may not know that history intimately, but we all understand that the land is a fundamental part of Aboriginal culture. The connection between Aboriginal people and land gives Aboriginal people identity and a sense of place of belonging. It is the foundation of Aboriginal culture.

            When the connection to country is broken, as we see with such things as the stolen generation, it can have a devastating personal effect on Aboriginal people, so land is fundamental. The Act provides a mechanism for compensating Aboriginal people for their loss of land. Local Aboriginal land councils can claim Crown land which, if granted, is transferred to freehold title—in the same way as any block of land purchased anywhere in New South Wales is, which is critical to the good workings of this bill. Interestingly, when the land council network was put in place I was involved, through personal connections. I think I am correct in saying that there are 115 local Aboriginal land councils—

            Mr Paul Lynch: No, 119.

            Ms LINDA BURNEY: The 119 local Aboriginal land councils in New South Wales are elected bodies. With great respect, they are an interesting animal in that sense. As the Minister said earlier, land councils provide a democratically elected organisation in all New South Wales Aboriginal communities and in many cases they are the largest landholders. The land councils also underpin economic development and sustainability in those communities. They also have statutory functions for the acquisition, management, control and disposal of land with freehold title—an incredibly onerous and important responsibility. The objective of the bill is to:

                Amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to facilitate the entering into and management of residential tenancy agreements of less than three years, or periodic agreements, by Boards of Local Aboriginal Councils where the other parties to the agreements are natural persons.
            The tenants union has expressed concern about this. The Opposition recognises the important points raised by the tenants union but it will not oppose the bill. The bill is a response to the findings of the Land and Environment Court in Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council of 23 March 2011. That case raised concern about local Aboriginal land councils and their administration of residential tenancies. As was said earlier, in many ways this is a difficult one. The cycle of poverty for Aboriginal families and communities centres on housing. Positive outcomes result from good housing but for Aboriginal people in New South Wales the housing situation is dire.

            Sadly, throughout the State 15 or more Aboriginal people live in two and three bedroom homes. I have great admiration for the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council, and I know that the member for Liverpool also has a close connection with it. I recently met with the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council to discuss one of the most exciting housing developments ever proposed for New South Wales. Under this revolutionary proposal, which sets world standards, housing will be provided for the general community, not necessarily Aboriginal people, and reserve land will be preserved. A technology park is also to be included. The Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council deserves to be congratulated on its vision.

            In summary, the effect of the judgement is that in order to comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act local Aboriginal land councils cannot enter into and decide to terminate residential tenancy agreements without a resolution of the members of the local Aboriginal land council. This is unwieldy and often hard to achieve. Such decisions cannot be delegated to chief executive officers or the board of the local Aboriginal land council. The resolutions can only be exercised by resolutions of voting members of the council. Members can imagine some of the complexities that could arise from time to time within that description.

            The appeal by the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council has been adjourned awaiting proposed legislation. The Land and Environment Court judgement has raised a number of issues, which this bill seeks to rectify. As a result of the decision the process of terminating tenancy agreements becomes administratively cumbersome. Local Aboriginal land councils suffer the issue of time as well as the expense of having to advertise and hold a meeting if it is necessary to call an extraordinary meeting. The process is also arguably open to family conflicts of interest and other conflicts, which have a terrible effect on local communities.

            New section 42E seeks to exempt residential tenancy agreements of less than three years from the operation of the section. An amendment to section 52G (e) of the Act will exclude short-term residential tenancy agreements from the types of "dealing with land" requiring approval by resolutions by voting members of a local Aboriginal land council. Section 62 of the Act is to be amended to give the board of local Aboriginal land councils the functions of entering into, managing and terminating short-term residential tenancies, which is eminently sensible. This will allow boards to delegate to the chief executive officer of the local Aboriginal land council and is in accordance with section 72, which allows boards to delegate their functions.

            The bill also seeks to enable elected local Aboriginal land council boards to carry out their functions in an efficient and consistent manner. Some of the issues dealt with in the bill are complex. There is a need to balance the rights of tenants and the good governance and management of Aboriginal housing—I refer to my earlier comments about the tenants union. When the Hon. Greg Pearce introduced the bill in the other place he said that members still set the parameters for a board's management function through their statutory role in developing their community, land and business plan. He believes the amendments will support the reform currently underway in the Aboriginal community housing sector: the build and grow strategy.

            I referred earlier to the cycle of poverty and the importance of adequate housing to break that cycle, which will lead to better health outcomes, better educational outcomes, better employment outcomes and so on. A number of groups were closely involved in the development of these amendments, including the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and the Office of the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. Mr Geoff Scott, the chief executive officer of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, was once my boss. I leave the House to contemplate his wise comments about the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Rights Act:
                This piece of legislation was described as groundbreaking and innovative at its inception ... it stands as the only initiative that has stood the test of time and delivered real assets and independence to our people ... it was conceived and born in controversy and friction; criticised for not going far enough by some; too far by others. The legislation is an evolving mixture of diverse roles and responsibilities, including inherent conflicts and frictions. But it does work.
            I am satisfied that these amendments will enhance the land rights legislation. I commend the bill to the House.

            Mr JAI ROWELL (Wollondilly) [5.39 p.m.]: I support the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011, which will amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983. The amendments will assist the entering into and management of residential tenancy agreements of less than three years or periodic agreements by boards of local Aboriginal land councils where other parties to the agreements are natural persons. The impetus for this amendment was the decision earlier this year of the Land and Environment Court in Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council regarding the land council's management of its housing tenancy leases. The judgement in that case was to the effect that all decisions concerning residential tenancy agreements would, from that point, require the approval of a local Aboriginal land council members' meeting.

            Necessitating such approval places significant burdens on the local Aboriginal land councils in their management of Aboriginal community housing stock. Continuing this practice would mean a higher likelihood of complications arising from conflicts of interest and other associated problems that occur from time to time. These concerns have been identified to the Government by those who have already been impacted by the decision. Furthermore, as a consequence of the decision in the Land and Environment Court, local Aboriginal land councils would have to suffer the financial and logistical burdens of organising and advertising meetings if an extraordinary meeting is required to be called. The amendments in this bill aim to prevent these consequences from undermining the capacity for local Aboriginal land councils to govern effectively and fairly.

            These concerns were indentified to the Government following the decision of the Land and Environment Court. The Government has acknowledged and responded to the concerns which were brought to it by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, a number of other local Aboriginal land councils and the registrar of the Act through this amendment. This bill subsequently will provide certainty for all stakeholders involved in the management of land council housing, including elected land council boards, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and, if relevant, the Aboriginal Housing Office and/or other approved housing providers. The need for this Government to take action on the burdensome implications of the bill in its existing form is evident as the local Aboriginal land councils manage approximately 2,600 houses as Aboriginal community housing stock.

            This amounts to 60 per cent of the total housing stock in the Aboriginal community housing sector. Through the management and delivery of this Aboriginal community housing stock these councils play a significant role in the delivery of social housing to many Aboriginal people in New South Wales. In New South Wales social housing is categorised into three subsectors—public housing, community housing and Aboriginal housing. The sector of Aboriginal housing is particularly pertinent to this State, as in New South Wales Aboriginal people are overrepresented in the homeless population. Furthermore, around 33 per cent of Aboriginal people live in social housing in New South Wales in comparison to approximately 6 per cent of the general population. I am very aware of those percentages in my electorate of Wollondilly.

            This bill is an example of how the Government recognises the importance of supporting the Aboriginal housing sector in the face of such statistics. Supporting this sector by helping to strengthen its management means that this Government, in conjunction with Aboriginal land councils, can contribute to meeting the housing needs of the Aboriginal population in New South Wales. This support can contribute to the social, health and economic wellbeing of the Aboriginal community in our great State by providing an environment that is supportive and conducive to positive family and community relationships.

            This Government aims to ensure this support through these amendments, as it will enable elected local Aboriginal land council boards to have the capacity to administer fair, dependable and economically sound housing policies. Such governance is a vital feature of an efficient and fair decision-making process within all spheres of society. If amendments were not undertaken, the implications of the decision of the Land and Environment Court would hamper the capacity of Aboriginal land councils to deal with Aboriginal housing stock and it would not promote the principles of good governance.

            Strengthening the level of governance requires a series of vital amendments to a number of sections throughout the bill. This includes an amendment to section 42E of the Act which will result in residential tenancy agreements of less than three years being exempt from the operation of the section, and the specific requirements relating to how local Aboriginal land councils manage their land. In addition, section 52G (e) of the Act will be amended to allow short-term residential tenancy agreements to be excluded from the types of "dealings with land" that require approval by a resolution of voting members of a local Aboriginal land council.

            Furthermore, an amendment to section 62 will confer directly on the board of a local Aboriginal land council the functions of entering into, managing and terminating short-term residential tenancy agreements in relation to land vested in the council and managing and terminating those agreements. This addition will authorise the board to delegate the function to the chief executive officer of the land council in accordance with section 72, which provides that boards may delegate their functions. Additional provisions include an amendment to section 230 of the Act to make it clear that an administrator of a local Aboriginal land council is empowered to exercise the board function in relation to short-term residential tenancy agreements without requiring the consent of the council at a meeting.

            As has already been stated in debate today in the other House, these improvements in management that the bill aims to achieve will constitute just one part of this Government's contribution to closing the gap and increasing opportunities and experiences for Aboriginal people. As a consequence of these amendments there will be an increase in the ability of Aboriginal people to provide important housing outcomes that will assist members, their families and the Aboriginal communities of New South Wales as well as the people of Wollondilly. I take this opportunity to mention the valuable contribution to the local community of the Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council in Wollondilly. The key function and business of Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council is as a land council. Its role includes also the provision of assistance to improve and foster the social, economic, physical and mental wellbeing of its members and all Aboriginal people within the Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council boundaries.

            Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council offers a range of services, projects and facilities for utilisation by members of the broader community. These projects and services are targeted to assist Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council members and the Aboriginal community. Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council tries to address unmet needs through an extensive range of projects and ensures access to the available services and programs offered to all Aboriginal people living in the Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council boundaries. Currently, Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council provides extensive support to the community and is engaged in the following activities: land acquisition and management; identifying Crown land in the Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council boundaries; development and maintenance of housing and accommodation services; Aboriginal culture and heritage protection; undertaking site surveys, site investigations and cultural heritage assessments; undertaking site clearances, protection and preservation of Aboriginal sites; archaeological work; maintaining and updating the sites register and promoting culture and heritage through cultural activities such as NAIDOC Week.

            Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council assists in the development of local employment strategies and Aboriginal enterprises and it assists in the development of community facilities and community capacity, including various social and cultural activities. I know that the member for Macquarie Fields is involved also in this area. Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council also assists with fundraising for local community initiatives and non-funded program costs; ongoing local, State and national networking with other Aboriginal mainstream service providers and private enterprise; involvement in community projects and initiatives to provide a focus on community needs, and the strategies required to address them; and providing Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council as a training and meeting venue.

            This service and the staff, board and volunteers are to be commended for their dedication. These selfless individuals include, but are not limited to, Greg Bondar, chief executive officer; Yvonne McGregor, office administrator; Dulcine Blair, events coordinator of administration; Kay Bussell, day care respite coordinator; Leeanne Wright, receptionist; and board directors, Ross Evans, the chair, Rebecca Ede, deputy chair, and Eric Stone, Glenda Chalker, Gavin Andrews, Shane Evans, Fran Bodkins, Denise Ezzy and Karen Adams. The good work done by these people has been bolstered by recent funding allocations in the Wollondilly electorate in this year's budget, further increasing the major works funding allocated under the Aboriginal Housing Office—funding that will help to continue to service the Wollondilly region.

            I take this opportunity to acknowledge the good work done by Minster Dominello and to thank him for his tireless efforts in this important portfolio. I thank him also for his assistance over the past few months and look forward to working with him in the future. Recently, when I attended a local government conference, I met representatives of 27 local Aboriginal land councils. All the representatives of those land councils told me how excited they were to have a Minister who was willing to listen to them, to heed their concerns, to consider most issues, not necessarily agreeing with every one, and to have an open and transparent dialogue. It is important for Minister Dominello to continue that work. I commend the Minister and I commend the bill to the House.

            Mr PAUL LYNCH (Liverpool) [5.48 p.m.]: In contributing to debate on the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011, I support the bill and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet—the Gadigal people of the Eora nation—and I pay my respects to their elders, past and present. I also pay my respects to the elders of the other first nations of this land. This bill will amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to facilitate the entering into and management of residential tenancy agreements of less than three years or periodic agreements for local Aboriginal land councils, known as LALCs, through their boards. The object of the bill might sound quite prosaic but it is important to the future of the land council movement and, by extension, for Aboriginal people and communities generally in this State—a matter of considerable concern to the land council movement. A number of people have spoken to me about the consequences of the decision of the Land and Environment Court.

            The amendments contained in this bill are necessary because of a recent decision in the Land and Environment Court concerning the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council and two of its tenants. I know Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council well and over the years I have had dealings with a number of local Aboriginal land councils. However, the offices of the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council are located about 100 metres from my electorate office in Liverpool. I have previously expressed my admiration and support for the activities and directions of the current board. My view of the court decision that has created the need for this legislation is that I would have decided it differently. I am not necessarily being critical of the judge; I am merely reflecting on the fact that intelligent and well-intentioned people can have a difference of opinion over legal matters.

            This legislation is important because of what it means for land councils and for what land councils can mean to Aboriginal communities. Any attempt to close the gap and to deal with Aboriginal disadvantage in this State will fail without the active involvement of land councils. Certainly, the capacity for economic development of land councils is extraordinary and includes some matters to which the member for Canterbury referred, such as sand extraction at Worimi, some of the work that the Darkinjung people have done, and the extraordinary work and proposals of Gandangara, which is running a medical centre, has undertaken land development and has a massive land development proposal in the pipeline. We can tell that we are getting the balance right when Aboriginal land councils are treated just like white developers. That is a good thing in the economic development that Aboriginal land councils are pursuing.
              I suspect there is little comprehension among the broader community of just how important and significant Aboriginal land councils are and certainly how significant the 1983 land rights legislation was. In my view, it was one of the great achievements of the Wran, Ferguson and Walker era. In the recent Wagga Wagga High Court case, Justice Kirby, as he then was, described the 1983 Act as "almost revolutionary". It delivered freehold title to land to Aboriginal land councils. In legal terms the benefits it delivered were far in excess of the much later High Court judgements concerning native title. That is a point I have made on previous occasions. It is a point that all of us should keep making until people get just how significant the 1983 Act was.
                The desirability and advantages of that Act are such that, while members of the Coalition—who were in opposition in 1983—opposed the legislation, as I understand it they are quite supportive of it; indeed, they are enthusiastically supportive of it, or at least that was certainly the case during the last Parliament. I note in passing it is a pity that the same could not be said of Warwick Watkins. The potential of the legislation was improved by the land dealings amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act that have occurred in recent years. They were designed in conjunction with the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council to allow greater certainty and development proposals and joint ventures by land councils. That was very clearly about allowing, with appropriate regulation, greater economic development by land councils that would lead to very direct economic and other benefits for Aboriginal communities. Using land councils that have attained land through land claims represented a coming together of development and the rights agenda. There was a separation of rights and development in the 1990s.
                  Frankly I have never seen the logic in that. There is no logic in that separation at all. Those amendments were about the coming together of both of those traditions, with significant potential advantages for Aboriginal communities. However, all of that assumes well organised and functional land councils, which is why the land dealings legislation I have just discussed is so critically central to the legislation that is before the House. There is no doubt that over the years there have been a number of examples of dysfunctional councils. In some cases that led to administrators being appointed. I note the comments made by the member for Wollondilly about the Tharawal Aboriginal Land Council, which not long ago had an administrator. It is also not long ago that the Tharawal Aboriginal Land Council has come back and is now engaged in quite good things with an elected board. In one case, matters were so serious that an Aboriginal land council was dissolved and criminal charges were laid. I notice from the Government Gazette that an attempt has been made to reform that land council. I hope that is successful.
                    Originally part of the problem was that the legislation provided for what was, in essence, a tennis club model of organisation that was quite unsuitable for an organisation that might seriously deal with land and property. It is no great surprise that if the model had flaws, there would be weaknesses in practice. Several years ago that provoked a significant review of the Act and significant changes, such as the introduction of a model involving boards with much clearer divisions of responsibility. Indeed, I recall that the member for Toongabbie, who is present in the Chamber, was involved in part of that process. Certainly I know that the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council [NSWALC] takes the issue of governance extraordinarily seriously. Many of the local Aboriginal land councils I have met place great emphasis on getting the governance correct. That becomes difficult, if not impossible, if the structure is not correct. That is why this legislation is so critical. Without this legislation, a fundamental aspect of proper governance of local Aboriginal land councils and the earlier improvements to the local Aboriginal land council structure I have mentioned will be undermined.

                    In my view, deciding which tenant goes into land council property or is evicted should not be decided by a meeting of the members of the council. That is clearly an operational matter that should be determined by a group other than a general meeting of the members. This legislation will allow the board to make that decision or, frankly, more appropriately, delegate it to someone else. That delegation is exactly what I have seen happen in many of the most effective Aboriginal housing schemes I have come across. Some years ago a very senior member of the land council network told me that the biggest single threat to the land councils system was housing. Fights over who gets, or does not get, housing had the potential to render land councils dysfunctional. Allowing general meetings of members to determine the priority of housing lists could lead in some circumstances to more chaos or packing of meetings than could possibly be healthy, to say nothing of the potential conflicts of interest.
                      It seems to me that support for this bill is essential to in turn support the efficient functioning of land councils. The judge involved in the decision was correct when he referred to the beneficial and remedial nature of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. That is clear from the words of the statute and indeed from previous judgements. However, in my view, the proper interpretation of that provision does not relate just to a benefit to an individual Aboriginal tenant. In my view the real benefit is its flow to collective bodies, land councils, who can provide dramatically greater benefits to dramatically more Aboriginal people. It seems to me that that is the proper way to interpret that case. On that basis, of course, a very different decision from the one that was delivered would result.

                      I note there was some discussion by the Tenants Union that wants to have greater restrictions on how tenants can be dealt with. The problem with that proposal is that some housing is social housing and some is not in relation to what is owned by the land council. If the intention is to impose an extra set of standards, requirements and conditions on land councils relating to how they deal with their tenants, there may be a danger of imposing greater restrictions and limitations on Aboriginal people than on non-Aboriginal people. That is a consequence that members should not support. The provision of land rights under this legislation is not just a recognition of invasion and dispossession, and it is not just symbolic. Rather, it is a very central component of any attempt to close the gap. That makes land councils critical in closing the gap. For that reason this bill is extraordinarily important.
                          Mr MARK SPEAKMAN (Cronulla) [5.55 p.m.]: As this bill amends the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983, I commence by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and I pay my respects to their elders past and present. I support the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011. The Aboriginal Land Rights Act commenced operation in 1983. The essence of that Act appears in its preamble in four parts. First, land in New South Wales was traditionally owned and occupied by Aborigines. Second, land is of spiritual, social, cultural and economic importance to Aborigines. Third, it is fitting to acknowledge the importance which land has for Aborigines and the need of Aborigines for land. Fourth, it is accepted that as a result of past government decisions the amount of land set aside for Aborigines has been progressively reduced without compensation.
                        The 1983 Act provides a mechanism for compensating Aboriginal people for loss of their land. The 119local Aboriginal land councils can claim Crown land which, if granted, is transferred as freehold title. The local Aboriginal land councils have statutory functions for the acquisition, management, control and disposal of land in freehold title. Local land councils are corporate bodies with elected managing boards. The roles and functions of elected boards, staff and members of Aboriginal land councils are set out in the Act to enshrine a separation of powers and to specify certain powers as delegable to foster transparent and effective governance of land councils. This bill aims to address the judgement of the Land and Environment Court on 23 March 2011 in Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council. The judgement concerned the land council's management of its housing tenancy leases and has meant that all decisions concerning residential tenancy agreements would require the approval of a member's meeting.

                        The decision has some adverse implications for the management by local Aboriginal land councils of approximately 2,600 houses that they manage as Aboriginal community housing stock. First, the decision increases the chances of a conflict of interest arising—for example, in the circumstance in which family members vote on whether to increase the rent, or to evict a tenant who is a family member. Second, the decision means that local Aboriginal land councils suffer the imposition of time and expense of advertising and convening meetings if an extraordinary meeting is required to be called. This bill comes after representations to the Government by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, various local Aboriginal land councils and the registrar of the Act. The bill amends the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to facilitate entering into and the management of residential tenancy agreements of less than three years, or periodic agreements by boards of local Aboriginal land councils when other parties to the agreements are natural persons.

                        This bill will confer five interrelated benefits. First, it will empower local Aboriginal land council boards to administer fair, consistent and financially viable housing policies. Clear and definitive corporate governance is the foundation of the most valued institutions in our society, private and public. The bill aims to improve corporate governance in this context by ensuring that governance is free of potential conflicts of interest for members, elected officials and staff. The conflict of interest exists in the fact that a rent-paying tenant can simultaneously be a member of a land council. Balancing conflicting interests is often wrought with complexities. However, the amendment goes some way towards resolving this issue, which would have undermined the functioning of local Aboriginal land councils. Aboriginal people have told the Government that the decision has led to poor compliance with housing policies and agreements. This has resulted in frustrating and contradicting the elected board members' efforts to manage housing in a fair, consistent and financially viable manner.

                        I said that this bill will confer five interrelated benefits. The second benefit is that the bill will provide certainty for all stakeholders involved in the management of land council housing, including elected land council boards, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and, if relevant, the Aboriginal Housing Office and/or other approved housing providers. The amendment provides greater clarity of board functions and roles and adds significant efficiency to land council administration in land and housing asset management. It does this by assigning boards the statutory function of managing the residential tenancy aspects of their council's community housing assets by empowering boards, if they so choose, to delegate performance of that function to their chief executive officer or other appropriate agents.

                        The third benefit is that the bill thereby ensures that housing owned and managed by the Aboriginal community housing sector is supported to become sustainable and financially viable. As a result, the quality of living conditions of Aboriginal people residing in land council-managed housing hopefully will be improved. The fourth interrelated benefit is that this improved efficiency will strengthen the ability of local Aboriginal land councils to receive benefits under the current process of reform of the Aboriginal community housing sector. The sector reform, known as the Build and Grow Strategy, is partly predicated on ensuring arms-length management of housing stock by Aboriginal community housing providers as a condition for receiving financial support and subsidies and having maintenance carried out. That is a condition of the Commonwealth's funding support under the Remote Indigenous Housing National Partnership and its implementation by Housing NSW through the Aboriginal Housing Office.

                        The fifth interrelated benefit is that improvements in housing are correlated with better outcomes in health, education and employment, and a reduction in crime and family violence. In this way, improved housing management should make an important contribution to closing the gap and opening up opportunities for Aboriginal people across New South Wales. The statutory amendments will be as follows. First, section 42E of the 1983 Act will be amended to exempt residential tenancy agreements of less than three years from the operation of the section, which is located in that part of the Land Rights Act that imposes specific requirements on how local land councils deal with their land. Second, section 52G (e) of the 1983 Act will be amended to ensure that short-term residential tenancy agreements are excluded from the types of "dealing with land" that require approval by resolutions of voting members of a local Aboriginal land council.

                        Third, section 62 of the 1983 Act will be amended to confer directly on the board of a local Aboriginal land council the functions of entering into, managing and terminating short-term residential tenancy agreements in relation to land vested in the council and managing and terminating those agreements. By adding this specific function to the other board functions set out in section 62, the board becomes empowered to delegate the function to the chief executive officer of the land council in accordance with section 72, which provides that boards may delegate their functions. Fourth, section 230 of the Act will be amended to make it clear that an administrator of a local Aboriginal land council is empowered to exercise the board function in relation to short-term residential tenancy agreements without requiring the consent of the council at a meeting. I commend the bill to the House.

                        Ms SONIA HORNERY (Wallsend) [6.03 p.m.]: I am delighted to be given an opportunity to speak in debate on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Housing) Amendment Bill 2011. I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and I pay my respects to their elders, past and present. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition noted, the object of this bill is to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, first introduced into Parliament on 24 March 1983 by Mr Frank Walker on behalf of the Wran Labor Government. On that day Mr Walker described the reformist legislation as "the first step in this State towards redressing the injustice and neglect of real Aboriginal needs since Captain Phillip stepped upon the shores of Port Jackson in 1788".

                        As I understand it, these amendments are in direct response to difficulties local Aboriginal land councils could face after the recent findings of the Land and Environment Court in Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council. In that case the Land and Environment Court found that all decisions concerning residential tenancy agreements would now require the approval of a members' meeting. This has a number of ramifications that this bill seeks to remedy. Firstly, there is the burden of time and expense to organise and convene meetings if an extraordinary meeting is required. Secondly, there is the possibility of a conflict of interest arising where family members are voting on rent increases or eviction of tenants who are family members. The bill seeks to remedy those issues by giving boards the statutory function of managing the residential tenancy aspects of their council's housing assets by enabling boards to delegate this function to their chief executive officer or other agents.

                        Thus an amendment of section 52G will ensure that short-term residential tenancy agreements are excluded from the types of "dealing with land" that require approval of voting members of a local Aboriginal land council. An amendment to section 62 of the Act will give local Aboriginal land council boards that ability to enter, manage and terminate short-term residential tenancy agreements in relation to land vested in the council. The board will thus be able to delegate the function to the chief executive officer of the land council in line with section 72 which provides that boards may delegate their functions. The bill seeks to uphold transparency and efficiency in governance for local Aboriginal land councils. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition noted, the Opposition is satisfied that these amendments are in line with the original intentions of the land rights legislation. In his second reading of the original Land Rights Bill, Mr Walker noted that land rights have a dual purpose—cultural and economic. Mr Walker said:

                            Not only does land rights legislation recognise the spiritual attachment to the land by Aboriginal people, it also recognises that land rights has the potential to improve Aboriginal self sufficiency and economic wellbeing—achieved by the provision of funds for open market purchases of economically viable properties.

                        This bill seeks to uphold in particular those economic aims of the land rights legislation. It seeks to uphold the transparency and efficiency of local Aboriginal land councils. I therefore commend the bill to the House.

                        Mr GLENN BROOKES (East Hills) [6.08 p.m.]: I lend my support to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Housing) Amendment Bill 2011, which will allow for better management of Aboriginal housing by amending the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to bring it more into line with the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. In March 2011 the Land and Environment Court handed down a decision that jeopardised the economic viability and good governance of Indigenous housing in New South Wales. That decision had the unintended consequence of requiring all residential tenancy agreements to be approved by a member's meeting. The court's decision created an impossible situation for the management of almost 3,000 houses by local Aboriginal land councils—houses that are managed as Aboriginal community housing stock.

                        This bill provides certainty for all stakeholders involved in the management of land council housing, including elected land council boards, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and, where relevant, the Aboriginal Housing Office. The amendment provides greater clarity for the function and roles of the boards and adds effectiveness to land council administrations in their management of land and housing stock. The bill ensures that housing owned and managed by the Aboriginal community is properly supported to become sustainable and financially viable. By doing this, the quality of living conditions for Aboriginal people residing in land council managed houses hopefully will be improved.

                        Local land councils are key players in the delivery and management of housing for many Aboriginal people. Unfortunately, some land councils have had to deal with a poor tenancy culture, including low and infrequent rent collection and poor maintenance of housing stock. That poor tenancy culture has led to a substantial amount of housing being unavailable for Aboriginal people. That is why this bill is vital. The proposed amendments will support a stronger housing culture by empowering board members and staff of the land councils. It should be supported by all members of both Houses because it will not only assist the Aboriginal community but also improve housing and help to create better outcomes in health, education and employment while reducing crime and family violence. This bill makes an important contribution to Aboriginal people across New South Wales and for that reason I commend it to the House.

                        Mr ANDREW CORNWELL (Charlestown) [6.11 p.m.]: It is my great pleasure to support the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011. The object of the bill is to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to make it easier for boards of local Aboriginal land councils to enter into and manage residential tenancy agreements. An amendment to section 42E will exempt residential tenancy agreements of less than three years from the operations of this section, which will bring the legislation into line with the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. An amendment to section 52G will ensure that short-term tenancies are excluded from the types of dealing with land that requires approval by resolution of voting members of a local Aboriginal land council. An amendment to section 62 will confer directly on the board of an Aboriginal land council the functions of entering into, managing and terminating short-term residential tenancy agreements. This will enable the board to delegate responsibility to the chief executive officer of the authority to deal with these agreements.
                          The roles and functions of the elected boards, staff and members of the Aboriginal land councils are set out in the Act to enshrine a separation of powers and to specify certain powers as delegatable to foster transparent and effective governance of land councils. These changes are necessitated by the decision of the Land and Environment Court in Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council. That ruling requires the management of residential tenancy agreements to be approved by a full members' meeting, which has created several potential problems. First, the process is now more bureaucratic and therefore slower. Secondly, it has increased the possibility of conflict of interest. For instance, family members could be required to vote on rent increases or the eviction of a family member. In response to the ruling, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council made strong representations to the Government requesting that the Act be amended. This legislation therefore reduces the risk of conflict of interest and should result in smoother decision-making by Aboriginal land councils in the management of their housing stock.
                            The legislation also provides greater clarity about Aboriginal land council board functions, roles and responsibilities, which should also improve their efficiency. The 119 Aboriginal land councils in New South Wales manage 60 per cent of the Aboriginal housing stock; that is, 2,600 of the 4,300 properties. The long-term goal of these amendments is to improve the quality and availability of housing for Aboriginal people in New South Wales. It is appropriate to identify the role that proper housing plays in the health of a community. I recently attended a talk by a professor in Newcastle who referred to the quality of the built environment and specifically its impact on children and rates of accidents, respiratory disease and a raft of morbidities and mortalities. Legislation like this can make incremental improvements in the lives of Aboriginal people, and this Government and previous governments have been committed to that goal.
                              It is appropriate to acknowledge the work of two Aboriginal land councils in the Hunter. The Awabakal Land Council provides great advocacy for its people. The Awabakal Nature Reserve, which encompasses a pristine coastal environment, was established by a predecessor of mine, the Hon. Richard Face. Many people wanted the reserve to have an Anglo-Saxon name, but he fought hard to have the original owners of the land acknowledged. That was a wise move and it has ensured that the Awabakal are permanently enshrined in our local community, and that is very important. The Worimi Land Council also provides terrific advocacy for its people. It is my great pleasure to commend the bill to the House and to thank the Minister for his hard work.
                                Mr CHRIS HOLSTEIN (Gosford) [6.18 p.m.]: I support the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the specific elements of the legislation, but I will take a different approach. I draw members' attention to the preamble to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983, which states:

                                    ... land in New South Wales was traditionally owned and occupied by Aboriginal people, and is of spiritual, social, cultural and economic importance to Aborigines.
                                Self-determination is the underlying theme of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and it is unique in that it provides members of local Aboriginal land councils with real power to utilise their landholdings for the purpose of economic development. Aboriginal land councils have statutory functions with regard to the acquisition, management, control and disposal of land with freehold title. The roles and functions of the elected boards, staff and members of the Aboriginal land councils are set out in the Act to enshrine a separation of powers to specify certain powers as delegatable to foster transparent and effective governance of land councils.
                                  The rationale for this amendment bill was born of the March 2011 decision by the Land and Environment Court in Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council and the council's management of its housing tenancy leases. That ruling meant that all decisions concerning residential tenancy agreements required the approval of a members' meeting, which increased the possibility of conflicts of interest. For example, family members might be required to vote on whether to increase rents or to evict a family member. Local Aboriginal land councils are now faced with the effort and expense of advertising, and convening extraordinary meetings. If this anomaly is not corrected, the economic viability and good governance of land councils would be jeopardised.

                                  The decision resulted in strong representations to the Government by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, various local Aboriginal land councils and the Registrar of the Act, and those representations have resulted in this amendment. The benefits of implementing the amendment include empowering local Aboriginal land council boards to administer fair, consistent and financially viable housing policies. Clear and definitive corporate governance is the foundation of the most valued institutions in our society, both private and public. We all depend upon accomplished corporate governance to ensure sound and fair decision-making. Without attention and commitment to good governance we risk disarray and the erosion of expectations, and trust in our institutions and corporations and those who lead and administer them. This would also impact upon the credibility of our local land councils, and that would be eroded.
                                    The Government has made a commitment jointly with stakeholders to ensure that the governance of Aboriginal land councils is free of potential conflict of interest for members and elected officials and staff. As a consequence this will build the capacity to deliver housing outcomes and services to members, their families and Aboriginal communities across the State. The conflict of interest exists in the fact that a rent-paying tenant can simultaneously be a member of a land council. Aboriginal people from across the network have told the Government that the decision has led to poor compliance with housing policies and agreements. This has frustrated and contradicted elected boards' efforts to manage housing in a fair, consistent and financially viable manner. The bill will provide certainty for all stakeholders involved in the management of land council housing, the Aboriginal Land Council, approved housing providers and the Aboriginal Housing Office.

                                    The amendment provides greater clarity of boards' functions and roles, and makes significant efficiencies in land council administration in land and housing asset management. It also ensures that housing owned and managed by the Aboriginal community housing sector is supported to become sustainable and financially viable. Thus the quality of living conditions of Aboriginal people residing in land council managed housing hopefully will be improved. I am told there are 119 land councils across the State and that about 60 per cent of housing stock in the Aboriginal community housing sector, about 2,600 houses, is managed through Aboriginal land councils. Management of their housing by local land councils is a key yet often burdensome part of the overall administration of land councils.

                                    In my local area is an example. Whilst the Bungree Aboriginal Association does a lot to improve Aboriginal housing, a land council that I hold in high regard, the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council, has only a small number of properties. When asked why it does not have more of these properties, the land council makes it clear it does not want to be further involved in housing because it causes difficulties and because housing is hard to manage. The Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council is totally supportive of this amendment because it opens up other opportunities for the council; it will encourage the council to have greater involvement in housing and investment by the land council in possible purchase or even construction of housing.

                                    The Darkinjung land council has a model that seeks to achieve house ownership for its membership, a goal we all try to reach. But the council understands that housing is a transitional area that it needs to expand. Until a change like this comes through, the local Aboriginal land council will not consider other opportunities for social housing transition. The proposed amendment will support and refine a stronger housing culture within local land councils by empowering elected board members and strengthening corporate governance. Minister Pearce in the other place commented:
                                        It is well known that improvements in housing have a direct correlation to better outcomes in health, education and employment, as well as a reduction in crime and family violence. Access to stable and affordable housing can also provide a base from which households can access support, develop positive relationships and participate in the community and economy. In this way, improved housing management will make an important contribution to closing the gap and opening up opportunities for Aboriginal people across New South Wales.

                                    This amendment removes the conflict of interest and impediments on land councils by removing burdensome arrangements. More importantly, it assists economic empowerment of our land councils. This is why the bill is a necessity, and I commend the bill to the House.

                                    Mr VICTOR DOMINELLO (Ryde—Minister for Citizenship and Communities, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [6.25 p.m.], in reply: I thank the members for Canterbury, Wollondilly, Liverpool, Cronulla, Wallsend, East Hills, Charlestown and Gosford for their contributions to this debate. I will address a concern raised by the member for Canterbury, who carefully articulated the concerns of the Tenancy Union. I also met with the Tenancy Union and heard those concerns. Essentially, the concerns are the possible erosion of members' rights through the mandatory termination of tenancies without the protection of procedural fairness. The amendments, as I have stated, align the Aboriginal Land Rights Act with the Residential Tenancies Act. Therefore both members and local Aboriginal land councils are entitled to have their rights and duties under the residential tenancy agreements properly overseen and enforced by the Consumer, Trading and Tenancy Tribunal.

                                    I am comforted that the amendment properly addresses the concerns given that the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council supports the amendments, and that a number of local Aboriginal land councils that I have spoken with are very passionate supporters of the amendments and that the registrar also is supportive of the amendments. Notwithstanding the concerns raised, we believe there are embedded protections in that the Aboriginal Land Rights Act is now aligned with the Residential Tenancies Act and with the standard protections afforded by the Consumer, Trading and Tenancy Tribunal. The bill empowers elected local Aboriginal land council governing boards to administer and manage fair, consistent and financially viable residential housing programs on behalf of their councils. This is a very important bill, as all speakers have identified. This is an important bill for local Aboriginal land councils and their empowerment as we move forward in this great State of ours. I commend the bill to the House.

                                    Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.

                                    Motion agreed to.

                                    Bill agreed to in principle.

                                    Passing of the Bill

                                    Bill declared passed and returned to the Legislative Council without amendment.