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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3836

Mr CONNOLLY(11.25) —The Opposition objects to clause 13, which relates to the functions of land councils. The primary problem with this clause is the proposal put forward by the Government that the responsibilities of land councils should be increased to enable them to carry out the protection of sacred sites on land other than Aboriginal land. The implications in the context of the Northern Territory are very serious indeed. One can take the somewhat extreme example, but I think it makes the point, that under Aboriginal tribal law there are sacred sites that females may not enter or be in the geographical proximity of. For example, a road may run quite close to a sacred site that fits that category. Although it is not necessarily suggested that Aboriginal land councils will misuse the power, the fact is that in the Northern Territory there is a deep-seated distrust of the manner in which land councils have utilised their power, in particular on the question of mining and non-Aboriginal land.

This issue is fundamental and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs needs to explain why it is necessary to give land councils additional powers which assist in the protection of sacred sites on land in the areas of land councils, whether or not it is Aboriginal land, when the Minister is well aware of the fact that there is already on the statute books Commonwealth legislation as well as Northern Territory legislation in this regard. On numerous occasions during this debate the Minister has drawn attention to the report of Mr Justice Toohey entitled `Seven Years On' which was made to the Minister on Aboriginal land rights legislation. On page 133 of the report, in relation to matters such as this, Mr Justice Toohey made the point that the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1978, which established the protection authority in the Northern Territory, should be adequate to carry through these responsibilities. He emphasised the fact on page 132, at paragraph 833:

There is force in the submission but the answer, I think, must lie not in amending the definition but in establishing workable administrative provisions.

Instead of that, Parliament has changed the Act and given specific powers to land councils that are not spelled out. They are worded in such a way as to increase significantly the substantial fears of Northern Territory residents who are still in terms of the Northern Territory Government or of leasehold or freehold land the owners of some 50 per cent of the Northern Territory. Under Aboriginal land rights legislation claims have been made or already settled in respect of the other 50 per cent of the Northern Territory. Those residents question to what extent they are now to be able to conduct their affairs free of the interference of land councils which, for one reason or another, are not regarded in the Northern Territory as organisations one would want to have giving powers over non-Aboriginal land.

The Opposition has always supported the proposition that bona fide Aboriginal sacred sites must be given adequate legal protection. We supported the legislation in this House; the Northern Territory Government already has its own legislation on the statute books. There is no legitimate case put forward by the Minister as to why it is now necessary to have yet a third tier of involvement-and, what is worse, involvement which in the context of the Act does not specify the rights of owners of land who are non-Aboriginals in relation to the activities that may take place on their land at the behest of Aboriginal land councils.