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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 797

Senator ELLISON —My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, relates to a claim by the Miriuwung Gajerrong people for occupation and possession of an area in excess of 1,000 square kilometres in the east Kimberley region of Western Australia, which covers a variety of pastoral leases and a national park. In view of the fact that over 120 companies and individuals have sought to become parties to the claim, does the minister envisage that mediation will have to be conducted with each party as is proposed in the Yawuru claim? If this is the case, how long does the minister envisage that such a claim will take to be resolved?

Senator COLLINS —It would be not only impossible but also fairly useless for me to give any kind of estimate. My opinion on the matter would be no better than the opinion of the lawyers involved in the case. It depends on how long it would have to be argued.

Senator Crane —It's unworkable, Bob.

Senator COLLINS —No, not at all. In fact, I think all people would agree that the sooner we can have some judicial view on some of the outstanding matters that are involved in the native title legislation the better—as, certainly, every government minister who has spoken on this issue has stressed from day one. It will help to resolve all of these issues such as the one Senator Ellison raised.

Senator Campbell —That's not the issue he raised; he talked about mediation.

Senator COLLINS —Yes, I know that, but when some of the outstanding issues are involved in terms of what the law says—  Senator McMullan interjecting

Senator COLLINS —That is right, Senator McMullan. It will help those processes as well when that certainty is injected. I think the government has made significant progress in association and consultation with the relevant industry groups, such as the National Farmers Federation, in advancing the matter of getting some of those gaps filled and providing Commonwealth financial assistance for doing so.

Senator Campbell —You read the wrong brief.

Senator COLLINS —It is precisely relevant to the question of conciliation as well. Senator Campbell is profoundly ignorant on this subject, as with most others. In respect of the detail of the question that Senator Ellison is asking, I have no additional information in the advice provided to me by the minister since the last time the senator asked the question. I will refer the question to him so he can provide any additional information.

Senator ELLISON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise as to whether he believes that it is an appropriate course of action to engage in mediation with each of the respondents, bearing in mind there are so many and that there could be numerous respondents in other cases? Is this a procedure the minister endorses?

Senator COLLINS —That is precisely the detail, in terms of the very large number of respondents in this case, that I indicated I have already discussed in the general matter of providing some greater certainty. But, in relation to the detail of the mediation in this particular case, I have no further advice on it from the minister. I will refer that part of the question to the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs and provide the Senate with an answer.