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Tuesday, 15 August 2006
Page: 1

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (12:34 PM) —I thank the minister for his answer. I think there are still a few issues that remain outstanding, despite that answer. One is a question of procedural fairness: whether or not the Commonwealth has notified those claimants and also those who have been determined by the Northern Territory land commissioner to have rights over these areas. I think we have got two groups: those who have already successfully sought a decision from the Northern Territory land commissioner in their favour and those who have had claims outstanding and who were hoping to have them processed. I accept that these are not formally property rights in the sense that they have not been signed off under the act by the minister as being granted under the act—if that is the right term. Nevertheless, the process envisaged under the act has been successfully negotiated by the parties, they have been successful in getting the land commissioner to make a finding in their favour and, for some reason which is not clear to me, the successive ministers have failed to sign off on the land commissioner’s decisions. As I understand it, they have not refused or rejected those decisions; they just have not acted upon them.

I would appreciate an answer as to why ministers have not signed off on those decisions. Given the fact that the minister currently has the power under the act to reject them, why is it felt necessary to do it by way of legislation—to remove all opportunity for access to claim over intertidal zones, given that the power rests with the government as the bottom line already? I am concerned about the procedural fairness aspect. I have discussed it with one claimant who had no knowledge of this provision. I am not saying that it has not been announced, but I am wondering what measures the Commonwealth has taken to advise claimants and those who have been successful and to give them a chance to express their view on this proposition.

I think the minister said it was clearly inappropriate that they have access to this land. I am not sure when the government came to that view and why it is now inappropriate, given that it was envisaged under the act. I wonder what impact the Blue Mud Bay litigation has had on the Commonwealth’s thinking. Is that part of the Commonwealth approach? Is that why they are fearful of these claims being successfully pursued? Is that why they are intending to wipe them out under this measure?