Second Reading Speech
House of Representatives
26 October 2022
Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Amendment (Strengthening Land and Governance Provisions) Bill 2022
The Wreck Bay Aboriginal community in the Jervis Bay Territory has an unusual status. It is part of my electorate of Fenner, but residents do not vote in state or territory elections. This means the Commonwealth has a particular responsibility to residents of Wreck Bay.
The Jervis Bay Territory is a special place. In a dozen visits, I have appreciated the chance to learn from and work with members of the community.
I thank my colleague Linda Burney, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, for allowing me to introduce this bill today on behalf of the Australian government.
The Australian government has worked with the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council and the broader Wreck Bay community over a number of years to co-design the Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Amendment (Strengthening Land and Governance Provisions) Bill 2022, with the most recent consultations on the detail of the bill in August this year. This bill will:
- strengthen the council's governance structures;
- enhance the control the council has over its own affairs; and
- help to enable homeownership style leases on Aboriginal land in the Jervis Bay Territory.
The Wreck Bay community is located in the Jervis Bay Territory, on the southern New South Wales coast, 126 kilometres east of Canberra. The Jervis Bay Territory was formally established in 1915, on the land of the Bherwerre Peninsula, through the enactment of the Jervis Bay Territory Acceptance Act 1915. First Nations people had been living in the area since long before that time, and never agreed to the surrender of these lands. Middens on the Bherwerre Peninsula provide evidence of thousands of generations of First Nations occupation of this area.
During the 1960s and 1970s, members of the community advocated for the recognition of their connection to the land in Australian law. This advocacy culminated in the enactment of the Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Act 1986. The act established the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council to hold title to Aboriginal land in the Jervis Bay Territory, to manage that land for the benefit of the community, and to advocate for and serve the community more generally. There have been three declarations of Aboriginal land since 1987. Today, more than 90 per cent of the land in the Jervis Bay Territory is Aboriginal land owned and managed by the council. Much of that land is Booderee National Park, which is leased back to the Director of National Parks and is jointly managed by the council and the Director of National Parks.
This bill will ensure that the council is well positioned to hold and manage this land for the benefit of the council's members for generations to come.
The bill enhances local control over decision-making by increasing the amount the council can agree to spend under a contract without obtaining ministerial approval. This amount will increase from $100,000 to $1 million, enabling the council to pursue commercial ventures without having to navigate unnecessary red tape.
The bill assists the council to issue homeownership style leases to individuals in the community. If community members wish to do so, they will be able to take out a homeownership style lease. This will simplify arrangements for long-term leasing and provide opportunities for community members to enjoy the intergenerational benefits of homeownership. The bill strengthens the council's governance structures, aligning them more closely with those of comparable corporate Commonwealth entities. The powers of the council will be vested in the board; until now, the council's members have had to delegate powers to the board, creating uncertainty within the council. The board and the chief executive officer will be explicitly empowered to delegate functions and powers so the council can function effectively. The bill also ensures only fit and proper persons may serve on the board, and changes quorum requirements from set numbers to percentages of overall members, ensuring responsiveness to changes in overall membership numbers.
Importantly, the bill updates the title of the act to the 'Aboriginal Land and Waters (Jervis Bay Territory) Act 1986'. This name reflects the council's ownership of an area of the waters of Jervis Bay, as well as freshwater sources across the Jervis Bay Territory. It recognises the community's strong connection to waters as well as land, and the importance of the act in supporting that enduring connection into the future.
The government's Closing the Gap commitment to shared decision-making has guided the development of these reforms. Targeted co-design sessions were held in 2020 and 2021, including with the council's board, men's and women's groups, subcommittees, elders, youth, and the broader membership. Some reforms were proposed by the community, others were suggested by government, and every reform in this bill has been explicitly endorsed by the board.
I acknowledge the work that occurred under the former Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon. Ken Wyatt, in progressing this important work with the Wreck Bay community.
The government sincerely thanks the council for its work in the co-design of this bill. In particular, we acknowledge the leadership of Annette Brown and Julie Moore, who have chaired the council during the co-design process.
The council's work honours the longstanding tradition of community service and representation in Wreck Bay. Those who advocated for land rights in the late 20th century paved the way for the present generation to maintain their deep connection to their land and waters. This bill ensures that the Wreck Bay community will continue to live their culture through this enduring connection for generations to come.
I commend this bill to the chamber.