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Wednesday, 17 November 1976

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles (ANGAS, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -Order The honourable member for Parramatta is on the speakers' list and will be able to speak in a little while to come. I hope that he will retain his patience until that glorious moment.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The new Bill, however, provides that Aborigines shall receive the rate of royalty only at the time this Bill is passed. Any subsequent increases in the royalty rate will go to the Aboriginal people who own the land only at the Minister's discretion. In my view, this provision smacks of the ugly paternalism and discrimination which has highlighted Aboriginal affairs in Australia from the time of the white man's settlement here. The Opposition vigorously opposes this provision, which alters the Woodward Commission's intentions and aspirations for financially secure independent Aboriginal development based on a sensible and Aboriginal-controlled exploitation of minerals on their land. The Opposition will move to have the provision deleted from the legislation.

Some comment must also be made about other important changes in the Bill. Firstly, in relation to power over roads, the 1975 Act gave the Aboriginal councils power to control the use of roads running through their land. The 1976 Bill makes all such roads public places. Thus the Aboriginal people have no effective control over tourists and others who now enter their land, destroy their privacy, and in many cases infringe their traditional religious and sacred sites. Yet another important omission from this legislation is that provision of the 1975 Act which extended Aboriginal land rights 2 kilometres into the sea. This omission has upset a large number of Aboriginal communities as it offers them no protection of their fishing and religious rights off their land. The Yirrkala people, in a submission in September, stated it quite clearly when they said:

To us the sea means as much as the land, we have songs, dances and sacred stories which go from the land to the sea.

Their words have been echoed by the Aboriginal community of Groote Eylandt and the people of the Tiwi tribe on Melville and Bathurst Islands. Another matter of grave consequence is that the definition of 'Aboriginals' in the 1976 Bill is limited to Aborigines living within the Northern Territory. Again, this smacks of paternalism and discrimination and portends perhaps the Minister's fears of the articulate and educated Aborigines of the south influencing their northern brothers and sisters. The Labor Government in 1975 considered this matter, and after wide consultation determined that the Aboriginal people themselves should decide who should benefit and who should influence their decisions. For this reason, amendments will be proposed to delete such discriminatory passages throughout the Bill.

Finally, might I add one additional matter which has relevance to the land rights legislation and also to the States Grants (Aboriginal Assistance) Bill, that is, the matter of a treaty of commitment between the Australian Government and the Aboriginal people. Such a treaty would oblige the expenditure of a minimum amount, expressed in percentage terms, of each annual appropriation and would have the effect of removing the individual funding of Aboriginal affairs from direct political confrontation. Such a treaty may in some way indicate to the Aboriginal people the firm commitment of the Australian Government to Aboriginal affairs and in some way compensate them for the loss of thenland. Might I point out to the House that this Bill, which the Government has had before it since it took office on 13 December, has been the subject of widespread debate amongst both the Aboriginal and white citizens of the Territory and throughout Australia. The Opposition hopes that its passage through this House will be speedy but considered and that the amendments to be moved by the Opposition will find support from the Government benches. These amendments are not made in any spirit of partisanship or political point-scoring. They represent the considered opinions of persons who have been concerned with the Aboriginal cause, and in particular with Aboriginal land rights, for a number of years. I commend to honourable members the amendments circulating in my name and hope that in the Committee stage they will be given earnest consideration.

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