Supporting the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia report

Ms WELLS (Lilley) (17:25): by leave—I will keep my contribution short so that we can hear from the very eminent member for Lingiari in one of his final statements in the House. There would be no better topic to hear from him on than this one. Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands on which we table this report, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. This always was and always will be Aboriginal land. As we gather here, we should always be mindful that we are standing on the shoulders of 1,600 generations of First Nations peoples, and that is our shared history.

I rise to commend the recommendations of this report. I would like to thank the secretariat for all of their hard work bringing it together in time, along with our chair. These recommendations are an important building block towards meeting the 17 national socioeconomic targets detailed in the national Closing the Gap agreement. Economic growth has been central to political debate about our nation's prosperity, but, to date, Indigenous Australians have largely been excluded from these discussions.

In evidence given to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia, it was abundantly clear that Indigenous Australians support the economic development of northern Australia. Traditional owners are trying to build a better economic future on the lands where they hold native title and land rights. However, traditional owners and their representative bodies are often confronted with an overwhelming workload and limited financial and institutional resources. To facilitate economic and social development opportunities, traditional owners and their representative bodies must consult with their communities and negotiate with corporations, all while meeting a patchwork of statutory obligations created by native title and land rights.

Our report found that there is an urgent need to rethink funding arrangements for representative bodies, to broaden the support they receive. By the destruction of Juukan Gorge, we saw the power balance between traditional owners and developers can only be redressed with human and financial resources and institutional capacity. Traditional owners cannot give free, prior and informed consent that is unfettered by coercion when negotiating land use agreements without access to resources and institutional capacity. The Australian government must increase funding for prescribed body corporates and other Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander bodies with a role in the native title and land rights system. In addition, the federal government must establish an independent fund to administer funding for prescribed body corporates, as recommended in the final report on the destruction of the Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge, A way forward.

I would like to finish by expressing my deepest condolences on the passing of Uncle Lewis, a founder and board member of Koobara in my electorate of Lilley. Uncle Lewis was a strong leader who had the interests of his community at the front and centre of everything he did. I pass on my sympathy to the entire Koobara community—the wonderful people that you are—and to Aunty Melita, William, Lewis and Susie. I thank the House.