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Wednesday, 11 March 1998
Page: 872

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (6:17 PM) —I will be as brief as I can. I have been accused of holding the Senate in contempt but that is something that I would never willingly do; I probably hold the institution in the highest regard of all institutions that I have come in contact with.

There are a number of things I could respond to, which I will not, but I think it is important that particularly those who take an interest in these matters know that we do not, as a matter of course, make the case for the cut-off when we move it. In fact, we distribute the case for the cut-off and the need for the cut-off in writing and in quite some detail; as you would know, Madam Acting Deputy President, because you would have received those documents and I know that you read them carefully when you do receive them. We circulated a document to all honourable senators quite a few days before this session began, so it gave honourable senators the opportunity to read a detailed statement. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the statement that was circulated.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows



Upon election, amending the Native Title Act 1993 to make it workable was one of the government's top priorities. After a period of consultation the Native Title Amendment Bill 1996 was introduced into the Parliament in June 1996. Before the amendments were debated, the Wik decision was handed down by the High Court on 23 December 1996.

The decision held that native title was capable of coexisting on pastoral leases, reversing a widely held presumption when the Act was passed in 1993. The Wik decision has led to intense public debate and uncertainty in rural areas about what activities pastoralists can currently perform on their leases. There are real difficulties with proceeding with pastoral business in some jurisdictions and consequent pressures on the government to provide certainty for government granted interests on all forms of tenure where native title coexistence is possible.

A replacement Bill incorporating the Government's response to the Wik decision was introduced on 4 September 1997 and passed by the House of Representatives in late October. After consideration by the Senate, the House laid the Bill aside on 6 December 1997 after indicating that some Senate amendments were not acceptable.

The Treasury and resources and farming/pastoral industry associations have indicated that there is a need for a response as soon as possible to the issues raised by the Wik decision. If not, uncertainty may reduce and delay investment in mining, petroleum and rural industries and, consequently, slow the rate of economic growth.

(Circulated by authority of the Prime Minister, the Hon John Howard, MP)

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I will make only one further point. The government sought to have this matter resolved. It has, of course, been a matter of some controversy. We thank those senators—particularly those on the other side of the aisle—who will be supporting this motion. It will ensure that there is certainty for all senators about when we will be able to deal with this Wik bill. I think everyone recognises that it is important to have it dealt with. There has been significant discussion as to the contents of the bill, but at least all honourable senators and the people of Australia will know that this matter can be dealt with by the Senate during these current sittings. Dealing with the cut-off today ensures that there is that certainty, and honourable senators know that, when they come back for the three weeks leading up to Easter, they will be able to deal with this legislation. Had this matter not been resolved today, there would have been continuing uncertainty.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Ian Campbell's ) be agreed to.