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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2626

Mr LLOYD —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Has the Prime Minister's attention been drawn to certain ministerial omissions which could have invalidated a range of conduct under the Native Title Act?

Mr HOWARD —My attention has been drawn to a very serious lapse of ministerial responsibility and behaviour under the Native Title Act. The situation is that, consequent upon the passage of the Native Title Act by this parliament in December 1993, it was an obligation of the then minister, the former member for Robertson, Mr Walker, to issue a determination under that act. I have ascertained on advice that the determination was signed by the minister on 24 December 1993 but, in fact, was never tabled by the former minister. It was signed, I repeat, on 24 December 1993 but was never tabled. The fact that it was never tabled has recently come to the attention of my department, and that advice has been passed to me—

Dr Lawrence —It has taken three years.

Mr HOWARD —The member for Fremantle, who is an expert on remembering things, interjects and says, `It has taken three years.' Can I just say that the determination was signed by the former minister, Frank Walker, on 24 December 1993, and the fact that it was not tabled came to light because some amendment to that determination was required. When an amendment of that determination was required, then recourse was had to the record to see the date of the tabling of the original determination. It was ascertained that that had simply not been tabled by the former minister.

I would have to say that I cannot think of a baser example of ministerial failure than an inability, having signed a document, to even table it. I say to the House that the net effect of the failure of Frank Walker is that he, by that failure, and the former Keating government, by that failure, could well have cast a legal doubt over a large number of acts affecting the Aboriginal community, the pastoral industry and the mining industry as a result. No wonder there has been a decline in confidence in relation to ministerial competence and a decline in the attitude of the community towards ministerial standards. The situation is that Frank Walker failed, having signed the determination, to put it on the table. That has recently been discovered for the reason that I explained.

We will table the determination later this week. Talk about a lapse of time! He signed it in December 1993 and we have to table it, belatedly, on his behalf. He has proved himself to be a rank, incompetent minister. He is an example of the rank, incompetent ministerial standards of the former government. We will table that determination. We will also take advice from the states—from the mining industry, the pastoral industry and the Aboriginal community—as to whether any other patch-up remedial measures are required. I remind the House that the legislation that was meant to be the piece de resistance of the social agenda of the Keating government meant so little to Frank Walker that he even forgot to table a bit of paper.