My question is to Senator Kemp, the Minister representing the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. As the minister would know, the government recently changed the Northern Territory land rights act to allow 99-year leases on Aboriginal land and gave the reason for this change as enabling increased economic development for Indigenous communities in the Territory. Could the minister explain why the Indigenous affairs minister has blocked the proposal by the Thamarrurr council at Wadeye to grant and manage 20-year leases on their own land? Is it the case that the minister will only allow Aboriginal people to lease their land to government-controlled entities?
Senator Kemp: I am aware of this issue at least in part, because the senator and I debated this extensively as the bill passed through this chamber. The government’s policy was quite clear, and it seemed to me that you strongly opposed that policy at the time. In fact, I did point out to Senator Bartlett and others that the government policy in this area was strongly supported by the Labor government in the Northern Territory.
Interjection – Senator Chris Evans: They are rethinking their position, as I understand it.
Senator Kemp: Senator Evans says that they are rethinking their position at the moment. I am not aware of that, Senator. You have obviously been in close touch with them.
Interjection – Senator Chris Evans: No, you just have to look at the papers.
Senator Kemp: You are obviously in close touch with them. The support we received from the chief minister on this, if I recall correctly, was important. Of course, this caused great embarrassment to Labor senators during the debate on this bill.
Interjection – Senator Chris Evans: We don’t need to be embarrassed.
Senator Kemp: From where I sat, Senator, it was very clear that you were severely embarrassed on this issue, I have to say. I think the government policy is clear on this. Senator Bartlett has raised an issue about a particular leasehold. What I shall do is go back to the minister and seek some advice from him. I will convey it to the Senate as soon as is practicable.
Senator Bartlett: Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer, such as it was.
Interjection – Senator Sherry: You sound like you’re passing judgement!
Senator Bartlett: Yes, I am. Given that the government’s policy is quite clearly, as the minister has confirmed, to allow leases, saying that enabling leases will encourage economic development, what are the criteria that the government have used to block the Thamarrurr council’s proposal to lease their land? In his response to the Senate, can the minister indicate why some leases to government-controlled entities are okay on the minister’s terms, but other leases on the terms put forward by Aboriginal people are not okay and will not lead to economic development?
Senator Kemp: Senator, you can always be assured that you will get a very comprehensive answer from me to your questions. I would not worry in the slightest. I will go to the minister and ask him to assist the Senate by providing a response to your answer. I do recall that, in one of your famous quotes before one of the committees, you indicated that as far as you were concerned you would always take the advice of the Indigenous communities. It seemed to me to be a curious thing for a senator to abrogate his or her responsibilities in this area.
Senator Bartlett interjecting
Senator Kemp: Yes, you did say that, Senator. I thought it was a very strange thing for you to say—a very strange thing indeed. But, rest assured, I will come back to the Senate with a response.