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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1292

Senator ELLISON —I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I direct Senator Gareth Evans to the article in the Australian today dealing with the problems arising from native title claims over national parks. Will successful native title claimants be governed by state and federal environmental laws in the event that they have successful claims over national parks? If not, how can the government assure the Australian people that national parks will continue to have the same protection as they currently enjoy?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Australian people's existing access to national parks or other recreation areas throughout the country is well and truly protected by the Native Title Act. It is perfectly possible, as a matter of law, that native title itself has survived the declaration of a national park. However, section 212 of that act makes it absolutely clear that Commonwealth states and territories can confirm existing public access to, and enjoyment of, areas that were public places as at the end of 1993. This clearly includes national parks where there is a right of public access, which is the usual provision, of course.

  Moreover, section 228 enables the validation of a range of past government actions, including legislation which establishes national parks. I am afraid, as is so often the case with stories about the potential applicability of the Native Title Act, there is no substance whatsoever to the fears that have been expressed about access to such areas of land which are, and should continue to be, the province of all Australians to enjoy.

Senator ELLISON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note Senator Evans's comments in relation to public access, but perhaps he could enlighten us as to the environmental aspects and as to whether state legislation in relation to the environment will be validated, and whether that will have any effect over successful native title claimants.

Senator GARETH EVANS —If native title claimants cannot get title recognised to national parks in the context of limiting anybody else's access to them, then I doubt that that situation would arise. It would be simply a recognition of the vitality of their relationship with that particular land. They would not have any capacity to exclude others by definition from the land in question, and questions as to the applicability of other kinds of protective legislation would not arise.

  Normally, of course, it is the case when we are talking about successful native title claims—and I am not referring to national parks or anything else, but successful native title claims generally—that the land in question is subject to the applicability of general state law bearing upon the environment or the protection of neighbouring properties from the spreading of disease or things of that kind. There is no intention whatsoever to minimise or in any other way undermine the applicability of state laws of general application. That would be no different in this context.(Time expired)