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Wednesday, 8 April 1998
Page: 2291

Senator MINCHIN (Special Minister of State;Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) (9:40 AM) —We are pleased the Greens have moved amendments Nos 184 and 269 in the sense that they agree with us that this matter should be remedied in terms of authorisation by all members of the native claim group. But I point out that government amendments Nos 54, 55, 57 and 58, which were agreed by the Senate last night, exactly cover this matter—they pick up the very point you make. Therefore, it becomes a problem if you move a subsequent amendment dealing with the same issue. So I would ask you to consider withdrawing those amendments in light of the fact we have already amended the bill to take account of the very issue you raise.

Amendment number 196 goes to the heart of part of the problem that is occurring on the ground with native title claims being made—sometimes obviously inadvertently and not deliberately—for land over which there is a freehold title or other exclusive possession title. People receive in their letterboxes notices from the tribunal that so-and-so group has claimed exclusive possession of land that includes their freehold title. That is causing considerable distress and concern, in most cases not intentionally, and it is regrettable.

We think it is very important that the bill contain the provisions set out on page 153 that the claimant application is not to be made on land covered by previous exclusive possession act areas. We think it is essential that the claimants ensure that the area they are claiming does not include land where native title has been extinguished by virtue of an exclusive possession act. We are talking about rural properties that are freehold and all that sort of thing.

In deference to the point you make, we have introduced—and I think the Senate has accepted—government amendment 59 to make it clear that applications may be amended at any time to reduce the area covered by the application. The very point we are seeking to cover here is to enable applicants—who, as I say, in most cases have unwittingly included freehold properties in their claim area—to very simply and quickly amend their claims to excise those freehold estates from their claim without their being pushed back down the line or the processing of their application being unduly prejudiced. We want to ensure there is a simple and easy way for them to amend their application upon notice from the tribunal—or the registrar, in this case—that their claim covers an exclusive possession area. We think that is the most sensible way to deal with it.

We take in good faith the statements made by native title claimants that they are not seeking to claim freehold. As I say, I accept that often where freehold is claimed that is accidental because the claim area is so big. But if we allow applications to remain in the terms of 196, I think we will continue to have on-the-ground problems that really are unnecessary between claimant groups and those who hold an exclusive possession title.