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Friday, 19 October 1984
Page: 2074

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I refer to the Prime Minister's statement yesterday in which he abandoned the Australian Labor Party policy to give Aborigines a veto on mining on their land and particularly his statement:

There are other ways of ensuring the proper protection of the rights of Aborigines than by the exercise of veto.

Will the Minister indicate what other ways the Government intends to use to protect the rights of Aborigines? I also ask whether those ways will still be in accord with the ALP platform, which states:

Aboriginal and Islander people will have the right to refuse permission for mining on their land or to impose conditions under which mining may proceed.

In what ways will the ALP platform be taken into account in determining these other ways?

Senator RYAN —The line that the Leader of the Opposition has been running in this place for some time seems to be based on the assumption that the Australian Labor Party has a commitment to an unqualified veto over mining on Aboriginal land. Any complete reference to the Labor Party platform-Senator Chaney has just made an incomplete reference to it-will show that the provision whereby we undertake to give Aboriginals control over mining on their land, to refuse mining or to impose conditions under which mining can take place, is qualified. It is not an unqualified provision and it has never been an unqualified provision. Our Federal platform is qualified by reference to the national interest. It says that a decision to refuse mining by Aboriginal land owners or a decision to impose conditions on mining by Aboriginal land owners may be set aside by an Act of Parliament in the national interest. That is a qualification, although it is a strong statement that there ought to be a measure of Aboriginal control.

Similarly, in the uniform principles which we are seeking to have incorporated into land rights legislation throughout Australia and which have been laid down by Mr Holding on a number of occasions there is a reference to Aboriginal control in relation to mining on Aboriginal land. A commitment to providing a measure of control is quite different from an absolute veto. Our policy, as I have made quite clear, is not for an unqualified veto. It is mischievous in the extreme for Senator Chaney to suggest that it is. The Prime Minister said yesterday-this has been the case for some time-that we are now in discussions with the Government of Western Australia about the form land rights should take in that State and about the sorts of decisions Aboriginal people will be able to make in respect of land they will get as a result of this land rights legislation.

It is simply misleading for Senator Chaney to suggest on the one hand that there has been a position of unqualified veto and that now we are abandoning it. There has never been a position of unqualified veto. The Northern Territory ( Aboriginal Land Rights) Act, which was enacted by the previous Administration, contains the right of the Parliament to set aside a veto, and I should point out that that right has never been used because a veto has never been applied. We are seeking to work out with all interested parties ways in which Aboriginals may control what happens on their land, but not to the extent that mining in the national interest or the public interest would be jeopardised. I believe that will happen. The legislation is being drafted in Western Australia at this stage . An officer of the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs is involved in that drafting exercise. I believe there will be a degree of control in the land rights package there, the details of which of course have not yet been laid down .

Senator Chaney asked what form other than an absolute veto could be provided. There is the example of the Northern Territory where there is a veto right. There is also the example of South Australia where there is a tribunal mechanism whereby disagreements in relation to mining on Aboriginal land can be resolved. That is another model available to the Western Australian Government and the Federal Government to consider. In short, there are a number of ways in which a State government in co-operation with the Federal Government could establish fair mechanisms whereby Aboriginal land owners would exercise some control over mining on their land in such a way that would not be against the national interest. Those kinds of mechanisms are now being studied by the Government of Western Australia and by the Federal Government and I believe that a satisfactory resolution which takes into account the legitimate interests of all parties will be arrived at.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. In light of that answer, I ask the Minister: Is she saying that the further passage from the platform which she quoted, that to set aside a refusal or conditions imposed shall require an Act of Parliament, is regarded as binding on the Government and will be imposed by this Government?

Senator RYAN —The effect of that part of the platform is that ultimately the Parliament-that could be the relevant State parliament or the Federal Parliament -determines whether mining occurs or not.