Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Parliamentary Committees

Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee: Report 2022-23

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. T.T. Ngo:

That the 2022-23 annual report of the committee be noted.

(Continued from 28 June 2023.)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (18:06): I rise today to speak to the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee annual report for the year 2022-23. I reiterate what I have previously said in this place: I am excited to see this committee wound up and to be given the benefit of this parliament having a State First Nations Voice to Parliament so that the interests of First Nations people in our state are better represented. However, I would like to take this time to reflect on the work of this committee and its achievements over a number of years.

Mr President, you would be well aware that you have been a longstanding member and, indeed, Presiding Member of this committee. Other members in this place are the current Presiding Member, the Hon. Tung Ngo, and also over time the Hon. Mrs Henderson; the Hon. Russell Wortley; the Hon. Ian Hunter, I believe; the Hon. Kyam Maher, both in his role as a member of this place and also as minister; and myself over some 13 years since I first came into this place.

Certainly for myself, the stolen generations reparation compensation scheme would not have come to fruition without the work of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee. It would not have been implemented had that committee not taken on what was then my private member's bill, moved back in 2010 and referred to the committee by the Hon. Stephen Wade, which saw a two-year inquiry into the stolen generations in our state and an exploration of compensation options.

That led, of course, to the Liberal opposition actually coming up with their own private member's bill—moved by you, I believe, Mr President—moved by the Hon. Terry Stephens, which then eventually led to the Labor government finally taking up, creating and delivering a stolen generations reparation or compensation scheme—real outcomes for those who had been impacted by the horrors, the errors, of the stolen generations.

I thank all those members of the community, particularly the Aboriginal community, who over many years have contributed their time and effort to informing the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee of various issues through the years.

I note that the committee changed in its composition. It was established originally as a standing committee that had the minister, then Minister Terry Roberts at its inception, possibly even before the days when the Hon. Kyam Maher went on to work for him. At its inception, it was designed to be a cross-party collaborative committee to assist the minister to undertake his or her role in a way that was truly bipartisan, tripartisan, cross-party, to take politics out of these really, really difficult issues.

I think the committee did, by and large, work that way, but it certainly saw a time when having the minister on the committee—which was something unusual about the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee—had had its day and was no longer serving the purpose it was intended for. It went on to unceremoniously dump the minister from the committee and create a structure where a presiding member was drawn from the Legislative Council.

It has always been a standing committee of the Legislative Council, probably by virtue of that historical fact but also as a reflection of the Legislative Council being truly diverse in its composition and the government never having held the numbers in this chamber. There were roles for the opposition and crossbenches enshrined in the act prior to our repeal of it in recent months.

One issue I want to particularly note and reflect on, and on which I believe the committee worked long and hard, is that of on-country dialysis, in particular the work of Purple House and its on-community work. Again, through that good cross party work—hard work, conversations, education, persistence and continuing to push; I see the honourable President having empathy with my words there—we finally saw breakthroughs in delivery of on-community dialysis on APY lands, and, I am pleased to say, in Coober Pedy and Yalata in coming months.

The work of Purple House and the former Nurse of the Year who leads Purple House, Sarah Brown, is extraordinary work, difficult work, in challenging locations and in a challenging situation. I was proud that the committee was able to work with Purple House to cut through the bureaucracy and persist, persevere, and get that done.

We were extraordinarily privileged to have excellent secretarial and research support over the years. Again, it was a different committee in that the secretary was also the researcher; many committees have both a secretary and a researcher, but for this committee the role was seen as having a very specialised scope of practice. Over the years we were blessed to have some extraordinary individuals in that role, and I would like to pay tribute to a few of them.

Most recently, we had Mrs Lisa Baxter, who has been very professional and provided us with her particular legal expertise as we undertook the governance and most recently the heritage inquiry. Prior to that, I believe members would be very familiar with Shona Reid, who is now the guardian in this state but who was previously an executive secretary for this committee. Before my days—but perhaps you might remember, Mr President; certainly I know there is a story about ice creams being bought on a hot day—we had Jonathan Nicholls who, of course, went on to work for a project called the Paper Tracker, which long held governments accountable for the promises they made, particularly to Anangu people.

Most recently, this committee has reported on our Aboriginal heritage laws, again with an extensive inquiry over several years and two parliaments. In South Australia we really do have much work to do in this area, and I have to say it is pretty outrageous that the best native title agreement-making process we currently have in this state is under part 9B of the Mining Act, which offers better protections for native title groups and traditional owners than other legislation. We have a long way to go, and I hope we will be walking that path.

That legislation and this state still does not take its obligations to protect heritage, both tangible and intangible, seriously, with even with government departments, in recent weeks, making decisions that I believe show our protections are not what they should be. Other examples, like Torrens, Kimba and Nilpena Ediacara National Park are all examples of sites where we have not listened to First Nations people in the way that we should. The bureaucracies have not, the governments have not and the needs of corporations or even our own government and departments have outweighed the significance of traditional sacred sites and storylines.

Members might be aware that, since 2008, there has been review after review into the Aboriginal Heritage Act. Indeed, when I first came in here in 2010 I remember the review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act, which was underway at the time and had been stalled. In particular, there have been amendments from 2016, which removed the ability for Aboriginal people to require the minister to delegate their powers, and that was inconsistent with the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and the Native Title Act 1993, and worsened the level of protection and preservation of Aboriginal heritage which, of course, is the basis for having an Aboriginal Heritage Act.

These amendments have now left us with an act that has silenced Aboriginal people's decisions over their heritage, something that I would have thought we might have been able to agree on at some point in the near future, particularly if we do have the strength and the wisdom of an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament to remind us not only of their voices but also to educate. Certainly, the status where we have almost eliminated guidelines for mining companies and which Aboriginal people they need to consult, leaving unclear time lines and legal uncertainty in the process of this act does need to be addressed.

Our laws do not give traditional owners the right to appeal a ministerial authorisation and currently only landowners have the right to cause a review of a decision of the minister under Aboriginal heritage laws. The series of events that led to the blast of Juukan Gorge, and now even more recently the Hamersley Ranges, highlights the danger of a legislative framework that has no appeal rights.

One of the joys of the travel and the committee's work, Mr President, I think you will agree, was seeing the art centres and the wonderful work, particularly women led, but certainly not only women, and particularly on APY lands. I do note that I had the pleasure of attending an exhibition last week at the APY Art Centre Collective Adelaide gallery, just outside the city on George Street at Thebarton. There, I heard the stories in terms of the paintings of Lisa Khan. I was touched by her stories of country, of noodling for opals as a child in Coober Pedy and how her connection to country withstands the distance because she is now based in Adelaide. Her ability here to interact and to continue and practise her art with her mother will continue those storylines.

Lisa moved to Adelaide when she was young because her parents wanted her to have a better education. It is a very common story for many in remote communities, but she let us know in her artist talk that every time she returns home she feels the embrace of her connection the second her feet touch the ground. Lisa and her family are not alone. Many First Nations people do leave remote communities for better opportunities in education and employment, but often out of necessity for health care.

I have been privileged to work with Country Needs People, a not-for-profit group that is working on a campaign calling for state and federal governments to double the number of Indigenous rangers to help harness traditional knowledge, connection to country and access to modern scientific conservation methods to create a win-win for the environment and the wellbeing of communities' First Nations people. Opportunities like this will not only boost local economies, but they are vital in helping preserve and celebrate Indigenous culture, language and links with country.

There is still much work to be done regarding empowering First Nations people in our state. We know that the life expectancy for First Nations people in remote and very remote regions is 14 years lower than those of non-Indigenous backgrounds. We know that First Nations Australians are significantly over-represented in our criminal justice system, where First Nations young people aged 10 to 17 are four to six times as likely as non-Indigenous young people to be approached by police. These, of course, are not just statistics—every single number is a human being with hopes and dreams who demands better from us.

We have an obligation to every person in this state to do our very best in providing them with the best outcomes, and I believe we will get those outcomes by listening. First Nations people have been traumatised by generational actions and policies of subsequent governments and peoples in denying them their rights and traditions to live peacefully according to their spiritual, cultural and sovereign legal rights under these laws.

I want to reflect and note that this is the final report of this committee—not the one the Liberals spoke to a couple of weeks ago; that was actually about the review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act—and that this is a committee that under the Liberals' proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament was scheduled to be a conduit to that Voice.

The idea originally, when the then Premier came and spoke to me about it, was that he had not had time and the Liberal opposition, due to COVID in particular but certainly with Commissioner Thomas, had not had time to roll out the necessary consultations to set up the First Nations Voice before the previous election, so as a halfway house the Liberal proposal was to set up a First Nations Voice and for that Voice to work with the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee.

This is a committee of non-Aboriginal people, by a large, not of Aboriginal people, but it was never intended to be a long-term solution, and it was never intended by the then Liberal government to be an ongoing situation. It was always intended as something that was a stopgap measure because they had not had enough time, under COVID and the restrictions that COVID had placed on the ability to consult, to properly set up a First Nations Voice to Parliament.

I find it extraordinary that then Liberal members on the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee in the past year refused to have a briefing when I moved to have a briefing from the current First Nations Voice commissioner. They did not want to hear from him, did not want to be informed about the consultations and then, by the time they were ready to discuss the Malinauskas government-led Voice to Parliament, it was too late because the bill had already been introduced into parliament.

At that point, according to the standing orders and the advice from the Clerk, we were then unable to have the First Nations Voice commissioner come in and talk to us and tell us about the legislation, because we had not wanted to hear from them when they were actually having their conversations.

I find it extraordinary to be standing here also with a committee that under a previous Liberal Presiding Member forgot to lodge several reports over several years. So I will not be lectured to by the Liberal opposition about how important this committee is when they have not got up to speak to this report. They did not read the previous report, going by all reflections of their speeches, and not a single one of them has put themselves down to speak to this today.

With that, I look forward to the First Nations Voice to Parliament. I do hope all members of parliament will actually listen to it. I do hope that they will reflect and recognise that a parliament committee of non-Aboriginal people is not a First Nations Voice to Parliament. A First Nations voice to a committee is not something that actually passes the pub test when you try to tell people out in the public, 'You can go talk to a committee' as opposed to 'You can go talk to the whole parliament and indeed have access to cabinet and have access to chief executive officers of the particular departments you're most interested in, whether that is Human Services or Health or, of course, Aboriginal Affairs—but it may be the arts and the arts centres.'

So I find it a little rich to have had the conga line of Liberal opposition members in the last sitting week all get up and speak to what was an inquiry into the Aboriginal Heritage Act by this committee, totally missing the point of what that review covered, and then, here today I am the only one other than the Chair, the Hon. Tung Ngo, who has got up and spoken to this report of this committee that apparently the Liberal opposition would like to keep, even though when they were in government they were the ones who actually came up with the idea of winding it up under the leadership of Steven Marshall, the member for Dunstan and then Premier.

I did enjoy my time on the committee at times. There is a story about ice creams that I will save for another day. There are many stories from this committee that I think over many years saw Aboriginal affairs lifted and us work together, and I hope that that is the spirit in which we will welcome the new elected First Nations Voice to Parliament when they go through their processes in the future. With those words, I commend the report.

Motion carried.