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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3203


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(9.08) —I do not wish to make any lengthy remarks with respect to Division 1 but it throws up a number of the difficulties which have been referred to both in the Committee debate and in the second reading debate. In clause 9 the Minister has the emergency power to act unilaterally once he receives an application to protect an area for 30 days. The only comment I make is that it seems to me that the Minister will come under the most unbearable political pressure in circumstances when getting the facts may well take 30 days and that may be the reason for this clause. But it will pose real difficulties for the Government and the Minister and I utter a caution which I hope will not be borne out in the actual operation of the clause but which I fear will be.

Clause 10 deals with other declarations. I welcome the fact that sub-clause (4) of clause 10 specifies some of the matters in the report which the Minister is to receive but those specifics in no way get over the difficulties of the breadth of definition which was discussed at some length earlier. It does seem to me that both those giving the report and the Minister receiving the report are going to have very real difficulty in knowing just how far the Act is meant to go and just how broad the protection is meant to be.

There has been a series of public comments-I think it would be unfair to those who have taken the trouble to examine this legislation in the time available not to mention them-about the fact that the person referred to in clause 10 is not a person of any particular status, qualifications or anything else. I must say that the mind boggles at some of the possibilities of the persons who might be appointed. For example, if we commissioned a report from Lang Hancock we would get a very different report from one we commissioned from Charles Perkins. The range of possibilities is endless and, I suggest, the range of results is endless. I think that is a significant difficulty in the administration of this legislation. It may well be the intention of the Government to appoint persons of a certain ilk, but that is a matter which is as wide as the Minister's mind on the matter. Let us take an example which might appeal more to honourable senators opposite: On the return of a Liberal-National Party Government, they might argue that a Liberal or a National Party Minister might appoint someone who is not at all sympathetic to the question and whose report would be very important in terms of the way this section is meant to operate. I simply draw attention to the fact that within these sections, which are the operative sections, one imports all of the difficulties and doubts that we have talked about with respect to the definitions. But even in themselves they contain notable omissions if one is concerned with certainty of operation and consistency of purpose in the actual administration of this legislation.

The other point I wish to make concerns clause 15, which provides that declarations shall be reviewable by Parliament. Again I do not wish to labour the points which I made in the second reading debate. I only say that, having had some connection with vexed and difficult issues about the extent of protection that ought to be provided in particular circumstances, the degree of significance that ought to be ascribed to particular sites and so on, I dread the thought of this chamber being called upon to make judgments. We have a bit of interest in taking part in the Chamberlain case, a most significant matter. My real concern is about the ability of the legislature to get overly involved in matters which are essentially either administrative or judicial and which really do not lend themselves to parliamentary consideration.

The Minister might get up and say: 'You set the precedent in some areas of the Lands Rights Act whereby Parliament had certain powers'. I suggest that the multiplicity of circumstances and the nature of the matters dealt with here really make this a very doubtful proposition. I have no pleasure at all in contemplating how we would set about dealing with a contested situation in this area at a parliamentary level. I think it is simply another example of something which is beyond amendment by this Committee. It is another example of how the fundamental structure of this legislation needs reconsideration and careful consideration in conjunction with Aboriginal groups. I know that a group of Aboriginals worked on this legislation but there are many groups which have had no say in it. There are many interested groups, including State governments, which have had no say in it. I think there is potential here for very great difficulty in the operation of these sections.

I contrast the preparation of this Bill with the approach adopted by the previous Government with respect to the Aboriginal Development Corporation, whereby a draft Bill was put on the table and a group of people trekked around Australia, endlessly consulting Aboriginal groups. We made a very substantial number of amendments because of the views which were expressed by the National Aboriginal Conference at both the Federal and State level, by individual Aboriginal groups and so on. I simply say again at this very late stage that surely that would have been a far more positive and sensible way to approach this legislation than the breakneck way in which the Minister has approached it. Quite frankly, I do not think this is an area in which getting runs on the board ought to be the criterion. I think the criterion ought to be getting it right.