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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1593

(Question No. 128)


Senator Kilgariff asked the Minister for Resources and Energy, upon notice, on 26 March 1985:

(1) In the view of the fact that recently released details from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that mineral exploration expenditure has fallen from $32m to $11.6m in just three years in the Northern Territory, and in view of the fact that the Northern Territory mining industry has repeatedly indicated that the operation of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 is one of the causes of the rapid drop in mineral exploration activity in the Territory, what proposals within the Federal Government's preferred national Aboriginal land rights package will ensure that access to Aboriginal land for mineral exploration will be permitted.

(2) In view of the fact that not one single mineral exploration agreement has been negotiated on granted Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory during the past eight years, during which the Federal Government's Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 has been in operation, and in view of the grave concern of the Northern Territory mining industry at the implications of the Federal Government's preferred national land rights model, what initiatives does the Minister for Resources and Energy propose to undertake to overcome the difficulties the Northern Territory mining industry anticipates will result from the operation of the legislation.


Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) The Federal Government's preferred model for Aboriginal land rights seeks to address the major constraints on access to Aboriginal land for mineral exploration purposes. The model makes clear that there will be no veto or defacto veto over exploration or subsequent development of Aboriginal land for mining or petroleum purposes.

Consistent with the concept of balancing competing interests in land, provision is made for Aborigines to indicate whether they wish exploration and mining to proceed on their land and to reach a negotiated settlement on the terms and conditions to apply. In the event of a dispute, or if agreement cannot be reached within a six month period, the preferred model provides for the matter to be referred automatically to a tribunal for consideration with each party having the opportunity to argue its case. The final decision on whether and on what terms exploration is to proceed will rest with the Government. Approval to explore on Aboriginal land carries with it the right to proceed to development if successful, subject to agreement of, or arbitration on, satisfactory terms and conditions at that stage.

The preferred model also addresses the questions of the costs, delays and uncertainties experienced in the past in obtaining approval to explore and mine on Aboriginal land. Compensation payments will be determined on the basis of actual damage or disturbance incurred and will not be based on the value of minerals likely to be discovered or mined, or the capacity of the company to pay. The terms and conditions under which exploration may proceed on Aboriginal land, including protection of declared sacred sites and compensation for damage and disturbance to the land, will be set out in legislation and will be taken into account by Government in determining whether exploration may take place. The dispute resolution process will be subject to specified time limits. Having obtained approval to explore, the company will be able to seek renewal of that title without the need for further negotiation, subject of course to the terms and conditions remaining appropriate.

The Government believes the preferred model provides an effective framework for addressing issues associated with exploration and mining on Aboriginal land. The Government has invited Aborigines, the mining and petroleum industries and other interested parties to examine the proposed mechanisms in detail and to put forward suggestions that will lead to a workable arrangement. The Government will be finalising its position in the light of submissions from all interested parties.

(2) The Commonwealth has had the question of amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act under review for some time. The Government's preferred model for national land rights makes it clear that the Northern Territory Act would be amended consistently with the preferred model.

Consultations have been held with the Northern Territory Government and the Northern Territory Chamber of Mines on this issue. In general they have welcomed the recognition given in the preferred model to the difficulties facing exploration and mining on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory and have indicated their willingness to put forward suggestions to find a workable arrangement as far as the Territory is concerned.

My Department will continue to work closely with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Northern Territory authorities to ensure that an equitable balance is achieved between the interests and expectations of the mining and petroleum industries and the Aboriginal community.