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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3834


Mr HOLDING (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)(11.09) —I have listened carefully to what the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) has had to say and I will bear his comments in mind. This is one of those clauses which will be considered by the Government in a further range of amendments that will be looked at early next year. For the honourable member to say at this stage that we should simply proceed to amend the legislation to meet the needs and the attitudes of the Northern Territory Government is to overlook completely the unfortunate fact that I have referred to previously of the very high level of mistrust that exists among Aboriginal communities in their attitude towards the Northern Territory Government. I argued for some time, I believe properly, that it is legitimate and appropriate that governments, irrespective of political complexion, ought to have what could be described as the normal powers of providing essential services. I put that to both the Aboriginal leadership and to my own Caucus committee.

The Caucus committee and I were told quite frankly that the Aboriginal people and leadership do not trust the Northern Territory Government and that such is the level of distrust that they thought that clauses such as this could be used to destroy the whole concept of land rights. Certainly they were able to demonstrate situations where the Northern Territory Government had in the past behaved in a way which, unfortunately, found that level of distrust. Until that problem is solved-I hope it will be solved; certainly the Commonwealth stands ready to try to do anything it can to improve that relationship-simply to put the argument that has been put by the honourable gentleman is to overlook the reality of the situation. If his own policy committee had spent more time with Aboriginal people-indeed, if it had met with them-it would have realised the difficulty that confronts the Government. I make no apology. As the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs I have a responsibility to discharge my obligation to Aboriginal people, but not to the exclusion of other interests. Indeed, I spend a great deal of my time trying to produce balanced and rational assessments. For the honourable gentleman to say that all these problems can be laid at the foot of a Labor government is not only misleading but also deceptive. He knows-one only has to look at the Hansard debate on the second reading of this very Bill to see this-that while he puts what he regards as the Opposition viewpoint, spokesmen from his side say quite clearly and plainly to this House, without any apology at all, that although the honourable member can put whatever argument he likes, they stand opposed to any form of land rights at all.

The perception of some of those honourable gentlemen is perfectly clear. They believe that to give Aboriginal people anything is to give them too much; it is to produce a level of inequality. It is a nonsense argument, but until that argument is addressed and resolved within the honourable gentleman's own party--


Mr Connolly —No, within the community.


Mr HOLDING —No, within the honourable member's own party, because it is his own party's spokespersons who have led this argument right throughout Australia. They lead it in this House and they make no apology for it. Despite the honourable gentleman's own personal attitudes on this matter, when we hear him saying these things we really must ask ourselves: Which section of the Opposition is he speaking for?

I am sympathetic to the argument raised by the honourable gentleman concerning representation of the Northern Territory judiciary. One of the problems I have, and the Government has, is that that is not a view that is strongly supported by the judiciary in the Northern Territory. It is not simply a question of being overworked and having a large court list and a somewhat limited Bar; it is also that the court continues to be reluctant to get itself involved in processes that it sees as simply involving itself in a level of political controversy which it does not feel is appropriate to the maintenance of both the integrity and the respect of its own Bench. Given the level of political vehemence that often accompanies this situation in the Northern Territory, I must say that I have some real regard for the views of the Chief Justice and other members of the Bench. There again, perhaps it is unfortunate that the Opposition spokesperson has not had that material available to him. If he would like it I would be only too happy to make it available. But there is a clear distinction in the view of the Northern Territory Government. Perhaps the honourable member will understand that for these reasons it is not possible for the Government to accept the amendment. But I will certainly be very happy to address some of the issues he has raised, as they will be addressed in February when we look at further amendments.

Question put:

That the proposed new clause (Mr Connolly's amendment) be inserted.