Land, Water and Other Legislation Amendment Bill

Hon. GW ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Premier) (4.59 pm): I rise to make a blessedly brief contribution to the debate on the Land, Water and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. I am pleased to support this legislation, as it clarifies a number of important issues within my portfolio and reflects a key Queensland government commitment to reduce red tape. I also congratulate the Minister for Natural Resources and Mines for developing legislation that facilitates access to land and natural resources that are of vital importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders. 

The bill is clear evidence of the Queensland government’s commitment to reduce red tape and unnecessary regulation. The bill amends various acts across the resources and mining portfolio to streamline various operational land, water and petroleum provisions, eliminate inconsistencies and achieve red-tape reductions. These include amendments to a number of key pieces of legislation, including the Aboriginal Land Act 1991, the Torres Strait Islander Land Act 1991 and the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007. Although the bill is administrative in nature, it provides scope for real improvement for individuals and communities. For example, the bill supports the streamlined transfer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land and provides land trusts with greater powers over trust members. These provisions will better equip organisations to deal with internal governance issues, build internal capacity and increase transparency for stakeholders. 

I am also pleased that the bill accommodates my department’s request to make the Starcke National Park transferable rather than claimable under the Aboriginal Land Act. This will ensure that the Starcke National Park can be treated in the same way as three nearby parks and eventually converted to national park to be jointly managed by traditional owners and the government. In the same fashion, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji parks on the southern edge of the Cape York Peninsula region will also now be included in that region. This will pave the way for their future conversion as jointly managed parks subject to available funding and should result in the withdrawal of the Aboriginal land claim over the Cedar Bay National Park, resulting in a substantial cost saving to the government. These are significant developments and I am pleased to note that they have received very strong support from the relevant land council. 

The Queensland government continues to recognise that more efficient utilisation of Queensland’s resources is vital to delivering enhanced economic outcomes for Queensland. Given our commitment to red-tape reduction, it is timely to ensure that our existing legislative arrangements provide the most effective and efficient framework to regulate Queensland’s valuable resources. The Queensland government recognises the ambiguity inherent in the previous legislation and is committed to providing necessary clarification to better manage Queensland’s natural resources. Furthermore, the legislation appropriately recognises and supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders by providing very real improvements in processes for developing and dealing with relevant lands and resources. 

As I mentioned earlier, a key objective of this bill is to reduce red tape and regulation. The bill achieves this by removing unnecessary regulatory requirements and streamlining frameworks. I welcome the amendment to the existing Water Act 2000, which provides Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders with access as of right to water for carrying out traditional and customary responsibilities on country. In general, the state issues entitlements to take or interfere with water by following the processes described in the Water Act 2000. Although these processes are necessary to advance the sustainable management and efficient use of water, there are situations where they do not apply—situations where persons may take or interfere with water without having to apply or to hold a water licence or other Water Act approval. These situations are specified in section 20 of the Water Act. The bill amends that section to identify additional situations where a person may take water without a water entitlement, effectively streamlining the process and requirements for accessing water in Queensland. Section 20 has been redrafted to clearly identify situations where a water entitlement is not required. 

One of the few exemptions provided by the bill authorises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parties to take or interfere with water for traditional activities or for cultural purposes, for example, taking water for performing rites or other ceremonies. This amendment recognises the spiritual relationship between Indigenous people and their traditionally owned territories and waters and embodies in Queensland law the recognition of Indigenous rights to water that are provided in the Commonwealth Native Title Act. In doing so, it builds upon the rights recognised under the Native Title Act. 

Importantly, the definition of traditional activities inserted into the Water Act reflects the definition in the Native Title Act. Using this definition in conjunction with the existing definitions of Aboriginal cultural heritage and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage that are provided in the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act and the Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act will ensure the consistent use of terminology, minimising confusion about when authorisation applies. While the definitions used in the new section 20B specify that this new authorisation does not extend to commercial activities, access to water for commercial purposes and economic development will continue to be addressed through the catchment based water planning process. In addition to authorising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parties to take or interfere with water for traditional activities or cultural purposes, the amendments to section 20 also authorise the taking of water for firefighting, testing firefighting equipment and constructing water observation bores and water monitoring laws. 

Another red-tape reduction initiative implemented through amendments to section 20 is the streamlining of environmental approvals for diverting watercourses for resource activities. Currently, a proponent of a resource activity who wishes to divert a watercourse as part of their operations must obtain an environmental authority and a water licence to interfere with water. The amendment to section 20 removes the requirement to obtain a water licence for the diversion, providing the impacts of the diversion are assessed as part of a grant of the environmental authority and the environmental authority was granted with conditions about the diversion. This amendment will enable the impacts of a diversion to be assessed as part of a single application process, making it easier for project proponents to do business with the government. 

I am pleased to support this bill. I thank the Minister for Natural Resources and Mines and his department for its development. I commend the bill to the House.