Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011

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The Hon. MICK VEITCH [4.22 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment (Housing) Bill 2011. It is also appropriate that I acknowledge we are debating this bill while standing on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and accordingly I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present. The overview of the bill states:

The object of this bill is to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to facilitate the entering into and management of residential tenancy agreements of less than 3 years, or periodic agreements, by Boards of Local Aboriginal Land Councils where the other parties to the agreements are natural persons.

The bill in effect aims to do a number of things. The amendment to section 42E of the Act will exempt any land dealings that relate to short-term residential tenancy agreements having to be approved by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council. This will have the effect of bringing the Act more into line with the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. The amendment to section 52G of the Act attempts to make approval agreements relating to land dealings of short-term residential tenancy agreements less complicated by removing the requirement of obtaining a resolution from voting members of a local Aboriginal land council.

It is my understanding that the amendments proposed in the bill relating to sections 62 and 230 are a direct result of the Land and Environment Court judgement handed down on 23 March 2011 in the case of Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council; Thatcher v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council [2011] New South Wales LEC 42. This case raised some important issues of direct concern to local Aboriginal land councils and their administration of residential tenancies. In summary, the effect of the Land and Environment Court decision was that in order to comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, local Aboriginal land councils need to ensure that decisions about entering into residential tenancies and termination of residential tenancies are made by a resolution of the members of the local Aboriginal land council and not delegated to the board or the chief executive officer. However, these resolutions can authorise in advance that the chief executive officer or the board implement the decision.

It was argued in the case that it has been the practice that where issues of tenancies were raised a tenant would go before the members of a local Aboriginal land council and present their case. The problem faced by local Aboriginal land councils when trying to terminate tenancy agreements is that they are administratively cumbersome and, arguably, open to kinship conflicts of interest and other conflicts. I note that there is an appeal by Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council that has been adjourned awaiting proposed legislation. The amendments to section 62 confer directly on the board of a local Aboriginal land council the functions of entering into short-term residential tenancy agreements in relation to land vested in the council and managing or terminating those agreements.

In conjunction with the amendment to section 230 that allows an administrator to act on behalf of a council and allows it to enter into short-term residential tenancy agreements in relation to land vested in the council, or managing or terminating, this will have the effect of empowering elected local Aboriginal land councils to administer fair, consistent and financially viable housing policies; improve the legal framework to protect the assets of local Aboriginal land councils, and therefore Federal and State government investments in the Aboriginal community housing sector; provide certainty for all stakeholders involved in the management of land council housing, including elected local Aboriginal land councils, the Aboriginal Land Council and, if relevant, the Aboriginal Housing Office and/or approved housing providers that may take on the management of land council housing by way of management or head leasing; and improve the quality of living conditions for Aboriginal people residing in local Aboriginal land council managed housing.

I believe corporate governance, properly implemented and practised, has an important role to play not only for local Aboriginal land councils but also for other organisations such as not-for-profits and the for-profit corporate world. Organisations should not just talk about corporate governance, they should practise it. It behoves the government of the day to encourage, assist and guide organisations in the development and implementation of corporate governance policies and practices that provide for fair and transparent service delivery. This will ensure that there is clarity not just for the local Aboriginal land councils but also for their tenants. The Opposition will not oppose the bill. However, I foreshadow that Labor's shadow Minister for Housing, the Hon. Adam Searle, will also contribute to this debate. In particular, he will discuss matters from the case that has led to this bill coming before this House.

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