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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1302


Senator ELLISON (3.31 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans), to a question without notice asked by Senator Ellison this day, relating to the application of native title claims.

I refer the Senate to page 9 of today's Australian and an article entitled, `How Green Can a Black Afford to Be?' In that article, very real concerns are raised in relation to the interaction of native title and the operation of national parks in this country. In fact, in relation to Peter Garrett it is stated:

He says there are legitimate questions about the protection of endangered species and he describes the green-black relationship as a fluid dynamic.

It is quite clear that national parks could be the subject of a native title claim. The only question that remains is what the effect will be should such a claim succeed. That was the reason for my question to Senator Evans.

  I do not believe the matter is as clear cut as Senator Evans might believe. First, we have the question of access in section 212, as he pointed out. I put it to the Senate that the problem—and I look at section 212 in addressing this problem—is that any law of the Commonwealth confirming any existing public access under this section does not extinguish or impair any native title rights. The question is, how does that public access fit in with the relevant native title right or title? That question still has to be determined by the courts. It could go one way or the other.

  More important is the question of the environment and the exercise of native title in relation to national parks. I submit that state and Commonwealth legislation fall into two different areas. Firstly, we have Commonwealth legislation falling under acts attributable to the Commonwealth, namely our past category A act, which is validated, and, secondly, state legislation which may validate only on the same principles as the Commonwealth. What I am saying basically is that it is not altogether clear as to what effect state legislation would have over national parks, so that if we have some state legislation protecting flora and fauna in the national park, or acts which can be done in the national park, and that legislation is inconsistent with native title which has been granted, there could well be problems.

  We have seen in the northern parts of Australia where tribal Aborigines have been allowed to hunt and fish animals of a variety of species which any other person in Australia is not at liberty to hunt or fish. Some of these animals, such as turtles, are not in great abundance. I understand why Aborigines are allowed to hunt and fish those animals, because they have always done so. But what we are doing here is possibly opening up a great problem in relation to the environment versus native title. We are now seeing native title claims being brought in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland in areas where one might not have expected them to be readily made. Nonetheless they are being made and they raise these questions—and I put those questions to Senator Evans on what I believe is a sound basis.

  As a member, with Senator Campbell, of the joint native title review committee which will be looking at the implementation of that act, I can tell the Senate that this is one aspect I will be looking at closely. I believe the public of Australia ought to pay close attention to the development of this aspect. I believe that the concerns highlighted in that article in today's Australian were on a sound basis and quite legitimately drawn. I am not saying it is all doom and gloom; I am saying the position is not clear and we should be vigilant to ensure that national parks are protected.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.