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Wednesday, 14 March 1973
Page: 539

Mr FULTON (LEICHHARDT, QUEENSLAND) - My question directed to the Prime Minister refers to the border dispute between Papua New Guinea and Australia. Before any action is taken, or if no action at all is taken, will the Prime Minister use his personal influence or his constitutional powers to ensure that the people of the Torres Strait Islands have land rights conferred upon them without cost, so that they can decide what they want to do?

Mr WHITLAM - I assure the honourable gentleman that I have no personal interest in the land of the Torres Strait Islands or the adjacent continental shelf. My Government is committed to see that Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders have rights under the law to the land which they and their forebears have used. The Queensland Government has taken the attitude that these lands are Aboriginal reserves. It has not done, as some other States have done, given rights to that land to the Aborigines as individuals or families. One of the first acts that my Government took was to request that Mr Justice -

Mr Snedden - Which country will they belong to?

Mr WHITLAM - You have lunched well but I should have thought that -


Mr WHITLAM - I do not blame mv honourable friend - it was on the House.


Mr WHITLAM - Mr Justice E. A. Woodward is inquiring into the land rights of Aborigines, particularly in the Northern Territory. His report, however, will also be made the basis of the Commonwealth's actions to ensure that Aborigines have land rights in the States as well. My Government is resolved to see, as the Governor-General promised in his Speech opening the Parliament, that the States will no longer thwart the will of the Australian people, expressed overwhelmingly in the referendum of 1967, giving this Parliament, the national Parliament, the opportunity and the responsibility to see that Aborigines have a right to land. The attitude that the occupants of these islands should have title to their land is also shared by the Government of Papua New Guinea, wherever the sea border may be or wherever the seabed border may be, by Australian agreement, or by international action, hereafter set. There is no dispute between the Australian Government and the Papua New Guinea Government that the people who have occupied these lands will have a legal title to them.

I am happy to inform the House that the Premier of Queensland, who had previously rejected the suggestion which I put to him - the same suggestion that had been put by Ministers in the late Government to my immediate predecessor - that there should be consultations between officials from the Commonwealth, State and Territories, has asked me to meet him on Friday of next week when I will be in Brisbane. I have accepted his invitation with alacrity and pleasure and this will be certainly one of the matters which we shall discuss.

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