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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 248

Mr MAHER —My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. What progress has been achieved by the Government towards giving Aboriginal Australians land rights in the States and Territories?

Mr HOLDING —I thank the honourable gentleman for his question. Considerable progress has been made since the Government adopted an approach of negotiation with the States and moved on a State by State basis. In Western Australia, the arrangements which have been made involve the granting of 99-year leases to Aboriginal communities in respect of lands traditionally occupied by them. Considerable progress has been made in that area. That, of course, is associated with funding of $20m on a yearly basis to put in necessary infrastructure-water supplies and essential services-to those communities. That is something of a first for them. The land rights legislation in the Northern Territory is proceeding. The Northern Territory Government, having received appropriate legal advice-as it should have at an earlier time-after considerable hue and cry, has decided to withdraw its action in respect of my handing over title to land at Ranger which involved Peko-Wallsend mining leases. Basically, the land rights processes in the Northern Territory are working well.

The decision of the Queensland Government to give deed of grants in trust I believe ought to be welcomed by all members of this House. The Commonwealth, through me, had considerable discussions with Mr Katter in the whole of that process. The only time when some difficulties arose was in respect of pastoral properties at Woorabinda, which properties were ultimately purchased through the Aboriginal Development Commission at a very reasonable price offered by the Queensland Government. The Commonwealth is proceeding to assist reserve communities to put in infrastructure for the future operations of those reserve communities.

After something like 3 1/2 years of negotiations with Aboriginal communities, the Victorian Government introduced legislation which was designed to hand back two areas of land-Framlingham, which has been traditionally occupied by Aboriginal people, and Lake Condah. I emphasise that virtually every line in the Bills introduced by the Victorian Government was approved by the Aboriginal communities concerned. Unfortunately, the Opposition in the Victorian Legislative Council voted against and indicated its opposition--

Mr Connolly —Why didn't you give freehold title?

Mr HOLDING —Let us look at the question of voting to give freehold title. In Victoria, the position is very simple. The Victorian Government, properly elected, negotiated with the Aboriginal people. There is no argument that the land in question has not been traditionally occupied. There is no argument that the Aboriginal groups that have been identified have not been properly identified. Aboriginal people have said that what they want is what the Bolte Government gave Aboriginal people at Lake Tyers-effectively, inalienable freehold title. The conservative forces in Victoria do not accept the view that Aboriginal people hold dearly; that is, that Aboriginal people belong to the land. They do not want to own it in that sense and Aboriginal communities around Australia have said that they do not want to be in a position in which they are granted land on the basis that they can sell it or trade it. They are not interested in that.

The Opposition in Victoria, in its arrogance, has said: `We recognise your claim; we recognise the groups; but if only you will think as we do and accept the sort of title we want to give you we will give the land to you'. For all the talk and all the nonsense, the reality is that on the second reading of the Bill in the Legislative Assembly the Liberal and National parties voted against the whole concept of meeting the just claims of the Aboriginal people of Victoria. That is the truth. Discussions are proceeding with the Victorian Government to see that the hopes and aspirations of Aboriginal people in Victoria will be met by the Commonwealth, even if they will not be met by the obstructive opposition of the conservatives. The problem in Victoria is that Jeff Kennett is about 2 per cent more popular than John Howard, and that is not saying much.

Mr Shipton —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. Is it correct for the Minister to say that the matter has been put to the vote in the upper House in Victoria when the legislation has not been presented to the upper House in Victoria?

Madam SPEAKER —That is not really a point of order.