ABORIGINAL LAND RIGHTS AMENDMENT (HOUSING) BILL 2011
Debate resumed from 12 October 2011.
The Hon. MICK VEITCH
[4.22 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011. It is also appropriate that I acknowledge we are debating this bill while standing on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and accordingly I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present. The overview of the bill states:
The object of this bill is to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to facilitate the entering into and management of residential tenancy agreements of less than 3 years, or periodic agreements, by Boards of Local Aboriginal Land Councils where the other parties to the agreements are natural persons.
The bill in effect aims to do a number of things. The amendment to section 42E of the Act will exempt any land dealings that relate to short-term residential tenancy agreements having to be approved by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council. This will have the effect of bringing the Act more into line with the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. The amendment to section 52G of the Act attempts to make approval agreements relating to land dealings of short-term residential tenancy agreements less complicated by removing the requirement of obtaining a resolution from voting members of a local Aboriginal land council.
It is my understanding that the amendments proposed in the bill relating to sections 62 and 230 are a direct result of the Land and Environment Court judgement handed down on 23 March 2011 in the case of Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council; Thatcher v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council
New South Wales LEC 42. This case raised some important issues of direct concern to local Aboriginal land councils and their administration of residential tenancies. In summary, the effect of the Land and Environment Court decision was that in order to comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, local Aboriginal land councils need to ensure that decisions about entering into residential tenancies and termination of residential tenancies are made by a resolution of the members of the local Aboriginal land council and not delegated to the board or the chief executive officer. However, these resolutions can authorise in advance that the chief executive officer or the board implement the decision.
It was argued in the case that it has been the practice that where issues of tenancies were raised a tenant would go before the members of a local Aboriginal land council and present their case. The problem faced by local Aboriginal land councils when trying to terminate tenancy agreements is that they are administratively cumbersome and, arguably, open to kinship conflicts of interest and other conflicts. I note that there is an appeal by Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council that has been adjourned awaiting proposed legislation. The amendments to section 62 confer directly on the board of a local Aboriginal land council the functions of entering into short-term residential tenancy agreements in relation to land vested in the council and managing or terminating those agreements.
In conjunction with the amendment to section 230 that allows an administrator to act on behalf of a council and allows it to enter into short-term residential tenancy agreements in relation to land vested in the council, or managing or terminating, this will have the effect of empowering elected local Aboriginal land councils to administer fair, consistent and financially viable housing policies; improve the legal framework to protect the assets of local Aboriginal land councils, and therefore Federal and State government investments in the Aboriginal community housing sector; provide certainty for all stakeholders involved in the management of land council housing, including elected local Aboriginal land councils, the Aboriginal Land Council and, if relevant, the Aboriginal Housing Office and/or approved housing providers that may take on the management of land council housing by way of management or head leasing; and improve the quality of living conditions for Aboriginal people residing in local Aboriginal land council managed housing.
I believe corporate governance, properly implemented and practised, has an important role to play not only for local Aboriginal land councils but also for other organisations such as not-for-profits and the for-profit corporate world. Organisations should not just talk about corporate governance, they should practise it. It behoves the government of the day to encourage, assist and guide organisations in the development and implementation of corporate governance policies and practices that provide for fair and transparent service delivery. This will ensure that there is clarity not just for the local Aboriginal land councils but also for their tenants. The Opposition will not oppose the bill. However, I foreshadow that Labor's shadow Minister for Housing, the Hon. Adam Searle, will also contribute to this debate. In particular, he will discuss matters from the case that has led to this bill coming before this House.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS
[4.27 p.m.]: The Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011 is a good first step—but only a first step—towards restoring dignity and independence to Aboriginal people in New South Wales. The bill will allow local Aboriginal land council boards to administer housing policies in a modern and efficient way, and to that end it is to be applauded. But the underlying structure of Aboriginal compensation for the expropriation of their land remains rigidly communalistic. We are told that self-determination is the underlying theme of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, and it is unique in providing members of local Aboriginal land councils with real powers to utilise their landholdings for the purposes of economic development—but only as a collectivist entity.
It is local Aboriginal land councils, not individual Aborigines, that have the statutory functions for the acquisition, management, control and disposal of land. Would this situation be tolerated in the broader white community? Would members be happy to have their house and land held at the whim of the collective? Perhaps in Nimbin one might, but people there have of their own volition freely entered into such collective arrangements—and good luck to them. There has been no compulsion. It is my sincere hope that we move away from this collectivist arrangement and promote individual land title amongst Aborigines. I ask myself: Should the Liberal Party be entrenching communalism or should it be promoting individualism? In that regard, I refer to an article written by Noel Pearson on 6 August 2011. He wrote:
It may be that this levelling dynamic is unproblematic for such cultures in their state of native innocence, but it becomes a problem when hunter-gatherers are colonised and become incorporated into dominant market society and capitalism. The premium placed on individual freedom in market capitalist systems comes into conflict with communalist traditions and dynamics, and makes it hard for people coming from communal cultures.
He further states:
Economists would point to the structures of indigenous communities that generate free riding by the rest of the community on the efforts and enterprise of individuals. Whether it is the communalism of indigenous cultures or it is the product of the history (and present-day continuation) of bureaucratic collectivism–or both–there is no doubt in my mind the relationship between individuals and their society in indigenous communities in Australia is not viable.
He also states:
It's easier for a white fella from outside a community to set up a shop in a Cape York community than it is for a community member to do so. This is not just because the local may not have the means or the capabilities: it would be even harder for a member of that community with the money and means to do so than a local person without.
The attitudes that perpetuate this dynamic are not just held by the indigenous people caught up in it. The wider community and the media help to sustain and perpetuate this debilitating phenomenon. An aura of ethical or cultural illegitimacy attaches to indigenous people who pursue enterprise and wealth, and the media is particularly interested in the conflicts.
In the current context, a communal holding does not mean in practice that everybody owns it; it means that no-one owns it. And if no-one owns it, nobody cares for it. I will make this point clearly: I believe that the descendants of those people whose land was expropriated without compensation should be recompensed for that expropriation. It is a fundamental tenet of my personal philosophy—as it should be for every Liberal Party member—that government has no right to take property without providing adequate compensation. Black, white, red, yellow—the natural right to own property is inalienable.
I will provide an analogy for those members of my own party who disagree with land rights recompense. Say, for example, a Polish aristocrat had a Picasso painting and it was stolen by the Red Army when it invaded in 1939. Seventy years later, following the fall of Communism, a descendant of that Polish aristocrat discovered that the Picasso was in a Russian museum. Is there anyone who would deny the legitimacy of that Polish descendent demanding the return of the painting? However, what if the painting had been destroyed and was unrecoverable? Surely the moral thing to do would be for the Russian Government to grant a similar painting as compensation? However, what if the Picasso has been bought from the Russian State by a wealthy private citizen? The Polish descendent could not demand the original back because one expropriation never justifies another. One might hope that the oligarch might, out of the goodness of his heart, donate it back. However, he might not, and the Russian State has no right to force him to do so. Again, the Russian State is morally obliged to relinquish a comparable work.
The analogy with Aboriginal land claims is clear. Where Crown land exists and is desired, it should be granted. That means all unimproved Crown land, including national parks and State forests. That can be done only on the basis of giving Aborigines a long-term economic base that frees them from welfare dependency. In that regard, I draw attention to the Wreck Bay community on the South Coast, which successfully operates the Booderee National Park. Its website states:
The long term goal of the Community is to establish an economic base to ensure that the future provides an opportunity for the community's children to adapt to society in general whilst maintaining a link with our past.
That should be the nature of land grants by way of recompense. Moreover, any such recompense should be done on a large scale and should be part of a full and final settlement for Aboriginal dispossession. Most importantly, the land should be given only to individuals, not to collectives. If they want to collectivise subsequently then that should be a decision for the individuals concerned, not the Government. I will quote a person whom I would not normally quote, former Prime Minister Paul Keating. When speaking to an Aboriginal person, he said:
The problem with your mob is you're like crabs in a bucket. If one of you starts climbing out and gets his claws on the rim, about to pull himself over the top to freedom, the other mob will be pulling him back down into the bucket. You all end up cooked.
When Noel Pearson heard that comment he gave the following response:
Keating was dead right. When I talk to black fellas about the crabs in the bucket they share my bitter amusement and understanding of the metaphor. Emanating from a growing policy discourse among Native Americans and Canadians, the manifestation of this dynamic is now given the term lateral violence. Indigenous leaders such as social justice commissioner Mick Gooda are highlighting the debilitating role of lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Gooda tells me that when he discusses the subject across the country it is a hot-button issue and people feel it is a crippling problem.
That problem is not solved by institutionalised collectivisation. The Greens and the Left generally like their blacks poor and piteous. The activist Left wants to keep a stratified underclass because, according to Marxist theory, it will be the most likely to embrace revolutionary ideology. Therefore, material progress for Aboriginals cuts across their broader agenda. Even more disgusting is the bourgeois white Left, who like to wear their hearts on their sleeves, to implicitly assert their moral superiority through their concern, their empathy and their pity for the Aboriginal underclass. They like their blacks traditional, preserved, kept for the next 40,000 years in a cultural amber for them to enjoy and, as an inevitable consequence, to have an Aboriginal community that is impoverished for eternity. I reject that fetish-like primitivism. I also reject the Margaret Meads of Marrickville with their noble savage mythology.
I contrast this with the Conservative approach. The greatest thrill for us would be to hear an Aborigine complaining about how poorly his share portfolio is doing, to hear an Aboriginal woman's troubles in deciding about whether to go with the Beemer or the Merc, to hear about an Aboriginal man trying to decide which suburb with a nice aboriginal name he will live in, such as Kirribilli or Woollahra or Turramurra. More than anyone else, we want to see Aborigines succeed, but in their own right. However, success is not possible under the current collectivist arrangements. I applaud this bill. It is a step on the journey of Aboriginal liberation now and for the future.
I will confine my comments to the bill before the House. As the Hon. Mick Veitch indicated, I will briefly comment on the court decision that has acted as the trigger for this legislation and, in particular, to schedule 1, items ,  and . Two proceedings were heard together in the Land and Environment Court, the matters of Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council
and Thatcher v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council
, which were decided on 23 March this year. That proceeding concerned whether a notice of termination of two residential tenancy agreements were properly exercised under section 52G (e) of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.
In those two cases the court held that the decision to issue a termination notice of a residential tenancy agreement was without power, unlawful and invalid. The case focused on whether the notices of termination were a function concerning the use, management, control, holding or disposal of, or otherwise dealing with, land within section 52E (1) (a) of the Land Rights Act. If it were, as a consequence, a resolution of the land council was required, pursuant to the legislation, in order for the decision to issue the notices of termination to be valid. As a consequence, the function could not be delegated to the chief executive officer of the land council. In order to pass a resolution to issue the notices of termination, the land council would be required to follow the procedure specified in section 52H of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. This may sound obscure, but section 52E of the Land Rights Act says:
(1) A Local Aboriginal Land Council may, by resolution, delegate to any person or body the exercise of any of the functions of the Council other than the following:
It sets out a number of functions that cannot be delegated. In subsection (a) it includes:
... the use, management, control, holding or disposal of or otherwise dealing with land vested in or acquired by the Council.
Section 52G of the Act specifies:
The following functions are to be exercised, in accordance with this Act, by resolution of the voting members of a Local Aboriginal Land Council.
Subsection (e) specifies "approval of dealings with land". Prior to this decision, the issue was whether the decision to terminate a residential tenancy agreement was a kind of dealing with land, precluded from being delegated, and only able to be done by resolution of all the voting members of a land council. Prior to the case, it is my understanding, from speaking to those engaged in this area, that "dealing with land" in 52E, or "dealings with land" in 52G, was understood as operating only in respect of dealings concerning the ownership of or title to land, buying and selling, leasing and the like, not residential tenancies. It is true that neither the expressions "dealing with land" nor "dealings with land" was fully defined in the Land Rights Act as it stood at the time.
It is not surprising that when the court came to consider the meaning of this phrase and what it had covered, the court held that it had to be construed in the context of the legislation. The legislation is remedial, meant to confer enhanced rights of Aboriginal parties. Accordingly, there was no warrant for giving a narrow meaning to the terms "dealing with land" or "dealings with land". The judge found that it would be contrary to the meaning of the Act. As a consequence, the Aboriginal Land Council concerned was surprised to learn that "dealing with land" for the purposes of 52E and 52G covered residential tenancy situations. As a consequence, a decision about whether to issue a notice of termination could not be delegated to the chief executive officer or to another person; a decision had to be made only by resolution of the voting members of the land council.
As the Hon. Mick Veitch adverted to, this is not only difficult and cumbersome in a practical sense to an organisation such as a local land council acting as a landlord or acting for the benefit of all the members of the association or land council, but it also gives rise to kinship conflicts and other conflicts. For example, families, friends or associates, both positive and negative, would in effect be given the opportunity—or, in fact, be required—to make a decision on an individual's rights about whether he or she continues to occupy a particular property. Even stranger, it would give the aggrieved person or the person at the centre of any controversy presumably not only the right to be heard by the collective but also the right to vote on his or her own interests—an unusual situation.
As the Hon. Mick Veitch also indicated, this matter is currently under appeal. For whatever it is worth, I know a number of legal minds who have turned their attention to this are of the view that it is possible, and indeed likely, that the judge in this case may not have got it right. I hope the appeal court will fix it up. But when the problem is so clear, it is the right of government to bring forward remedial legislation to fix a problem that no-one anticipated would exist. I commend the Government for bringing this matter forward expeditiously. I will mention that, although the decision came down on 23 March this year, the actual hearing was the previous April. Unless I have miscalculated, that is a gap of 11 months between the hearing and a well-reasoned, but 20-page, decision. The Aboriginal Land Council and the persons affected have been in limbo for a period of time and now the matter is under appeal. I think it is right and timely for this Parliament to create some certainty and this bill certainly does that. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. JAN BARHAM
[3.47 p.m.]: I support the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011on behalf of The Greens. As a matter of protocol and a mark of respect, I start my speech by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which Parliament is located, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to Elders past and present.
As the Minister stated, the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill will facilitate the entering into the management of residential tenancy agreements by local aboriginal land councils. Amongst other things, the amendments will ensure that decisions to evict persons from Local Aboriginal Land Council housing do not need to go to a full members meeting but can be managed by the board or its delegate, usually the chief executive officer. Residential tenancy agreements will not be required to follow the process required for other land dealings under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983.
The bill responds to an April 2011 Land and Environment Court decision, Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council
, which found that the eviction of Local Aboriginal Land Council tenants should be dealt with under the land dealing provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983. That Land and Environment Court decision created some uncertainty about how residential tenancies should be dealt with under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and this bill seeks to address that.
In providing comment on the bill it is important to draw attention to the important role of Aboriginal community housing in New South Wales and the challenges that the Aboriginal community housing sector, including Aboriginal land councils, face. Local Aboriginal land councils are the largest providers of Aboriginal community housing in New South Wales. They make up more than half of all Aboriginal community housing organisations in New South Wales, and manage approximately 2,600 of the 4,400 units of the housing stock of those organisations.
Following the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983, the New South Wales Government returned many former mission and reserve sites, including the housing on those sites, to Aboriginal control through local Aboriginal land councils. They were typically rundown housing estates, which were dilapidated and overcrowded. Local Aboriginal land councils were—and continue to be—asset rich but cash poor organisations, which left them with limited resources to spend on upgrading the housing stock they received. The location and historic treatment of missions and reserves also meant that local Aboriginal land councils became responsible for infrastructure that had historically not been provided to the areas, such as water and sewerage, roads and street lighting.
Whilst there have been a number of initiatives to support the upgrading of Aboriginal housing, the majority of housing on former mission and reserve sites has never attracted recurrent funding from government. Today the Aboriginal community housing sector continues to be significantly underfunded; demand far outstrips supply. The Aboriginal community housing sector provides funding to some of the poorest citizens in New South Wales. Local Aboriginal land council social housing accommodates more than 12,000 Aboriginal people, which represents 8.5 per cent of the New South Wales Aboriginal population. Many local Aboriginal land councils are not in a position to repair their houses to an adequate standard and have had difficulty collecting rents and paying rates and insurance charges.
Recent policy changes at the Federal and State level have sought to better regulate the sector and address some of the issues they have struggled with for many years. This has resulted in new requirements for local Aboriginal land council housing in New South Wales. One new requirement is for the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council to review and approve local Aboriginal land council social housing schemes in line with public policy. As outlined in the New South Wales Land Council policy on the approval of local Aboriginal land council social housing schemes by July 2012, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council must approve all local Aboriginal land council social housing schemes. These schemes will need to comply with requirements such as strategies around rent collection, tenants' rights and statutory requirements that the schemes be "fair and equitable".
The Greens are committed to raising the quantity and quality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing in consultation with members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The Greens support the reduction of unnecessary red tape for local Aboriginal land councils. The amendments in the bill are appropriate in light of other regulatory reforms to the sector. It is also appropriate for decisions regarding short-term residential tenancies to be managed by the elected board of a local Aboriginal land council or appropriately authorised delegates. As the Minister said in his second reading speech, taking decisions about whether a specific person or family should be evicted from local Aboriginal land council housing to a full members meeting raises a range of problems, not limited to the conflict of interest for the other members who would need to vote at the meeting.
The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act have worked with the Office of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Victor Dominello, MP, and the Office of Aboriginal Affairs to develop these amendments. I thank the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act for their advice. I also thank the Tenants' Union of New South Wales for its advice. The union raised a number of concerns with my office, the Government and the Opposition, about the eviction of local Aboriginal land councils tenants using "termination without grounds" notices.
I make no comment about the use of these notices by particular housing providers. However, it is important to place on the record that The Greens are strongly committed to improving the protection of tenants' rights and we do not support the ongoing inclusion of "termination without grounds" notices in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. I commend the Tenants' Union of New South Wales for its recent work in highlighting areas of reform in social housing, including the Aboriginal housing sector, and I look forward to progressing these issues in consultation with the sector in the future. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL
[4.55 p.m.]: I speak in support of the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011. It is important for government to do what it can to help Aboriginal people. Before coming to this place I was a staff member for two Federal members of Parliament. Mark Coulton, the member for Parkes, was one of the members I worked for. The electorate of Parkes covers approximately 30 per cent of western and north-west New South Wales. I had lots of contact with different Aboriginal groups throughout the State. The bill will go a long way towards helping them.
The object of the bill is to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to eliminate existing inefficiencies and uncertainty in local Aboriginal land council housing management. The recent decision by the Land and Environment Court on local Aboriginal land councils requires land councils to have members present to vote on issues ranging from routine business to eviction of another tenant. This could mean that hundreds of people will be required to meet to carry out the processes of the land council, which is not logistically feasible. To convene meetings on a regular basis local Aboriginal land councils would require additional time and resources. The decision by the Land and Environment Court may also result in family members being forced to vote on the eviction of other relatives, which would result in too many situations involving conflicts of interest and difficult circumstances.
The Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011 seeks to address uncertainty in local Aboriginal land councils by allowing decisions relating to issues such as evictions, termination of leases or more serious breaches of tenant agreements to be made by the board and/or executive officer. The bill will also improve corporate governance within local Aboriginal land councils and safeguard the management of their assets through the administration of fair and consistent housing policies. Under the proposed amendments, local Aboriginal land councils will have improved ability to meet registration requirements for housing providers.
The amendments will also empower land councils to make decisions on behalf of their members and to act as proper landlords for their tenants. The legal framework that protects local Aboriginal land council assets, and therefore investments by the Federal and State governments in the Aboriginal community housing sector, will also be improved. The bill will also provide certainty for all stakeholders involved in the management of land council housing, including elected local Aboriginal land councils, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and, if relevant, the Aboriginal Housing Office.
The underlying theme of the bill is self-determination. It will ensure that in the long term the Aboriginal community housing sector becomes self-sufficient. The bill will also improve the quality of living conditions of Aboriginal people in local Aboriginal land councils managed housing. Access to affordable housing for Aboriginal people often provides a base from which improvements in education, health and employment can stem. The improvements in Aboriginal housing management proposed under the bill will make an important contribution to closing the gap in this State and advance opportunities for the Aboriginal community.
The bill was developed following significant consultation with various organisations, including the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and Aboriginal Affairs New South Wales. The insight and information provided by those organisations has been invaluable. I thank them for their commitment and hard work. Finally, I acknowledge the support of the Aboriginal Housing Office. That office has confirmed that the bill will assist land councils to meet tenancy and housing management requirements. I am pleased to support the bill. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN
(Parliamentary Secretary) [4.59 p.m.]: I speak in support of the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011. I preference my remarks by advising the House of my dislike of patronising terms such as "capacity building" and "empowering" when referring to Indigenous communities. I believe we can all benefit from each other's knowledge and perceptions of issues that relate to our quality of life. I also believe we can learn as much from traditional Aboriginal communities as they will ever learn from us. We can all improve our intellects, talents and skills with appropriate education, and leaders within our respective communities obviously need to have the necessary authority to ensure that they can effectively carry out their responsibilities.
I appreciate that the legislators who developed the Aboriginal Land Rights Act had a genuine desire to ensure that Aboriginal communities have an opportunity to acquire Crown land to address their spiritual, social, cultural and economic needs, and this bill is in accordance with these values. The object of the bill is to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to facilitate the effective 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. I refer to the specific elements of this amendment bill. An amendment to section 42E of the Act will exempt residential tenancy agreements of less than three years from the operation of the section, which is located within that part of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act that imposes specific requirements on how local land councils deal with their land. That is, the amendments will bring the Act more into line with the Residential Tenancies Act 2010.
An amendment to section 52G (e) of the Act will ensure that short-term residential tenancy agreements are excluded from the types of "dealing with land" that require approval by resolution of voting members of a local Aboriginal land council. An amendment to section 62 of the Act 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. By adding this specific function to the other board functions set out in section 62, the board becomes empowered to delegate the function—or authorised, as I prefer—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 authorised to exercise the board function in relation to short-term residential tenancy agreements without requiring the consent of the council at a meeting. The Minister in his second reading speech detailed the rationale behind the bill, and I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE
(Parliamentary Secretary) [5.01 p.m.]: The New South Wales Coalition Government is committed to improving the living standards of our State's Aboriginal citizens, and they are living standards which, in so many areas and in so many ways, certainly need to be improved. The Coalition Government is committed to empowering the Aboriginal citizens of our State to have control over their own affairs. They should decide their future and not have it dictated to them. They are a proud and noble people, and it is shameful that in the twenty-first century there is still so much that needs to be done so that the lives of citizens of Aboriginal heritage are enhanced. However, it will not be achieved by political correctness but by practical policies.
For too long in the area of Aboriginal affairs there has been too much theorising and symbolism and too little in the way of practical and successful programs. There have been too many slogans and too few solutions. Political correctness has been alive and well in this area. Fortunately we have in the Coalition Government as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs a man of the calibre of the Hon. Victor Dominello. He is a man of understanding and humanity, but he brings also a practical approach—an approach that is a collaborative one with the Aboriginal community, an approach that is not dictated by a handful of politically correct elitists.
The Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011 is a good and practical bill. Firstly, it brings empowerment to Aboriginal communities by empowering local Aboriginal land councils to administer fair, consistent and financially viable housing policies. Secondly, it brings improvement and it does that by improving the legal framework to protect the assets of local Aboriginal land councils, and thus Federal and State government investments in the Aboriginal community housing sector. Thirdly, it brings certainty and stability for all stakeholders involved in the management of land council housing. The end result is that Aboriginal people residing in local Aboriginal land council managed housing will see an improvement in the quality of their living conditions.
Specifically, the object of the bill is to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to facilitate 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 agreement are natural persons. In essence, the bill deals with the adverse consequences that flow from the decision of the Land and Environment Court in the case of Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council
concerning that local council's management of its housing tenancy leases. As the Minister detailed the consequences of that decision, I will not go over the same ground, other than to say that it has resulted in uncertainty and conflict in the ability of local Aboriginal land councils to effectively administer powers given to them under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983.
I highlight the refreshing approach of the Coalition in responding so expeditiously to the concerns of the Aboriginal community in this matter. As a result of the Coalition Government's quick and decisive response, an important program administered by Aboriginal land councils in this State has been put back on track and will now operate in a much more efficient, effective and productive manner. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. MARIE FICARRA
(Parliamentary Secretary) [5.06 p.m.], in reply: On behalf of the Minister I thank members for their significant contributions to debate on this vital bill. I congratulate members on the bipartisan approach that has been shown this afternoon on such a vital social issue as Indigenous affairs, and housing in particular. One of the most important issues for Aboriginal welfare must be housing. If we cannot get that right, and if we cannot make improvements in that sector, it will be hard to reduce the gap in life expectancy in the Indigenous community. I commend members for participating in this debate, and I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now read a second time—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted to proceed to the third reading of the bill forthwith.
Motion by the Hon. Marie Ficarra, on behalf of the Hon. Greg Pearce, agreed to:
Bill read a third time and returned to the Legislative Assembly without amendment.
That this bill be now read a third time.