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Wednesday, 17 November 1976


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -I thank the Minister and the House. The recommendations of the second and final report of the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission which was presented by Mr Justice Woodward formed the basis of the Land Rights Bill that was introduced into the Parliament 13 months ago. Speaking during the second reading debate on the 1975 Bill the present Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott), who was then spokesman on Aboriginal affairs for the then Opposition, sought to refer that Bill to a standing committee of the Parliament for a further report. That Bill, which was the result of IS months of investigation by Mr Justice Woodward and 18 months of consultation with Aboriginal groups, lapsed on the dissolution of the Parliament. It had been widely debated and generally accepted by Aboriginal communities throughout the Northern Territory. I just recall the fact that, despite the good intentions of the then Opposition to refer this whole matter to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, when it came into Government it did not seem to think that that was a good idea. Of course, that proposed Bill has never seen the light of day from the standpoint of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. So it is clear that honourable gentlemen opposite say different things when they are in Opposition and when they are in Government.

In June last year, reacting to pressures from vested interests and in particular from the National Country Party dominated Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory and the Australian Mining Industry Council, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) introduced a new, redrafted Bill with the same title.


Mr Haslem - Have you asked the Mining Industry Council whether it likes it now?


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -The differences are vast and, as honourable members will note from the number of amendments to be moved by the Opposition, they are substantial. In the 5 months since the introduction of this legislation the Government has failed to initiate debate on the changes; rather, it undertook another bureaucratic study. I can understand the honourable member for Canberra liking that kind of process. We are told that the result of that examination of submissions is reflected in the amendments which are to be moved by the Government. That report, however, has not been tabled in the House; nor has it been made available to those persons who made submissions to the inquiry. We are expected- I am speaking for the whole Parliament now, not just the Opposition- to accept without question that this Government, which so shamelessly capitulated to the mining industry only last week, has stood firm on behalf of the Aboriginal people in relation to this Bill. If that is so, why not let the Australian people read the submissions and the report which was based on them? Let the Australian people decide whether the changes made to the Bill introduced last year by the Whitlam Government are acceptable.

The most wide ranging and far reaching alterations to Labor's Bill relate to the transfer of legislative power from this Parliament to the

Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. These powers include the control and declaration of protection of sacred sites, the control of entry to pastoral properties, the control of entry to Aboriginal lands and access to the sea adjoining Aboriginal lands. The Opposition opposes this transfer of power and, in particular, opposes the deletion of that clause of the 1975 Land Rights Bill which provided that this Parliament, through regulation, could override any Northern Territory legislation. This final provision followed directly on the recommendation made in paragraph 740 by Mr Justice Woodward, where he stated:

It is important that the basic legislation of the Australian Parliament be protected in such a way that its provisions cannot be eroded by the effect of any Northern Territory Ordinance.

The Opposition proposes to move in the Committee stage a number of amendments to reinstate the Australian Government's jurisdiction over these matters, as Mr Justice Woodward recommended and as the Australian people decided in the 1967 referendum. A further point of concern both to the Labor Opposition and to Aboriginal groups in the Northern Territory is the restriction on the functions of the land councils in the Northern Territory imposed by the 1 976 Bill. The 1975 Bill gave legal recognition to the already existing Northern and Central Land Councils established on the recommendation of Mr Justice Woodward. The new Bill gives wide discretionary powers to the Minister to set the boundaries and to limit the operation of land councils. Mr Justice Woodward, in paragraph 359 of his second report, recommended that land councils have power to:

1.   Co-ordinate and make claim to vacant Crown lands.

2.   Make representations to the Land Commission about priorities and expenditures of moneys for land purchase and land development.

3.   Issue entry permits to non-Aborigines visiting Aboriginal lands and arrange for Rangers and others to check the permit system is observed.

The 1976 Bill eliminates these 3 specific functions. The important power to make representations about priorities and expenditure is deleted from the functions of the councils. The issue of entry permits is to be handled not by Aboriginal land councils but by the white, Darwin based, Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. This is, of course, despite the attitude to the contrary expressed during the debate on the 1975 Bill by the present Attorney-General and then spokesman on Aboriginal affairs.

On perhaps the most important function of all- that of co-ordinating land claims- the Government has reverted to the provisions of the Labor Bill which followed Mr Justice

Woodward's recommendations. This function, which the land councils have been actively and successfully pursuing since their formation, will now be retained by them. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the additional funds which would have been made available to the Aboriginal Legal Aid Service for this function will now be made available to the councils. Obviously they will have very great difficulty in functioning and fulfilling these functions unless they are able to employ and deploy the expert personnel necessary to gain an active appreciation of these important matters. However, despite reverting to Mr Justice Woodward's original intention with regard to the land councils' co-ordinating role in land claims, this Bill has severely limited the range of claims which are to be heard by the Land Commissioner. Mr Justice Woodward proposed that an Aboriginal Land Commissioner be appointed to determine claims from Aboriginal people which were based not on traditional grounds but rather on need. In his second report he stated:

The difficulties in which many of these people find themselves do arise from the loss of their traditional lands or the loss of their sense of Aboriginal identity caused by their mixed ancestry. Whatever their reasons for living in a town, it can certainly be said that most of the fringe dwellers of the cities have suffered more from the coming of white settlement than have those still living on reserves or cattle stations.


Mr Ruddock - Where was that quoted from?


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -That is in the Woodward report. I am surprised that the honourable gentleman has not read it. These claims, which have been heard by the Interim Commissioner, Mr Justice Ward, whose reports have been widely accepted, are now to be heard by the Northern Territory Lands Board and not by the Commissioner. This is a complete abrogation of the recommendation of the Woodward Commission and of the spirit and intention of the 1975 Bill introduced by the Labor Government. An example of what will result can be seen in the claim of the Gurindjis. Their claim for land at Wave Hill began a decade ago. In August last year the then Prime Minister finally handed over leasehold title to part of their claim. The freehold title was to pass with the royal assent to the Bill introduced last year. Under this Bill it seems that the Gurindjis could be denied their land. Ten years after their claim was first lodged it is to go to yet another tribunal, from what I gather from the Minister's remarks this afternoon.

Then there is the question of Tanami. The Walpiri people of Yuendumu and Hooker Creek are to suffer a similar indignity. The Minister has stated that despite a recommendation by Mr Justice Woodward in paragraph 150 of his report that the Tanami Desert people be included in any transfer of land to Aboriginal ownership because of the close traditional ties to the Walpiri people- the largest tribe in the Northern Territoryand despite the inclusion of the Tanami Desert in schedules of both the 1975 and 1976 Bills, it is now to be excluded. The land in question has been subject to continued attempts to transfer it to a reserve for the Walpiris since 1935, and its inclusion would be seen as a major measure of good faith by an administration which has ignored its claims for 41 years. The amendment to exclude this land should and will be seen as a gross insult to a people who suffered the most recent massacre in Australia's history when 3 1 of their tribe were murdered in revenge killings in 1928. Honourable members opposite, if they accept nothing else, should fight to retain this land in the schedule. I commend it to them and to the House.


Mr Ruddock - That seems to conflict with your earlier quotation.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -It is in regard to mining that perhaps the most intensive lobbying campaign has been conducted and the most extensive changes made to the 1975 Bill. Honourable members and the public will have noticed the huge advertising campaign undertaken by the Australian Mining Industry Council, allegedly costing over $ lm, to put across its point of view that Aborigines should not retain the right to veto mining on their land. These claims have been rejected not only by the Aboriginal groups but also by members of the Government Parties -Senator Chaney, Senator Bonner and Senator Baume -


Mr Ruddock - And the Government.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - . . . who wrote letters to the newspapers and made their position clear in respect of this matter. One of the most obnoxious clauses of the Government's original Bill- that permitting a secret inquiry into whether mining on Aboriginal land is 'in the national interest'- is to be removed. The new clause, recognising the overwhelming vote of the 1967 referendum to give the Parliament legislative power in Aboriginal affairs, wil reinstate that provision in the 1975 Bill which makes any such declaration subject to disallowance by either House of this Parliament.


Mr Ruddock - Whose decision was that?


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The new Bill, however, provides that Aborigines -







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