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Wednesday, 17 November 1976


Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) -The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill may have aroused widespread debate and interest amongst the Australian community in the past 5 months but it certainly did not arouse a very widespread sense of understanding or interest amongst members of the Opposition. The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) seemed to be the only one interested in what was being said. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) might have imagined it was an immigration debate for all the interest he was taking. But there was one aspect of the propositions put by the Opposition in the debate which characterises most of their contributions in this House. Members of the Opposition always have to organise their propositions in a litany of hate. If one followed what they said, it was this: They dislike the provisions in this Bill, but in terms of disliking those provisions they made it quite clear that they dislike pre-eminently the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, they dislike the miners and they dislike the Government. They had a special sense of vitriol for members of the Country Party, whom I presume can take care of that little proposition by themselves. Opposition members always imagine that reciting a litany of hate is a substitution for a rational discussion of what should be a very important and rational Bill.

This is one of those Bills which are only understood when seen in terms of their details. The details of the Bill will in fact verify its validity. An attempt to understand the details of the Bill will verify the sincerity of those who take it in their turn to criticise it. It was quite clear that the details of the Bill were neither understood nor comprehended by the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), and I will deal with that in the course of my remarks. Might I spend a moment making a short defence of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner), although I am sure he will make a defence for himself. He is used to doing that. On 1 1 November the Minister made a very comprehensive Press statement in which he made clear the 4 areas in which he claimed he was going to introduce significant amendments to this legislation. Those amendments have been moved. We shall wait until debate of this legislation at the Committee stage to see to what extent those amendments have been understood.

I am delighted for a number of reasons to be associated with this measure. Land legislation has always been of pre-eminent and very great significance in Australia. In fact, in the 19th century the principal debates in the parliamentary assemblies of Australia were always over land legislation. Such legislation made and broke governments. It put oppositions in and governments out. Land characterised 2 things- the distribution of wealth in the community and also the nature of the culture of the community. The history of Australia in the 19th century in terms of the States is characterised by the history of those parliamentary assemblies in terms of land legislation. I hope that the significance of this legislation, which is going to apply very sensitively and appropriately to the Northern Territory, can be seen in that light

Land has introduced words into the language. This land Bill will introduce new words into the Australian language. I believe that it will also introduce a new sense of culture, of wealth and of responsibility among many people who are going to have to deal with this legislation. We ask only one thing, that is, that in order to make this legislation work the whole matter be approached in a spirit of commonsense and of balance. Unless it is approached in that way it will not work. There has to be a sense of goodwill and of sincerity about this legislation. Five principles to apply in respect of Aboriginal land legislation have been made quite clear in the Woodward report. I believe that those principles underline the spirit of this legislation.

A spirit of simple justice animates the Government's purpose in introducing this legislation. The Government has introduced this legislation knowing that there has to be social harmony, and that is enshrined in this land legislation. The Government knows that the holding of land is crucially important to those who are economically and socially depressed. From the other side of the world words such as 'proletariat' and lumpenproletariat' have derived primarily from those who lived in cities and in large areas of population but who did not have land. As those words have entered our vocabulary, so we hope this legislation will introduce a new vocabulary in terms of experience in the Northern Territory. This legislation was introduced because people needed to be provided with a sense of identity and, not least of aU, in order to make Australia's position in the world better understood. It is quite clear that in the 1950s and 1960s and in the early 1970s attitudes in Australia towards land and towards Aboriginal rights for land had a way of being quickly ventilated in the United Nations. So Australia 's position in the world will be judged also by the nature of this legislation and the spirit of goodwill with which it is approached.

I can only compare the introduction of this legislation with one other experience in Australian life. I believe that it represents the introduction of a new sense of law and order- a new province of law- in the same way that industrial legislation that was introduced in Australia in the late 19th century and early 20th century represented a new province of law and order. There are many parallels between that industrial legislation and the legislation that has been introduced here. One only has to go through the procedures, and the une and writ of authority that are enshrined in this legislation to see that socially it is as significant as was the new province of law and order in which Australia was a leader in the world. I believe that the significance of this legislation ought to be understood, having aU those things in mind.

The Government does not flee from the proposition that this legislation contains an exquisite difficulty. Of course there is an exquisite difficulty and that difficulty is in representing 2 cultures and in synchronising the rights of those 2 cultures. I believe clause 70 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill seeks to do that. It does not seek to submerge one culture in what would be understood to be our culture. So it ought to be understood in regard to any difficulties which are claimed to exist with this legislaion that the legislation seeks to synchronise the 2 cultures. A recognition of legitimate rights to land, not by European tradition but by Aboriginal tradition, are enshrined in this legislation. Many experts around Australia have indicated the processes whereby that right to land should be exercised. These processes are different from those which we have understood to apply. This legislation has gone out of its way to recognise those new principles, and unless they are recognised in fact and understood in fact the legislation will fail. So there needs to be understanding, a sense of sincerity and a sense of very great sensitivity in relation to this legislation.

It is in that sense that I refer- I believe rather sadly- to a copy of a press release which was put on my desk just a little before I came into the chamber. It was released by a gentleman called Eames from the Central Land Council in Alice Springs. It refers to a member of this House and a senator in the other place who are very highly respected by supporters of the Government. The honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) is very highly respected, as is Senator Kilgariff. I do not believe that it makes for a sense of sensitivity or understanding when words such as those contained in the Press statement are issued by the solicitor for the Central Land Council, remembering that the land councils are the centres of authority and power in this legislation. I shall deal with that dynamic in a moment. The final paragraph of this Press statement states: -If Calder and Kilgariff have any courage then their campaign on behalf of rnining and pastoral interests will cause them to vote against the land rights bill.

He may be disappointed. The Press statement continues:

They will be the only people who will do so and Aborigines in the Northern Territory will quickly judge the motive behind their gutter campaigns.

In the introduction of legislaton which requires sympathy and understanding for the Australian people I do not believe that those are the kinds of words and sentiments that ought to be used against members of Parliament from the precise Territory in which the legislation is going to find effect. If ill-will develops on account of statements such as this the ill-will will lie with people such as Eames who have issued those statements.

In the 10 minutes that are available to me I shall consider the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill. In every Bill there is a dynamic and in every piece of legislation there is a part of that legislation which enshrines the allocation of power and authority. It is quite clear that this Bill depends upon trusts. It depends upon councils. I want to refer to the future requirements of the legislation, in fact, those which ultimately will judge the success of what is being done today. The councils are the essential dynamic of this legislation. They are a new concept. They are also a source of enormous power. So one has to be careful to ensure that that power is carefully, fruitfully and correctly exercised. I refer to clauses 24 and 26 of the Bill in order to make clear what that power happens to be. Clause 24 sub-clause (2) makes it clear that the Aboriginal councils will hold very great power in respect of conciliation procedures. Clause 24 sub-clause (3) makes it clear that ultimate authority will rest with the councils in the implementation of this legislation. I refer in particular to clause 26(1), which states:

Subject to this Act, a Land Council may do all things necessary or convenient to be done for or in connexion with the performance of its functions and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, may -

I believe this is a very great power-

(c)   give lawful directions to Land Trusts holding land in its area concerning the performance of their functions;

That is the key point in terms of the authority contained in this Bill. Therefore, the functions of the councils are going to be the crucial element.

I was pleased to note that one of the amendments which the Minister has moved and to which the Opposition has taken exception requires the land councils not only to ascertain and to express the opinion of Aborigines but also to obtain knowledge of the wishes of the Aborigines whom they represent. An added and very important requirement is to be placed upon the land councils so that they do not become overwhelming and overweening bureaucratic organisations. We know that the land councils must be sufficiently large to have the expertise to represent the people whom they represent and to order the events within their communities. We also know that they should be sufficiently close to the traditional holders who will be determined not to be separate and distinct from them. That flexibility, in terms of the working out of those 2 principles, will ultimately measure, I believe, the success of this legislation and the ability of the land councils to do what they say they can do.

Therefore, I suggest that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in accordance with clause 20 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill 1976, should divide the Northern Territory into at least 2 areas and establish Aboriginal land councils for each area. It may be that in the long run the Minister will have to exercise flexibility in the operation of clause 20 ( 1 ) of the legislation which refers to the numbers of land councils which are appropriate. The size, the number and the ability to function of the land councils are the heart and soul of this legislation. They will determine the writ of authority and respect which will go with the implementation of this legislation.

I turn to clause 19 (2) (b) which deals with the purposes for which the land will be used. It is quite clear that the land can be used on the authority of the land councils through the Trust for a variety of commercial purposes. I hope that in the long run the use to which the traditional land will be put will testify to the success of the legislation. Clause 19 (2) (b) states that the land could be: for use in the conduct of a business by the Aboriginal, the Council, or Association, not being a business in which a person who is not an Aboriginal has an interest that entitles him to share in, or to a payment that varies in accordance with, the profits of the business.

This clause enshrines the future interests of the traditional Aboriginal land. It will have force only in accordance with the self-motivation of those who represent the recipients of this land. The development of co-operative enterprises will measure the extent to which this clause has force. In any sense whatsoever it is the key to this legislation. It is the dynamic of this legislation.

I wish to refer quickly to 2 other matters in the 5 minutes that are left to me. The speech of the honourable member for Hughes makes clear that the Opposition cannot get away from its hatred of the mining industry. It dislikes the mining industry almost as much as it seems to dislike the National Country Party and, of course, the Liberal Party. Let me make it quite clear that the ultimate prosperity of the Northern Territory and the ability of its people to have a high standard of living will depend on the vitality, the expansion and the development of the mining industry. Nobody in this House wants the mining industry to destroy the life of any person or any group or any traditional group of people in the Territory. That is against the spirit and the sense of the legislation. On the other hand, one has to face facts. On occasion, one has to have doubts. I refer, for example, to Borroloola. I have seen maps of the claims for traditional land situated between the proposed lead zinc mining development at Borroloola and the Sir Edward Pellew Islands. I have seen the maps which coincide with the proposed pipeline to the coast on areas which are claimed as Aboriginal land. If one has common sense, one will see that if mining is prejudiced unjustly, everybody will lose. I make a comment in passing which will not receive universal support from this side of the House. I hope we do not have the stoppage of too many efficient mining operations, such as the operation on Fraser Island.

The authority to consent agreements, as contained in clauses 39, 40 and 41, will be retained in the Bill. The requirements for enterprises such as the Mereenie field to enter into agreements, if the gas which is there is developed, will be retained. But there will also be a judgment as to whether undue or unfair conditions are being placed upon those agreements. A judgment will have to be made by the Parliament and by the Minister. But the first judgments, the important and significant judgments, must be made by the land councils.

I refer to one matter which seems to have escaped the attention of the Opposition with regard to the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory is moving towards Statehood and it would be ludicrous to deny the Territory legitimate rights of legislation in areas which, it is understood, would be controlled by the Territory. On the other hand, in the spirit of the 1967 referendum and in the spirit of statements that have been made, a significant and an overweeningif I might use that word- authority must be retained by this House. I am delighted that the Government, in order to manifest its goodwill, has decided that a parliamentary committee should be established to oversee the operation of this legislation and to report on positive moves made in Canberra and in the Northern Territory between now and 3 1 May next year. This will not mean an end to the measurement of the adequacy of the legislation, both in Canberra and in the Northern Territory. However, a first report is due by that date.

If anything attests to the goodwill and the sense of the Government that does. The committee can have any matters referred to it by the Minister. It can determine the adequacy of the clauses contained in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill relating to the identification of the traditional owners of land and the means of establishing the views of such owners to the satisfaction of the relevant land council. The committee will be a joint committee of both Houses of the Parliament. For the Opposition to try to whip up a degree of hate, not against the Government but against the Northern Territory having in mind those provisions is, I believe, unjust and unfair.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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