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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2189


Senator KILGARIFF —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The Minister for Resources and Energy may have an interest in it. Is the Minister aware that the Northern Territory Chamber of Mines has stated that more than 400,000 square kilometres of the Northern Territory has been declared Aboriginal land and that another 200,000 square kilometres is under claim by Aboriginal interests-in all, 46 per cent of the Northern Territory land mass? Is it also a fact that, if a mining exploration licence is granted on unalienated land, up to the point where an Aboriginal land commissioner commences hearing a claim over that land and that Aboriginal claim is successful, an application for a mining lease after the claim is resolved will be subject to the full impact of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I am aware of the Press release to which Senator Kilgariff referred and the statistics in that. Although I have not had an opportunity to check them out in detail, by and large they conform to my understanding of the situation. The Government has made it clear on a number of occasions that it regards it as necessary to break the log-jam in relation to getting access by mining companies to Aboriginal land for exploration and, possibly later, development purposes. The log-jam has not proved to be in either the national interest or, clearly, that of the Aboriginal people themselves, or at least those of them who do want some kind of exploration and development activity to occur. It is the Government's concern that there should remain for those traditional owners who do not want any form of intrusion into their traditional lands an opportunity to veto any such activity without subsequent harassment. Overall, the Government's policy position on this was pretty well explained in a detailed statement that was made by me and Mr Holding in March last year. The difficulty of translating that into legislative action has been acute.


Senator Durack —Why? What is the problem?


Senator GARETH EVANS —Because of the variety of complex and sensitive issues that still remain to be resolved. I hope that it will be possible, in the reasonably near future, to bring that rather long-standing exercise to fruition. However, it is not a matter for congratulation of anyone concerned that there has been so little activity for such a long period. I repeat: I speak very much from the perspective of Aboriginal interests as well as those of the mining industry and the national interest.


Senator KILGARIFF —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the Minister comment on the second part of my question? If a mining company takes out a licence in good faith, carries out certain works and expends money, and a claim commences and is successful, would it be subject to the full impact of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not wish to add anything to what I have said previously. That is one of the numerous aspects of the current administration of the 1976 law that require some close attention.