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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3836

Mr HOLDING (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)(11.28) —The Opposition's position on this amendment is difficult to understand. Basically the clause does several things, one of which was supported by earlier remarks made by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, inasmuch as it validates the role of land councils assisting traditional owners to undertake commercial activities. It does not provide the land councils with any powers to undertake commercial activities in their own right. A few moments ago the shadow Minister suggested that one had to strengthen the organisations of traditional owners and enlarge their capacity. This clause enables that to occur and yet it is the subject of opposition.

Mr Connolly —Only in relation to the sacred sites question.

Mr HOLDING —Let us deal with the question of sacred sites. It seems to me that, yet again, Opposition members have blindly accepted the arguments-and, to be fair, these are not the arguments of the Northern Territory Government on this matter-of some of their colleagues who purport to represent the position of Territorians. The reality is that in many parts of the Northern Territory where there are Aboriginal sites, on both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal land, if those are sites of significance to Aboriginal people and if they are subjected to threat or damage, there will be concern among traditional people. It is true that the existing sacred sites legislation within the Territory gives considerable protection in that situation, but those provisions are currently the subject of examination by the Northern Territory Government and the Commonwealth certainly cannot predict the outcome of that inquiry, nor would it be proper for us to do so. Secondly, we also have our own legislation which enables us to act to protect the site under threat.

This provision deals with a situation that is less than that. If traditional Aboriginal people have these fears, what do they do in reality? For the most part, they go to the land council which then formulates those concerns in a way which it, on behalf of those people, can address to either the Northern Territory Government or the Commonwealth Government. In some cases this may require checking with some anthropological evidence and the land council is in a position to provide that. The land council must act within the law. All this provision does-and it does nothing more-is recognise the facts of that situation. It says that the land council can provide assistance. I invite the honourable member to look at the terms of the legislation itself. Clause 13 (a) states:

. . . to assist Aboriginals in the taking of measures likely to assist in the protection of sacred sites on land (whether or not Aboriginal land) In the area of the Land Council;

That is not an in terrorem power; it is a power which enables a land council, on the basis of a request from traditional Aboriginal people, to provide a measure of assistance. There is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, this power virtually recognises the reality of what has been occurring. It is undesirable that a body that operates under legislation enacted by this Parliament should involve itself in practices which people might subsequently argue are ultra vires. This is a practice that has been occurring and it is a legitimate practice. No one would argue that it is not a proper responsibility of land councils, led by Aboriginal people, to respond to those requests. That being the case, all the Government is doing and all that this amendment is doing is recognising the fact and giving it legislative cognisance. The kind of argument that the honourable member put forward indicates again that the Opposition has not thought its way through the concept that is involved here.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 14 and 15-by leave-taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 16 (Register of traditional Aboriginal owners)