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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3489

Senator LEWIS(11.55) —The Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Bill 1986 represents a decision by the Federal Government to grant a freehold title to the Aboriginal community at Jervis Bay. The Opposition parties have no quarrel with the principle of giving the Aboriginal community at Jervis Bay a title. However, the Bill is opposed because it gives this community a freehold title in the Jervis Bay territory. No freehold title has been granted to anyone in the Jervis Bay territory since the acceptance of that land from New South Wales in 1908.

Senator Reid —Nor in the Australian Capital Territory.

Senator LEWIS —My colleague Senator Reid from the Australian Capital Territory points out that freehold title has not been granted in the Australian Capital Territory. Freehold title has not been granted to anyone in both of these territories since the land grant was given by the people of New South Wales to the new Federal Government of Australia in 1908. In both the Australian Capital Territory and the territory of Jervis Bay titles have been granted by way of lease. In this particular case, the land could have been given to the Aboriginal community at Wreck Bay by way of a title for an inalienable lease in perpetuity. That would have effected and achieved the same result as granting it a freehold title without separating the Aboriginal community in Jervis Bay from the rest of the people living in the territories. It is simply another example of this Government making a mess of things in regard to the Aboriginal people of Australia. It sets this Aboriginal community apart from other Australians resident in the territory who are not able to obtain a freehold title. I might point out that this treatment is in sharp contrast to the treatment given to the lessees of the Christian's Minde settlement and Bowen Island in respect of the extension of their leases in the Jervis Bay Territory.

Historically, the Aboriginal community established at Wreck Bay is the remnants of tribes from as far afield as the Monaro and the central south coast of New South Wales. I do not intend to cover the history of this settlement, except to say that in 1980 the then Liberal Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for the Capital Territory, Mr Ellicott, proposed a perpetual lease over the whole area claimed by the settlement including the nature reserves, Summer Cloud Bay and Mary Bay, and all sacred sites in the Jervis Bay district. The community rejected the offer and called for a freehold title and fishing rights. Such title did not exist under the Seat of Government (Administration) Act, nor was it the basis for negotiations with the New South Wales Government in the early years of this century. This Bill proposes a series of amendments to that legislation in order to grant this freehold title at Wreck Bay. It has changed the basis of the existing Seat of Government (Administration) Act to make that possible. Under the Bill there is provision to establish a community council which will hold the title to the land granted under the Bill. Originally, there was also provision in the Bill for the Minister for Territories and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to agree to an extension of the grant without reference to Parliament. The Government at our request agreed ultimately to withdraw that provision.

The one cause for concern in regard to this development and proposal is that there is, in fact, a virtual moratorium on mining in the Jervis Bay territory and that could affect the Aborigines' ability to use the clay pits in the area as a future source of income. The final element in the legislation which is worth noting is that it protects significant sites to which the public has access. This is of concern to the Opposition and to the people who use these facilities. I seek an assurance from the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes)-I hope he has been given that assurance by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding)-that access to the beaches and the general recreational areas will continue to be open to all Australians.

While pleased to see that land rights for the Wreck Bay community are reaching finality after a decade of negotiation, I urge the Minister even at this late stage to consider the divisive implications of granting freehold titles, instead of leasehold in perpetuity, that would give the same rights to the Wreck Bay community. I therefore move:

Leave out all words after `That', insert `the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for the land described in the schedule to be granted as a lease in perpetuity to the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council'.