Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill

31 August, 2020


I rise to speak on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020, and I acknowledge the Mirarr people and the traditional custodians of the land on which I currently stand, the Ngunawal and Ngambri people, and I pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging. I would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the electorate of Warringah, the Gayamaygal, the Cammaraygal and the Borogegal, as the first people of Warringah and pay respect to their elders.

This bill amends the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory Act) 1976 to effect the transfer of ownership of Jabiru township land to the traditional custodians, the Mirarr people. Jabiru township is part of Kakadu National Park and was established in 1981 to service the Ranger Uranium Mine, which will cease operations by January 2021. Negotiations for the return of the town land to the Mirarr traditional owners and the execution of the new township lease are underway. The intent is for the traditional custodians to transition the township to a tourism and service hub. The federal government has announced $216 million in investment over 10 years to upgrade Kakadu National Park, and this bill will assist in the fulfilment of that commitment.

In August 2019, the future of Jabiru memorandum of understanding was signed between the Australian government, the Northern Territory government, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation. The MOU supports the implementation of the Jabiru Masterplan released in July 2018, setting out the vision of the traditional owners for the Jabiru township post mining as a tourism and services hub.

This legislation is important for the economic empowerment of Indigenous Australians. This economic empowerment is essential to improvement in the quality of life and the achievement of Closing the Gap metrics. Empowerment of Indigenous people will also undoubtedly improve the prospects for the preservation of culture and heritage of significant sites. In the recent blasting of the Juukan Gorge, we have seen stark examples of the destruction that can occur when mining companies are given free rein over large tracts of land. Taking empowerment to the next steps through constitutional recognition and the establishment of a voice to parliament is essential to the truth telling that Indigenous Australians demand and deserve.

This particular bill looks exclusively at the arrangements for Jabiru and the handover of the lease from the resources companies to the Mirarr people. The Mirarr people and their representative body have welcomed the legislation as the first step towards the realisation of their vision and master plan for the town and the region. The vision and master plan are centred on a new, sustainable kind of tourism and regional services across the Kakadu region. They're calling for the early release of the federal government's funding so that they can stimulate the economy and commence construction in 2021, making the most of the current shutdown—as difficult as it is. Lack of traffic in Kakadu creates the opportunity of stimulating the construction industry in the Northern Territory.

This legislation is ethical and should serve as a basis for future transition agreements, ensuring economic empowerment of Indigenous communities. It's a stark contrast to the treatment of the traditional owners back in 1977 when the Ranger mine was first established. In 1977, the Ranger inquiry report concluded that the land for the then proposed town should not be granted as Aboriginal land under the newly formed Aboriginal land rights act. It meant that the traditional custodians' power to stop the uranium industry operating on their land was diminished. In 1981 the Director of National Parks and Wildlife granted a 40-year lease to the Jabiru Town Development Authority, who then sublet the site to the owners of the Ranger Uranium Mine. The native title claim over Jabiru was one of the longest-running cases in the Northern Territory and was only settled in 2013.

I have received many requests from constituents in Warringah to push for greater empowerment of Indigenous Australians. Economic empowerment is one step towards that self-determination. I've also received correspondence regarding the devastation that occurred at Juukan Gorge. It's noted that a major shareholder of the Ranger mine is Rio Tinto, also responsible for the destruction of the culturally significant site at Juukan Gorge. It's essential that the land under this agreement is rehabilitated to the standard that the traditional custodians expect. Concerns that the mining company will not have the funds to properly rehabilitate the mine area must not be realised. Traditional custodians have said it is of the utmost importance that the site is properly cleaned up, emphasising that the land contains sacred sites. So I urge the Minister for the Environment to oversee the clean-up effort and ensure that the rehabilitation is completed to the highest standard.

I acknowledge the member for Barton's amendment to this bill, regarding the Free the Flag campaign. I certainly support the conversation about the rights to the Indigenous flag, and I believe that this should in fact be a matter for debate in its own right. I look forward to visiting the realisation of the Mirarr people's vision. I trust that the funds will be released in a timely manner and that the appropriate oversight of the transition, including the rehabilitation, will be undertaken. I encourage greater involvement of the traditional custodians of the land in all aspects of the management of mine sites and the development of a greater degree of respect for our cultural heritage.