President’s Column: 22 March 2019

Image shows President David O'Loughlin smiling in front of a black background

One of ALGA’s election priorities is to foster indigenous well-being and prosperity. Key to this is closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. Only modest progress has been achieved, with only one target met, and Indigenous Australians remain well behind on a range of indicators.

Stable, safe and appropriate housing is fundamental to reaching these objectives. A decent night’s sleep for all and orderly routines for kids are so much harder to achieve in over-crowded, worn out or undersized homes.

So, it was frustrating to hear at last week’s ALGA Board Meeting about the political games being played with remote indigenous housing in the NT and the fact that national partnership agreements for remote indigenous housing still have not been signed off with SA or QLD and that WA has a one-off deal but is concerned that the Commonwealth intends to walk away from long-term funding support for remote housing.

This situation has to be urgently resolved so some of our most vulnerable communities and families are not left in limbo about their future services. ALGA will continue to advocate at every possible opportunity for the renewal of long term national partnership agreements and adequate funding to address the needs of Indigenous communities particularly in areas of overcrowding, homelessness and the severe shortage of housing in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities.

An additional but very important benefit of long term housing funding is the opportunity for local apprenticeships. Upon completion these young workers become tradespeople and perhaps even local indigenous business people. With long term funding they can thrive and be involved in the construction and maintenance of housing over the longer term. They can take on their own apprentices and provide valuable ongoing employment opportunities which are so important in remote communities. The economic benefits of long term funding has been proven in outback Queensland and is something I have advocated strongly for at COAG.

At the December COAG meeting there was agreement to establish a formal partnership between governments and Indigenous Australians through their representatives. This Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must play an integral part in making decisions that affect their lives. I am pleased ALGA will be a signatory to this important agreement that will progress the Closing the Gap framework which focuses on key areas including health, education, housing, economic development and employment.

We are also watching closely the implications for local government of the High Court decision concerning Timber Creek. The decision relates to a claim for compensation by the Ngaliwurru Nungali People for the impairment and extinguishment of their native title rights and interests caused by the grant of development and Crown leases and freehold and the construction of public works over 127 hectares of land in the town of Timber Creek in the Northern Territory. The compensation claim related to the loss of spiritual attachment and also economic loss.

At present the Commonwealth, States and Territories are liable for native title compensation for land dealings and public works that have occurred since the enactment of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. However parties, including local governments, that extinguish or impair native title may also find themselves liable for compensation in the future if the State or Territory or the Commonwealth legislate to pass onto the proponent of activities any requirement to pay compensation. To date they have not done so and we will advocate that local governments are protected from any change in the legislation.

On a final note, on behalf of the ALGA Board and secretariat, I express my extreme sorrow and heartfelt condolences for the families of those lost in the horrific attacks last week in New Zealand.

One of the great honours I and all Mayors, Chair and Presidents have is to bestow Australian Citizenship on those who have come to our country to share and prosper in our wonderful way of life. All candidates have to read out a pledge of loyalty to Australia and its People, “whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey”. It at times like these that I wish all Australian citizens had to make the pledge, not just our newest arrivals.

Keep up the great work,

David O’Loughlin
ALGA President