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Monday, 22 October 1984
Page: 2102

Senator KILGARIFF —I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, although perhaps it should be to Senator Button as it appears the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Clyde Holding, has been silenced . I ask: Does the Prime Minister's statement in Perth on Friday represent the Government's final position on uniform national legislation on Aboriginal land rights? In particular, is the rejection of a mining veto on Aboriginal land a firm and unequivocal commitment which will not be changed should the Government be returned at the coming election?

Senator RYAN —As Senator Kilgariff's question suggests, the Prime Minister, in conjunction with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Premier of Western Australia, issued a Press statement in Perth on 19 October. That statement makes it perfectly clear that Aboriginal people, while not exercising an absolute veto over mining or exploration on Aboriginal land, will have the right to argue their case in an independent judicial tribunal. That position is consistent with statements that the Minister has made, which the Prime Minister has made previously and which I have made and with Labor Party policy that Aboriginal people should be able to exercise control in relation to mining operations on Aboriginal land. It is a position consistent with the fundamental principle that minerals are vested in the Crown and that ultimate decisions as to their exploitation or otherwise should rest with the elected Government. The proposed tribunal will provide the Government with an independent assessment and recommendations in the event that Aboriginals object to exploration or mining on Aboriginal land and it will also ensure that disputes arising between mining interests and Aboriginal interests as to the terms and conditions under which mining operations take place can be effectively and properly resolved. As to the question of overriding Federal legislation, the Prime Minister reconfirmed the Commonwealth Government's commitment to its constitutional responsibilities in the field of Aboriginal affairs. He pointed out that those States which had or were working towards legislation which would be compatible with Commonwealth aims had no cause for concern about Federal legislation on this subject. Federal legislation would be prepared on the basis of full and continuing consultation between the Commonwealth, the States, Aboriginal organisations, the mining industry, primary industry and other relevant organisations.

Of course what is not clear in this land rights debate is the means by which the Opposition, particularly the Liberal Party, will resolve the very obvious differences which exist between the Federal Liberal Party and its State branches . On the one hand the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Porter, claims that the Liberal Party has a policy supporting Aboriginal land rights but, on the other hand, we have public statements from Mr Hassell in Western Australia, Mr Greiner in New South Wales and Mr Kennett in Victoria resolutely opposing any form of land rights. So perhaps Senator Chaney, on behalf of the Opposition, could indicate in clear and unequivocal terms whether the Liberal Party at the Federal and State levels supports the concept of Aboriginal land rights and whether, in the unlikely and hypothetical event that the Opposition were returned to government, it would introduce legislation providing for Aboriginal land rights in Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, despite the stated opposition of the Liberal Party branches in those States.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, under the Standing Orders I ask the Minister to table the paper from which she quoted, and can I say to her that we have a published Aboriginal affairs policy which she should read.

The PRESIDENT —Will the Minister table the paper from which she quoted?

Senator RYAN —Yes, Mr President.