Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee: Report 2017-18

Parliamentary Committees

Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee: Report 2017-18

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins:

That the 2017-18 annual report of the committee be noted.

(Continued from 14 November 2018.)

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Leader of the Opposition) (17:44): In starting my reasonably brief speech about the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee and speaking to the annual report, I would like to, as our President does each day that we sit here, acknowledge that we are on Kaurna land. This city, this country, is on Aboriginal land—always has been and always will be.

The Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, as we currently know it, was formed in 2003. I remember its formation quite well. It was formed under the stewardship of the Hon. Terry Roberts, the Aboriginal affairs minister at the time, who, in forming the committee in the legislation, made a quite unusual move and had the minister as the chair of the standing committee. I think he had what the kids refer to now as FOMO—fear of missing out—and did not not want to be part of anything to do with Aboriginals affairs, to his great credit.

Since the committee's formation, it has provided a very valuable opportunity not just for members of the South Australian Aboriginal community but also for members of parliament, both in this chamber and in the other place. It has allowed members who have not necessarily had the ability or privilege of spending time in Aboriginal communities to do so in order to gain a better, firsthand appreciation and understanding of some of the issues faced. It has given members of the Aboriginal communities in South Australia an opportunity to have their voice better heard by the parliament through the committee. It is an important committee that has served us well for some 15 years since it was established, as we know it, in 2003.

The reporting period covers only a small part of this year, since the election, but since then the committee has been heavily concerned with reviewing the Aboriginal Lands Trust Act, an important role of this committee. Witnesses from many communities have been called to provide evidence. On a personal note, it has been good to catch up with many old friends from various communities during the course of this year.

I will not go into great detail about the issues facing the Aboriginal Lands Trust and what should be done. There will be a report of the committee on it, but I think it is fair to say that the Aboriginal Lands Trust was a remarkable and revolutionary piece of legislation from half a century ago but has its challenges today with the expectations of Aboriginal communities and their involvement in managing their own land and affairs.

The committee looked at a whole range of issues. One area the committee looked at very extensively was the Stolen Generations Reparation Scheme, which was, in some respects, introduced by the former Labor government on the back of the work of the committee. It is important that we have committees like this because, as anybody who served on the committee and many other people know too well, a lot of issues in Aboriginal communities are extraordinarily complex and longstanding, and sometimes dealing with those matters requires a great deal of patience and understanding. It is in my view one of the most, if not the most, challenging areas of public policy that policymakers face. It is not hard to see why that is the case.

When you think about it, it is quite remarkable that we have a culture that dates to, at best estimate, at least 65,000 years colliding with a mere 230 years of something that is a very different way of life. People who have been custodians of this country and managed it very well for thousands of generations are finding themselves in a new culture that in a lot of respects is very different.

One of my close friends, who passed away a couple of years ago, Kunmanara Ingkatji from just outside Pukatja, recalled the first time he saw white people. This is a man who died only in the last couple of years, pre-dating European colonisation. There are many others in some Aboriginal communities who are number of generations into a whole new set of circumstances that do not translate at all well from the law and kinship that has served well thousands of generations on this land. For this generation and generations that follow, we need to keep working towards reconciliation on the shoulders of what others have done, and that is an important aspect of this committee.

There are some areas in Aboriginal affairs that the committee may turn its mind to and look at in the future. It is my view that one of the great pieces of unfinished business in Aboriginal affairs deals with treaty. We are one of the few, if not the only country of those we compare ourselves to, that at the time of colonisation did not make an attempt and did not come to any sort of understanding with the first nations people of that country, and 230 years later it is something we are grappling with.

Where we stand at the moment is quite a remarkable period in Aboriginal affairs, and I think it is something that the committee will look at. We saw gathered in the centre of Australia, 250-odd delegates from right around Australia representing communities from every state and territory, who came out with a statement from the heart that was a remarkably concise document about the way forward in Aboriginal affairs.

That may be something that the committee looks at in the future: how at a state level we look at the issues that relate to a voice to parliament and a voice in decision-making, truth-telling and things like agreement making. For 15 years, the committee has done a good job of acquainting members with issues and challenges, and also addressing some of those issues and challenges, and I look forward to serving on this committee into the future.

I need to make particular mention that Shona Reid, who has served for quite some time as executive research officer of the committee, is leaving the committee at the end of this year. Shona is a proud, Eastern Arrernte woman with a family legacy that extends into the Hart Ranges in the Northern Territory. I have had many discussions with Shona about her time growing up in and around Alice Springs. For 15 years, Shona has worked across areas like child protection, young offending, and the out-of-home care sector in regional and remote areas, including in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands in the far north west.

In recent years, Shona has focused her expertise on governance and accountability across the APY and Far West Coast regions of South Australia. Shona holds positions on the SA Youth Centre Review Board (the youth parole board) and the South Australian Housing Trust Board of management, and is very well known across the Aboriginal community. Shona is a regular enthusiastic attendee at events, awards, celebrations and dinners whose presence is always warmly felt. In a recent announcement from Reconciliation South Australia, where Shona is headed to, she said, and I quote:

I believe this is an exciting time to be involved in the reconciliation movement, both on the local and national stage. There is a genuine desire and eagerness for tangible progress in the area of reconciliation and I look forward to honouring the legacy that Reconciliation SA has laid before me, building on this and inspiring others to join with me on this journey together.

I could not agree with her more, and for reasons I mentioned earlier, it is an exciting time, but we need to be both vigilant and energised when it comes to matters and dealing with policy involving our first nations people. I sincerely want to thank Shona for her work with the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, her devotion to her Aboriginal communities, and wish her all the best for her new role and in the future. She will be missed but we look forward to engaging with her in her new role, and her continuing to serve her mob as faithfully as she has in the past.

The Hon. T.T. NGO (17:53): I rise to support this motion and take this opportunity to congratulate the Hon. John Dawkins on his appointment as Chair of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee. I also acknowledge the current members of the committee, especially the new members.

As the honourable member detailed in his contribution to this motion, much of the work which makes up the report of this committee was from the last parliament when I was chair. In October 2017, during my time as presiding member, the committee commenced its review into the operation of the Aboriginal Lands Trust Act 2013. The committee took written and oral submissions for this review. This gave the committee an opportunity to understand the real-life experiences of Aboriginal people across South Australia. I keenly await the conclusion of this review and discovering its findings.

One of the many roles that is important to the committee is to show its support for Aboriginal communities across South Australia by attending various community events, and it is something that the committee enjoyed very much. The committee also endeavoured to travel to visit many communities in regional South Australia, as well as communities in the APY lands. It is important to acknowledge the many witnesses who provided input to the committee on issues such as dialysis in the APY lands, the Stolen Generations Reparation Scheme, the Community Development Program and the Remote School Attendance Strategy on the APY lands, as well as matters pertaining to the Aboriginal Lands Trust.

I acknowledge previous members who were on the committee while I was the chair: the Hon. Terry Stephens MLC; the Hon. Tammy Franks MLC; Mr Eddie Hughes, the member for Giles; Mr John Gee, the member for Taylor; and Dr Duncan McFetridge, the previous member for Morphett. I thank all those members who assisted me greatly, in a multipartisan manner, to make the committee as informative as possible whilst achieving outcomes for Aboriginal communities.

Much of the credit for both the compilation of this report and the smooth running of the committee must go to the committee secretary, Ms Shona Reid. I am told that Ms Reid is finishing up in a few weeks and that she has been appointed as chief executive of Reconciliation SA. I would like to congratulate her on her appointment and wish her all the best for her future. I remember when I was the chair and the position of secretary became vacant. I was in Melbourne, and the former Clerk of the Legislative Council, Ms Jan Davis, rang me up. She was so excited that there was an Aboriginal person applying for the position. She told me to keep it really quiet and that I was not allowed to tell anyone because the interview process was still underway.

Ms Reid was given the position, and I had never seen the Legislative Council Clerk, Ms Davis, so happy. I know that, over the years, she was worried about the work of the committee. It was proven that Ms Reid was the right choice, because the briefings that she provided, not only to me but also to the other committee members, were top class. On our first trip to the APY lands, the briefing that she provided was very detailed in terms of greetings, and it also provided some words for how to say something in the Aboriginal language. It was really helpful and very useful. For the first time in my role as chair, I found myself pretty knowledgeable about what I was doing, and the whole committee really enjoyed the way she ran the whole trip.

With that, I would like to thank all the Aboriginal community organisations and their representatives who have given their time to provide valuable insights during my years as chair of the committee, which was a really honourable position. I would like to commend this motion to the council.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:59): I rise very briefly, simply to associate myself with the prior remarks that have been made by the current chair of this committee, the Hon. John Dawkins, the previous chair of this committee, the Hon. Tung Ngo, and indeed also the Hon. Kyam Maher, who is the shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs and reconciliation. This is a truly unique committee within this parliament. It comes together for the good of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this state, with a particular view to those acts, the ALT and those living on Aboriginal lands, as well as Maralinga Tjarutja and the APY.

This has been, in my time in this parliament, the ongoing standing committee that I have had involvement with, and in all of that time—although I do hear that Jonathan Nicholls was a bit of a star—I have to say that Shona Reid has been outstanding in her service to this committee. Her expertise, her insight and her great skill and talent have been much appreciated, and so I wanted to put a few words on record of just how much she brought to this committee. Her extraordinary work should not go unnoticed.

I do not know that she is going on to a promotion necessarily as the chief executive of Reconciliation SA, but I do know that they are very lucky to have her, and I am sure that we will hear great things from her in the future. I also recognise that she is part of the new housing board set up by the Minister for Human Services, and she will make a great contribution both to Aboriginal people in this state and within the housing realm more specifically. With those few words, I commend the report to the council.

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (18:01): I will be brief in summing-up this debate. I thank the honourable members who have contributed: obviously, the Hon. Kyam Maher, as noted by the Hon. Ms Franks, as the shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs, as former minister and also as someone who was working closely with the late Hon. Terry Roberts when the original committee of this nature was formed.

I also, obviously, acknowledge the remarks of the Hon. Tung Ngo, as my immediate predecessor as presiding member of the committee, and thank him for those remarks, and the Hon. Tammy Franks, who, as she has demonstrated, has had membership of that committee since her election to this place. I thank them for their remarks about the work of the committee, which I enjoy very much. I look forward to the advancement of Aboriginal communities. I think our relationship with them is strong. Certainly, I am committed, and I know that the remainder of the committee, in a multipartisan way, is committed to that as well.

In conclusion, I would like to add my own remarks in relation to our departing executive officer, Ms Shona Reid. In moving this motion, I did say how well she had assisted me with her knowledge of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in this state and beyond, but I think it is worth saying that she is extraordinarily well respected across those communities and, as we have heard this afternoon, extremely well respected right throughout our committee.

I have great mixed feelings, because I have always been one to see people develop and move on along a career path. We wish Shona all the very best at Reconciliation SA, but we will also miss her in her role with us, as has been clearly outlined here by the members and past members of the committee. With those words, I commend the motion to the council.

Motion carried.

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