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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4004

Senator HERRON (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —Yesterday Senator Kernot asked me a question about pastoral leases administration in relation to point 4 of the 10-point plan. I seek leave to have the answer incorporated in Hansard .

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows

On Wednesday, 28 May 1997 (Hansard page 3501) Senator Kernot asked me a question without notice about pastoral leases administration in relation to point 4 of the 10-point plan. I took the question on notice and now provide the following answer:

"The Government is aware that there have been at least seven reviews or inquiries at state or territory level over the last twenty years touching on land tenure in the pastoral zone. Of those reviews that addressed actual tenure issues, several recommended that leasehold tenure be retained in pastoral areas and that it be refined in various ways, (for example recommending that term leases be upgraded to perpetual leases).

Point 4 of the 10-point plan reflects the Wik decision that native title is extinguished to the extent of inconsistency with rights granted under a lease, that it can co-exist to the extent that the rights are not inconsistent, and that leaseholders' rights will `prevail' over those of native title holders. It also ensures that leaseholders can operate and manage their primary production businesses within the terms of their lease, notwithstanding any native title that might be claimed or found to exist. Native title holders or claimants will not be able to interfere with such management decisions as the siting of a dam.

Where permitted under state or territory legislation, the Native Title Act already allows a state or territory to acquire native title rights for the benefit of third parties, including for the purpose of granting freehold tenure. Under the proposed amendments, where the states or territory provides procedural rights to native title holders equivalent to those available to the lessee, the `right to negotiate' will not apply in relation to such an acquisition. Land management issues will remain a matter for state and territory governments.

Where a state or territory proposes to upgrade a lease to freehold, or to a tenure which involves exclusive possession, it must acquire the native title rights over the lease or that part of the lease, by agreement or by means of compulsory acquisition, with compensation being payable by the relevant government where native title is proven. It is relevant in this context that the Queensland Premier, Mr Borbidge, as recently as 22 May, spoke about the proposal in terms of acquisition and re-issue of the lease in a form of `perpetual exclusive' lease, which I note is not freehold."