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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1396


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(5.24) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the papers.

There may have been an explanation in the other place, but I am a little nonplussed as to why we have received on the same day the report from the Aboriginal Land Commissioner for the Northern Territory for the year ended 30 June 1983 and the report for the year ended 30 June 1984. It is a little unusual to receive two annual reports in this way. The Government might care to let us know why that has occurred.

The reports, coming as they do on the day that we have just had a couple of hours of debate on the question of policy with respect to Aboriginal land and Aboriginal land rights, are of some interest. After a very preliminary look at the reports, one finds that they bear out some of the concerns which have been expressed by the Opposition and which have led us to suggest that there is a very serious need for the Government to shift its position on this issue in a number of respects.

The area in which the Commonwealth has sole jurisdiction, the Northern Territory, and the area for which legislation was passed by the previous Government, has thrown up a series of problems. Those problems need to be addressed. The problems are mentioned in passing in the Commissioner's report. The fact that a large number of claims have been made, for example, over stock routes, a procedure which is open to applicants under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act as it stands because the land is not deemed to be alienated land, even though, in some sense, it is reserved for a public use, is a matter which has greatly complicated the administration of the Act and has caused a great deal of unrest and, I would say, ill-will. It is the sort of area in which reform is needed and needed quickly.

One of the things that strike one on looking at these reports is the fact that there does not appear to have been very much progress made with respect to the applications which have been in hand for some time. Looking at the report for the year ended 30 June 1983, one finds at various points, for example on page 2:

No reports on these three claims were made during this year.

There seems to be a paucity of any finalisation of applications which have been made. Moving from the 1983 report to the 1984 report, I find the following on page 3:

Of the 53 claims not yet listed for hearing, 34 await the outcome of a legislative review. The number of those claims being so large, no realistic assessment of the time needed to deal with outstanding claims can be made until the outcome of the review is known.

On page 4 I find reference to the Mount Barkly claim:

. . . this inquiry which had commenced in June 1983, concluded in September 1983 . No report was made to the Minister during this year.

The Warlpiri, Kukatja and Ngarti claims are referred to at paragraph 11, as follows:

. . . this inquiry commenced in July 1983 and concluded in September 1983. No report to the Minister was made during this year.

We find that the Beetaloo claim was considered in a session in May 1984 and that the inquiry was adjourned pending the outcome of the legislative review. The Murranji claim, referred to at paragraph 13, was not heard during this year although a final session was scheduled for 1984. I am concerned at the fact that , as is reported by the Commissioner, we find this at page 7 of the 1984 report:

The pressure of on-going work has resulted in a back-log in preparing reports. The pressure was in part alleviated by the filling of the position of Principal Research Officer . . . The Act was amended in June 1984, to provide for the appointment of more than one Commissioner; its implementation should expedite the resolution of claims.

In fact, the reports show that one of the significant continuing problems in this area is the failure to bring claims to finality. I cannot stress enough the damage that uncertainty does in this area. The deep concerns which are becoming evident in the community and which are being made the subject of very considerable debate at present are concerns which are in part the result of people not being in agreement with some aspects of the legislation and the policies which are being pursued, but that those differences and disagreements about policy are being exacerbated by the large areas of uncertainty which remain.

There is a very heavy obligation on the Government to bring more definite rules to bear to remove some of these areas of uncertainty to expedite the consideration of claims and, indeed, the finalisation of claims. The Government should amend the legislation in the way that has been suggested by the Opposition, to remove much of the very unhappy friction which has developed in this area. I seek leave to continue my remarks later, Mr Deputy President.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.