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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 17

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (3.14 p.m.) —We are not trying to defer or to undermine in any way the operation of this committee. When my attention was drawn to the fact that the committee had not been formally established right at the very end of the last session, I took action quickly to set that in train. In fact, the Senate sorted itself out, nominated and reached agreement about its participants in the committee, and that was notified to the President within a day or so.

  The difficulty is that in the House of Representatives our colleagues are so enthusiastic about participating in the work of the committee that it has been impossible to reach agreement so far about which of the many potential entrants into this particular exercise should have the guernsey. It was unable to be resolved accordingly, except by caucus ballot.

  The issue was raised only right at the end of the last session. As I said previously, nominations were called for yesterday in the caucus so that we could resolve the matter quickly. In the normal course, that election would take place next week and the committee could then be established. I will see, in the light of this discussion, whether it is possible to reach some agreement and accelerate that process. It may not be.

  However, I should make the point, finally, that the purpose of the committee was to monitor the implementation of the Native Title Act. It is, of course, the case that the act has not gone very far down the track in terms of actual implementation at this stage, although the tribunal, of course, has been established and offices have been open to receive applications since the beginning of the year. Only a handful of applications, understandably, have so far been made. No decisions have been made pursuant to the legislation. So there is really not much at this stage for the committee to monitor. There certainly will be over the next few months. It is important that the committee get quickly established. I fully accept the points that are being made in this respect, but there has been no bad faith on the part of the government. The circumstances are as I have described them.