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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 764

(Question No. 1067)


Senator Jessop asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 24 August 1984:

(1) Of the approximately 159,000 Aboriginals in Australia today, how many of these are traditional owners.

(2) To what areas of land do these traditional owners lay claim.

(3) How much is currently paid per annum in mining royalties to these traditional owners.

(4) Are there any conditions applied to how such funds are used.


Senator Ryan —The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) It is not possible to estimate how many of the current Aboriginal population could be classed as 'traditional owners'. In the Northern Territory and large areas of South Australia and Western Australia, there are places where traditional mores and social structures remain viable. In the more closely settled areas of Australia the situation is more complex, and groups have fused or even disappeared. Notwithstanding, the influence of traditional ways and culture cannot be assumed to have completely disappeared in these areas.

The term 'traditional Aboriginal owner' is defined in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, as follows:

'. . . in relation to land, means a local descent group of Aborigines who-

(a) have common spiritual affiliations to a site on the land, being affiliations that place the group under a primary spiritual responsibility for that site and for the land; and

(b) are entitled by Aboriginal tradition to forage as of right over the land.'

In respect of the Northern Territory Act, I draw the honorable senator's attention to section 50 (1) (a) (i) which provides that the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, appointed under the Act, will '. . . ascertain whether those Aboriginals or any other Aboriginals are the traditional owners of the land' ( under claim). That definition has been refined through land claim hearings over the eight years of the operation of the Act.

Aboriginal Land Councils set up under this legislation are charged to keep a Register of traditional owners in their area. This has proved to be a difficult and complex task, and the Registers are not yet completed.

Other Aboriginal Land Rights Legislation, with the exception of the Pitjantjatjara and Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Acts, do not define Aboriginal traditional owners, nor require this matter to be established.

Consequently, the question can only be answered in respect of those areas of the Northern Territory where claims have been heard and Reports provided. The senator's attention is drawn to the Reports of His Honour, Mr Justice Toohey, all of which have been tabled in both Houses of this Parliament.

(2) See (1).

(3) Details of mining moneys received in the Northern Territory by royalty associations, land councils and the Aboriginal Benefits Trust Account for the period to 1981-82 are contained in the book Aborigines and Mining Royalties in the Northern Territory by Dr J C Altman, published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in 1983.

For the year 1982-83, 30 per cent of an estimated $17.611m in royalty equivalents was paid to traditional owners in areas where mining took place.

(4) The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 sets down, in sections 35 and 64, conditions for the application of moneys so received. Section 65 (1), in addition, establishes a Trust Account Advisory Committee which operates under financial guidelines approved by the Minister.