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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2061


Senator DURACK(11.46) —The main concern of my questions has been that rights will continue to be recognised. In part, I understand that is to be the case, although many rights will not be recognised if they are outside the zone. It would be highly desirable-almost essential from the point of view of fair play between the various mining companies involved-that everybody who is engaged in the extra assessment program in the conservation zone be subject in essence to the same regime, whether it arises under Northern Territory law or whatever.


Senator Gareth Evans —No, that is definitely the case.


Senator DURACK —That was my main concern. It is becoming apparent in this debate that the Government does not yet have its act together by any means in relation to the detail of the new regime which was announced in the middle of September last year. In the Estimates committee hearings Senator Evans was very sanguine about how quickly it could be done. That was back in September as well. Here we are at the end of April passing this legislation, presumably as a result of the Australian Democrats' support. Yet it is quite clear that the details of this whole exercise, which companies could study if they were available, are still down the track. I would like to know how soon the Government will have this detail in place so that companies will be in a position to know exactly where they stand.

I am aware that the Government has already consulted the mining industry in relation to the new terms and conditions. However, a number of the new terms and conditions are to be pretty novel, or at least that is the proposal so far from the Government. Apparently, it will be a condition that the grant of any new titles to an applicant will depend on the applicant's demonstration of an ability to comply with environmental requirements and experience and sensitivity in consulting with Aboriginals, amongst a number of other conditions which I will not go into. Clearly, these conditions will be both novel and burdensome. I would like to know when the details are to be settled and when the five-year timetable is to commence. Presumably, public statements will be made by the Government as well as information being given to the mining industry. At this stage, so far as I am aware, there has been no public statement as to what the terms and conditions are to be.

While I am on my feet, and to save me jumping up and down, I would like to pose a few other questions to Senator Evans. They concern the Aboriginal interests that are now going to arise in this area. As a result either of the resumption of the pastoral leases or, I think, of some provision in this legislation the land will be treated as hitherto unalienated Crown land and therefore subject to claim. When that occurs there will no doubt be a number of Aboriginal claims made and I guess these will be made at much the same time as the mining industry will be determining what it is going to do in this area. Who will get in first is a matter of some considerable conjecture and doubt.

One thing that concerns me somewhat is whether the new mining applicants will have to run the gamut of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act in obtaining their exploration titles. It has been made clear that before the mining stage can be commenced, on land that becomes Aboriginal land, agreement has to be reached with the Aborigines under that Act. There seems to be some suggestion that there is a difference between that case and the case of an application for an exploration licence during this five-year program and that in fact the Aboriginal veto will not apply in relation to exploration. I notice that in the Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill there is a new section to be inserted by clause 4 which states:

The Governor-General may authorise the grant by the Commonwealth of a lease or licence to a person to mine for minerals on land that:

(a) is in a conservation zone within the Northern Territory . . . and

(b) has, by a grant under section 12 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, become vested in an Aboriginal Land Trust, whether before or after the commencement of this subsection.

I think the relevant provision here is the next one, in clause 5. If it is an exploration licence that is being granted, am I right in assuming that that will not require Aboriginal consent, even though the land has already become vested in an Aboriginal land trust? What is going to be the position of land that is subject to Aboriginal claims? The most likely situation that will occur is that some claims will probably not be resolved-certainly not in the early stages of the five-year program. They will simply be claims and they may be the subject of hearings by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner; and, as I understand it, under Northern Territory Government practice the Government has not granted exploration licences over land after a hearing has commenced by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner.

The bottom line of my concern is this: In putting this new exploration assessment program into place at the same time as this land is going to be subject to Aboriginal claim, is there going to be an awful lot of jostling going on between the competing parties, the Aborigines, on the one hand, and the mining industry, on the other-assuming the mining industry is going to be as interested as Senator Evans believes it is-and generally speaking is the Aboriginal veto of, or need for consent for, both exploration as well as mining de facto going to occur?