At the request of Senator McLucas, I move:
That the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Delegation) Regulation 2013, as contained in Select Legislative Instrument 2013 No. 272 and made under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, be disallowed.
This will lead into the debate we are having about a disallowance motion for a range of regulations that are being put forward by the minister. Before I commence, I want to acknowledge-and draw the attention of the Senate to-the Deputy Chair and the CEO of the Northern Land Council and the Chair of the Central Land Council, who are in the gallery and are sharing this discussion with us today.
The opposition will be seeking to disallow these motions. We believe that in this area-a most sensitive area of activity that has been regulated and looked at by a series of governments and inquiries over so many years-there are two key points which I think we need to enshrine in all actions we take in this area. One of course must be effective, responsive and engaging consultation with the people who are involved and who will be affected by any form of change. We have heard this so many times. Commitments have been made by a series of governments that where there is any change to Aboriginal legislation there must be-there has to be-effective consultation. We put forward that that effective consultation has not taken place in this case.
We know that the proposal by government is to make significant changes in the operation of Aboriginal land councils; to widen scope, to look at a delegation, to corporations, of a range of core issues. This was actually placed in legislation in 2006 but the way to move it forward is through regulation.
You and I remember, Mr Acting Deputy President, working on the regulations and ordinance committee and putting forward the absolute assurance that there must be effective consultation for all legislation. We do not believe that there has been effective consultation with the people most affected in the development of these particular regulations.
Telling people about it, asking for their opinion by mail, does not constitute consultation. What constitutes consultation-and we know this-is working closely with the people, working through the impact, working through the process, to ensure that there is absolute understanding and, where possible, agreement. We understand that consultation does not always mean agreement, but it certainly means respect for concerns that have been raised, and particularly respect for concerns that have been raised about the effective operations of the business. The business that is currently being done by the land councils makes sure that Aboriginal people have a true sense of ownership of their land and of any development that is taking place on their land.
The process that we have before you has had considerable response. When the letter was sent out to the corporations, naturally they responded; they always do. When issues are put before the councils they always respond to ensure that the concerns of their people are heard. There have been significant concerns about the impact that these regulations would have in ensuring that there is effective scrutiny and accountability for any decisions that are made.
The second point, leading on from effective consultation, must be ensuring that there is transparency and accountability and consistency in any kind of action that is taken.
In this place, we have had the real pleasure of working with land councils over a number of years. Through the Senate estimates process, we have had the opportunity to work with land councils in relation to their annual reports and, on many occasions, to have land council members appear before us. In fact in recent times, since we have had the dedicated day looking at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues-which I think must be enshrined in our process in this place-we have on a number of occasions had council members appear before our committee to work through issues of concern that have been raised by senators.
One of the concerns that has been put on the record by the councils-who will be impacted by these regulations-is that this degree of accountability and scrutiny will not translate to any of the processes that are devolved to corporations. And we have yet to see any kind of process put forward by the government that tells us how that accountability and transparency will work. We know that, consistently, areas relating to Aboriginal land, Aboriginal wealth and Aboriginal income are of interest to those this place, but also and most importantly of interest to the traditional owners-to the people whom these processes are supposed to support.
I know my friend Senator Peris will take this forward with her local knowledge of the area, and she will say much more about the concerns that people in that area have. But I really just wanted to make this point about accountability and transparency. But I also wanted to mention one of the more stupid aspects of these regulations, which is the time frame that is imposed on the regulations in terms of process. A three-month time frame is actually put-
Senator Scullion: Imagine having to respond in three months! Imagine that!
Senator MOORE: Minister, you will have your go-as you always do. The process outlined in the regulations includes a three-month turnaround for decisions which must involve careful scrutiny of the proposal for a corporation to take over key functions-and that scrutiny would be expected and must occur. But this is not a workable expectation: Aboriginal land councils have a clear schedule of meeting times, which we all know; when and where these councils meet is public and transparent. Their people know when they meet; we know when they meet. Not one of them would be able to turn around a decision of this nature within a three-month period. To put that forward in this regulation just does not make it workable. And the thing that comes behind that, of course, is that if there is not a decision made-and a response given back-by one of the land councils about a proposed devolution of authority to a corporation, the expectation is that the minister will step in immediately.
I have heard the current minister speak many times, both as a minister in the previous government and as the shadow minister for the last six years. He has told us consistently-in this place, in meetings and in regional meetings-about the importance of having effective ownership by Aboriginal people of their decisions. That is a statement by which he consistently stands. I agree with him. I respect the position he has taken. But the proposal in terms of these regulations does not reflect that position.
If we are going to be-as we always agree we should, here in this place-respectful of Aboriginal land councils, and if we were acknowledging their work and their place in history, we will ensure that any expectation from the government or the parliament will include the opportunity for them to do their job. That has always been the process. The regulations we have before us in this chamber do not allow that to happen. I have read here about the processes that the minister is trying to put in place. In short, if the aim is to engage the councils and give them more flexibility, the best and most effective way forward-in fact, the only way forward-is to let the land councils see that they are partners in this process, and not being imposed upon by government. That has consistently been the argument that we have put up.
In terms of the process, we believe there is much more discussion to be had. No-one believes that everything should be locked in stone, and that no changes should be made. That has never been the position of the opposition. I believe that there is a willingness to maintain the discussion around further changes and further ways to ensure that there is the best possible outcome for the traditional owners of the land-which was the intent of the original legislation. So, we are not closing down the discussion; what we are saying is that the most effective way to move the discussion forward is to ensure that due process is put in place. The regulations as they are now drafted do not allow that due process.
We need to ensure that we have effective consultation, and an effective response to the issues that have been raised by the councils themselves about why they are uncomfortable with what has been put forward. We need to ensure that that consultation is there, that it is open, and that it is as engaging as possible. And I would suggest that it involves this place, Minister-not just outside. I suggest that it involves all of us in this place-because you know more than anyone else the interest and the commitment that people in this place have to ensuring that we have effective services and effective accountability in Aboriginal communities. These regulations do not provide that. In fact, there is a real danger that if these regulations are pushed through, it will further alienate the people who are most deserving of being consulted.
I know Senator Peris and Senator Siewert will have more to say, and so I will leave it at that. The opposition will not be supporting these regulations.