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Wednesday, 17 November 1976

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr VINER - In my second reading speech on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill 1976 I invited constructive comment and suggestions on the content of this most important and complex piece of legislation. I indicated, however, that it was not intended that the rights to be established by the legislation should be watered down. Representations have been received from many people, Aborigines and others, organisations with special interests such as the mining industry, as well as churches and groups anxious to see that Aboriginal interests were properly considered by the Government. I wish to thank all of those who took advantage of the opportunity offered by the

Government for public debate and consideration of the Bill introduced on 4 June. It is also worthwhile noting that the representations received have come from all parts of Australia- a clear indication of the depth and spread of public interest in Aboriginal land rights. The Defence Force Ombudsman, Mr D. 0. Hay, gave valuable assistance to the Government by analysing the hundreds of representations and crystallising key areas requiring further consideration and decision by the Government. The changes to the Bill decided upon are the result. I shall now outline these changes to give notice of the nature of amendments which I shall move in Committee.

Land Trusts and Councils

Amendments will be proposed in relation to land trusts to ensure that the concept of them as title-holding bodies having no independent power of initiative is consistently maintained and clearly expressed. As indicated before, the basis of the arrangements in the Bill is that the traditional owners instruct the land councils and, through the land councils, the trusts on such matters as the grant of leases of Aboriginal land. To further ensure that the Aborigines with traditional rights in land guide the action of land councils, an amendment will provide that a land council should express the wishes as well as the opinions of Aborigines in its area. An amendment will be made to ensure that parts of areas vested in land trusts may be transferred to other trusts, to allow for the eventual possibility that title to land may be held directly by individual descent groups. In the light of representations received from Aborigines the Government has reconsidered its earlier decision that the councils should not handle land claims and that the Aboriginal Legal Aid Services instead should assist in the formulation and presentation of claims for recognition of traditional Aboriginal land. An amendment will provide for traditional owners who have claims on traditional grounds to land outside reserves, and who need assistance in pursuing their claims with the Land Commissioner, to be assisted by the land councils.

The Government has affirmed that the land councils in the Northern Territory have the central responsibility in relation to administration of Aboriginal land. Provision will be made for land councils to perform any function that may be conferred by a law of the Northern Territory. In particular, it is intended that complementary Territory legislation should provide for land councils to be involved in arrangements for entry to Aboriginal lands, arrangements for wildlife conservation and protection of sacred sites in Aboriginal land. To help ensure that the land councils administer land in conformity with the wishes of Aborigines with traditional interests in land, the power of a land council to delegate its powers to its members or its staff will be limited. A council will not be able to delegate final decision making on the acquisition and granting of interests in Aboriginal land, or consent to the grant of mining interests or on the allocation and distribution of moneys received from the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account. These important decisions must remain with the full councils.

Amendments are proposed to those sections dealing with the membership of land trusts, land councils and the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account Advisory Committee to provide that Aborigines who are traditional owners of land in the relevant area are eligible for membership even if they live outside the area. Amendment will be made to clause 11, which provides the machinery for granting an Aboriginal land title to unalienated crown land recommended by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, in order to clarify the cases such as Wave Hill, Willowra and Kildurk pastoral properties which are technically alienated lands. Thus in the event that the Land Commissioner recommends these areas to be treated as Aboriginal land title can be granted by the creation of appropriate land trusts.


As I indicated in introducing the Bill, it is the Government's intention, as it was Mr Justice Woodward's recommendation, that existing rights in land should be fully protected. In order to give practical effect to that intention in relation to existing mining interests, and to meet legal obligations the Government proposes a number of changes in the Bill. Under agreements in relation to mining at Gove and Groote Eylandt, the Government has contractual commitments to grant additional leases of land reasonably required by the companies. It is intended that companies should negotiate for additional leases when required, as has been recent practice for example at Gove over red mud leases. If, however, negotiations between the companies and Aborigines break down- which experience to date suggests will not occur- the Bill will provide that a lease of Aboriginal land may be granted on the recommendation of an arbitrator, if he determines that a land council has unreasonably refused to consent to the grant of a lease of land required to meet these commitments.

There are several specific situations in which it is considered necessary to provide a specific exemption from the general requirements of the Bill for Aboriginal consent to mining. Where application for mineral leases on land which becomes Aboriginal land under the Act or by a successful claim on traditional grounds to unalienated Crown land had been lodged previously to 4 June, being the date of introduction of the Bill, but not granted as a result of a freeze imposed in December 1972 pending decisions on land rights, the grant of a further mining interest will not be subject to consent but the applicant companies will still be obliged to negotiate fair terms in accordance with the Act. That situation will also apply in the case of the Ranger project where the Government is morally bound by an arrangement entered into by the previous Government, so that if the Ranger uranium deposits are developed in the light of the second report of the Fox Commission of Inquiry then the Ranger companies will be obliged by the Act to reach agreement with the Aborigines concerned if their pending Aboriginal land claim over part of the Ranger project area is successful. In the last mentioned respect the Government has decided to empower the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to act on the report of the Fox inquiry rather than having to put the Aboriginal land claims before the Aboriginal Land Commissioner. I mention that the Northern Land Council and the Oenpelli Aboriginal Council both requested that this be done. It should facilitate both the early conclusion of the land claims and completion of the inquiry's second report. Petroleum interests, also frozen since December 1972 like those held by Magellan in Central Australia as considered by Mr Justice Woodward, will be dealt with in the same way by clarifying amendments.

Amendments are proposed to ensure that the procedures for consent to mining conform more exactly to the principles proposed by Mr Justice Woodward. In his report he envisaged that consent would be negotiated normally at the stage when exploration rights were applied for and that the right to develop any minerals or petroleum discovered should be subject only to the adequacy of the notice given of development intentions and the final negotiation of fair terms. This would mean that a second consent at the development stage of a mining operation would not be required provided the proposed development is substantially within the description given at the time permission to explore was sought. In that situation, however, it will of course be necessary to negotiate terms and conditions with the land councils.

The provision in clause 41 for an inquiry into whether the national interest requires that exploration or mining should proceed will be deleted and instead the Bill will provide for the tabling of a proclamation of a national interest decision before both Houses of Parliament. Either House will have the power to disallow the Government's decision to override Aboriginal refusal to consent. This change is proposed in response to the many representations by Aboriginal groups and others seeking restoration of the provision proposed by Mr Justice Woodward for parliamentary review of any Government decision to override Aboriginal wishes in relation to mining.

A number of other amendments will be introduced in Part IV which deals with mining. The Bill will be amended to ensure that the final agreement in relation to mining development will be made in the knowledge of the conditions on which the Government is prepared to grant a mining tenement, including the rate of royalty payable for the particular venture. Thus any agreement with Aborigines will take account of royalties payable to Government and to Aborigines and, should arbitration be necessary, those considerations would be taken into account by the arbitrator. The provision relating to agreements for mining will be amended m order to reflect more clearly Mr Justice Woodward's intention that any negotiated payments should go not to individuals, but to communities or groups.

Provision will be made to make it clear, where the Bill like the former Labor Government's Bill left some doubt that the requirements of consent and agreement on terms and conditions for mining on Aboriginal land applied equally to mining undertaken under the Atomic Energy Act as it does for mining carried out under the mining ordinances of the Northern Territory. This also means that the Commonwealth itself will be bound as much as any private mining companies to the consent procedures of the Bill.

Reciprocal Legislation

I indicated in introducing the Bill that some relevant matters were to be covered by the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly in complementary legislation: The protection of sacred sites and wildlife in Aboriginal lands and the control of entry into those lands and adjacent waters. It is now intended to spell out in the Bill, however, guidelines stipulating the kind of laws which should be made by the Legislative Assembly, and to guarantee recognition in those laws of traditional rights. For example, an offence will be written into the Bill for unlawful entry onto a sacred site; Ordinances dealing with sacred sites will have to protect traditional interests in accordance with Aboriginal wishes; traditional Aboriginal rights to enter Aboriginal land must be provided for; protection or conservation of wildlife in the Northern Territory, including wildlife on Aboriginal land, must operate through schemes of management formulated in consultation with Aboriginals and the right of Aboriginals to utilise wildlife resources; and Ordinances regulating entry to seas adjacent to Aboriginal land to a distance of 2 kilometres must provide for the right of Aboriginals to enter and use the resources of those waters in accordance with Aboriginal tradition.

The Leader of the Legislative Assembly and the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann) have assured me that the Territory legislation will be worked out in consultation with Aboriginals and with my involvement and agreement. I wish to emphasise this point and remind the House that Territory legislation does not become law unless the Commonwealth assents to it. This means that all the legislation will conform with the principles adopted by the Federal Government in this Bill and as outlined in the amending provisions I shall introduce.

The Government is very conscious of the deep concern of Aboriginals about these areas of law which go so directly to some of the fundamentals of Aboriginal traditional life. Aboriginals can be sure the Government will not fail in its responsibilities, but the Government is also concerned to see that the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly is involved in the operation of the Commonwealth's legislation in the interests of harmony, and not confrontation, between ail peoples of the Northern Territory.

Because the Government recognises the heavy burden this Parliament carries in seeing that this legislation is the best that the Parliament can provide for the Aboriginal people the Government has decided to establish a joint parliamentary committee to report not later than 31 May 1977 on the adequacy of the provisions of the Bill dealing with identification of traditional owners and their relationship to the land councils and the adequacy of laws of the Northern Territory relating to entry on Aboriginal land, the protection of sacred sites, wildlife conservation and entry to seas adjoining Aboriginal land.

Tanami Wildlife Sanctuary

The Bill as introduced, by a printer's error, included in the Schedule of lands to become Aboriginal land by the passing of the legislation the Tanami Wildlife Sanctuary. It includes, I am advised, traditional country of the Walpiri people. Consistently with the Government's decision to require claims to Aboriginal land off existing reserves or mission areas to be heard by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Tanami will be deleted from the Schedule. If a claim is made to Tanami, I would fully expect the observations of Mr Justice Woodward on Tanami to be taken into account in the formulation and determination of the claim.


I have said before that I believe that the passage of legislation to grant land rights to Aboriginals in the Northern Territory will be a most significant and progressive step in the social and political history of this country. It will, at long last, signal Australian acceptance of Aboriginals as a people having a unique and distinct culture within Australian society. I am confident that the Parliament will give the Bill the attention it deserves and will find that the amendments I have here outlined briefly will strengthen the essential provisions of the Bill while guaranteeing proper protection of existing statutory and other rights as recommended by Mr Justice Woodward. The Bill in its final form will be what the Government set out to achieve in putting it to public scrutiny over the past 5 months- 'the best practicable instrument for effectuating the Government's purpose and Aboriginal aspirations'. It is those aspirations which have guided us in all work.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Thereis nothing dealing with that statement before the House. The question is: 'That the Bill be now read a second time'. I call the honourable member for Hughes.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mr Deputy Speaker,I am not sure whether it might not have been appropriate to have proposed that the debate on the statement be adjourned. I am not sure how you regard the situation. I gained the impression that you were in a bit of a dilemma.

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