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Wednesday, 17 November 1976


Mr VINER (Stirling) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) - in reply- I thank all honourable members who have participated in this important debate.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Are you closing the debate?


Mr VINER -Yes. I remind members of the Opposition who tended to be critical of the timing of the debate on this legislation that the anxiety of the Government to see this legislation passed through this House and the other place before the close of the present parliamentary session has been known for some time. The Opposition also knows that representations were invited from the public on the Bill that I introduced on 4 June. It is interesting to note that the Labor Party put in a representation to me. So it is not as if it had not formulated its ideas as to what ought to be in the Bill. It is not as if members of the Labor Party were caught unprepared for a debate today on the contents of the Bill and on the major points at issue which have been thrown up by the representations.

Let me finally put the position clearly: When the Government's amendments were provided to the Opposition this morning it naturally enough desired time in which to consider them. After consultations between both sides, as is the courtesy of the House, it was agreed that the Committee stage of the debate on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill would be stood over until the first week of sitting after the recess next week. That is at least the usual time afforded to an Opposition to prepare to debate a matter in this way and more than usual, if we like to get a little trifling, having regard to the notice that the Opposition received from my public statement last week.

In closing the second reading debate I could go on at some length and point out the many errors in the speech of the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson). It rather astounds me, having listened to a debate on a matter of public importance in which he led for the Opposition some time ago and having heard him again today to recall that he is a former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, more particularly when there were so many errors in his speech on the last mentioned occasion, just as there were in his speech today. I will have the opportunity during the Committee stage, when we debate particular provisions in the Bill, to deal with some of those errors.

Mention was made by the honourable member for Hughes and the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) of the matter of roads. I think there is some misunderstanding on the part of both honourable gentlemen about the provisions of the Bill. I shall refer to them shortly m order to clarify the point. In clause 1 1 (2) and clause 12 (3) of the Bill there is a reservation of public roads from the grant of freehold title. They are roads over which the public has a right of way. I am advised that the only such roads exist through the Yuendumu Reserve, being the beef road from Alice Springs to Western Australia; the Jay Creek Reserve; the Hermannsburg Reserve, being the roads to Palm Valley and Glen Helen; and the Beswick reserve, being the road to Mainoru Station. No permits have ever been required of people using these roads to travel on to other destinations. The exclusion of the roads from the Bill by the provisions I have mentioned will change nothing. With the greatest respect to both honourable gentlemen, if they had read the Bill they would have seen that clause 68 preserves the status of lands as reserves, being those lands which are outlined in the Schedule. This could mean that anyone using the public roads technically would still require a permit to enter an Aboriginal reserve and consequently Aboriginal control over the road is possible. Furthermore, clause 65 guarantees that no roads are constructed in Aboriginal land without the consent in writing of the Land Council. Clause 66 gives Aborigines control of entry into Aboriginal land and hence control of existing roads other than the public access roads I have mentioned.

Great play was made, particularly by honourable members on my side of the House, of the concern of the Government and of individual members to protect the traditional interests of traditional Aborigines. This is what this Bill is all about. The Government had been very careful to see that that is just what this Bill does. At all points where the interests of traditional owners are at stake the former Bill introduced by the Labor Administration has been strengthened by what we have done, so as to entrench in the law the interests of those traditional Aboriginal owners. I mentioned in my second reading speech, and I point this out to honourable members again, that clause 67 of the Bill is fundamental to all else that is provided. Clause 67 of the

Bill entrenches in Australian domestic law for the first time the customary rights of Aborigines according to their traditional interests. One might look at this legislation and the framework of it as creating within our framework of domestic law an umbrella' underneath which the customary interests of Aborigines might prevail and be protected by Australian domestic law for the first time.

This is reflected in the position of land councils and their relationship to traditional owners, and the position of land trusts and the requirement that membership of the land trusts be drawn from traditional owners. I direct the attention of all honourable members who are concerned about these particular aspects of the legislation to what was said by His Honour Mr Justice Woodward in paragraphs 83, 84, 95, 96, and 361 of his 1974 report. Mr Justice Woodward was thoroughly conscious of the need to provide within Australia domestic law for the traditional interests of Aborigines. He was conscious of the need to provide a system of law within which the position of traditional owners is respected and entrenched. I know the views of Pastor Albrecht. I have sat with him and his 2 assistants at Hermannsburg for 2 days and discussed his propositions at length. I respect the views which he holds. However, they are not the views which are held by respected anthropologists or by others who have studied this area of Aboriginal interest for many years. With due respect to the views of Pastor Albrecht, I do not accept them. I think that what His Honour Mr Justice Woodward has provided in his report and what is reflected in this legislation will do all that is required to provide for the traditional ownership rights of Aborigines in the Northern Territory.

It was pointed out to me tonight by traditional Aborigines from the top end of the Northern Territory that the Aboriginal concept of the custodian of their land has a close similarity to our notion within our law and according to our concept of a trustee of land for beneficiaries. It was pointed out that there could be a conjunction of Aboriginal interest and Australian domestic legal interest through the identity of the Aboriginal who is the custodian and who might also be the trustee for the Aborigines of their land rights through membership of the land trust I feel that whatever might be said about the material provided to the House by the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) from those Aborigines around Hermannsburg, there will not be the friction they fear when this legislation is put into operation. They will find that when the land trusts and land councils are set up in the way provided, when they operate in the way intended, there will not be the friction which has been spoken about. Nor will the legislation, as it operates, be so diametrically opposed to what nas been termed the Aboriginal reality as has been put forward by those antagonists of the legislation.

The honourable member for Mackellar always speaks from a depth of understanding and knowledge about Aborigines. He is concerned to maintain the intregrity of the traditional Aboriginal. So are we all. He is concerned to maintain the integrity of the Aboriginal reserves in the Northern Territory. So are we all. That is why, under this legislation, those reserves will automatically become Aboriginal land clothed with the title which this legislation provides. The intregrity of which the honourable member speaks in relation to rnining will, of course, be provided through the veto power which came under such attack from certain quarters within the community but which was maintained by the Government intact for the very good reason that we sought to maintain the integrity of Aboriginal ownership in the Aboriginal sense of what is their land. I . am quite sure in my own mind that the integrity of which the honourable member for Mackellar speaks will be maintained through this veto power and the other protections which are provided for in the legislation. This was a matter which perplexed His Honour Mr Justice Woodward. It perplexed many people as to how to balance the interests of Aborigines with the peculiar and unique nature of their interest in and and the demands of the whole Australian society for development where it is in the national interest.

It was proposed to Mr Justice Woodward that Aborigines should also have the rights to minerals within their land. He was not prepared to accept that, but did see it as absolutely necessary that there be adequate protection for Aborigines through the veto power and the other protections which he indicated and which are written into this legislation to see that Aboriginal interests are provided. The Opposition has made great play, as was to be expected, about the intention of the Government to allow to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory room in which to pass ordinances with respect to the area which is called complementary legislation. I shall not repeat here what I said in my second reading speech, what I said in the public statement I made last Thursday and what I said in the statement which I made in the House preceding this second reading debate. I simply point out that what will happen is that the Legislative

Assembly will make laws in this area for the administration of sacred sites, for entry to Aboriginal land and for protection and conservation of wildlife. If those laws are not made in accordance with the stipulations in the Bill which will be introduced by the amendments, then those laws will be invalid. But even before that point might come, of course, the Commonwealth has statutory power to withhold consent to the ordinances. Of course, the ordinances do not become law until that assent is given.

I conclude by reminding honourable members opposite, as I have pointed out in my statement, that central to the Government's desires is that administration of Aboriginal land be channelled through land councils. A function of the land councils will be to perform those functions which the Northern Territory ordinances will provide. Of course, the Government against the background of those observations will see that the land councils, the body representing Aborigines, will be centrally located in the administration of the ordinances in all these areas. I thank honourable gentlemen for their contributions. There is much more than can be said and will be said in the Committee stages to explain further the many errors which have been made, particularly on the Opposition side.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.







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