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Wednesday, 1 December 1976
Page: 3075

Mr VINER (Stirling) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) - The Government cannot accept either of the proposed amendments. The first amendment deals with vacant Crown land and the second with alienated Crown land. That distinction needs to be borne in mind when considering the amendments. The first proposed amendment would give Aboriginals only 12 months in which to lodge claims to vacant Crown land. There has been a freeze against the alienation of any vacant Crown land until 31 December this year, pending the lodgment of any claims by Aboriginals to any part of that vacant Crown land. After 3 1 December this year there will be no alienation in respect of any land for which a claim has been made.

It is difficult to see any reason to increase the existing pressure on Aboriginals to lodge such claims, since this is likely to induce them to make hasty or even unwise claims to land which is waste and likely to remain so. In this respect I refer the Committee to what was said by His Honour, Mr Justice Woodward, at paragraph 161 of his report. After a lengthy consideration of the nature of areas already held by Aboriginals as reserves and other parts of the Northern Territory, he said of vacant Crown land:

This is equally true of much of the remaining unalienated Crown lands. Aboriginal people should think carefully before laying claim to any areas which are not going to be of value to them- particularly since they have unimpeded access to this country at present if they want to visit it for any traditional purposes.

I am quite satisfied that, as the present claims or pending claims are worked out, there will be no clash between other interests in the Northern Territory and Aboriginals in respect of the balance of vacant Crown land.

The second amendment would require the Land Commissioner to complete his inquiry which is authorised under the Bill and his report on claims to alienated land within 18 months. This seems quite impracticable, being too short a time, given the likely pressure on the Commissioner to report on claims to vacant land and land leased by Aboriginals, such as Wave Hill, Willowra, Kildurk and the Tanami Desert. It also seems undesirable, since it is a difficult task which might properly take several years to complete satisfactorily, depending on the interest of Aboriginals in lodging claims and the Commissioner's ability to compile an adequate register of land owning groups outside reserves. If the Commissioner is given the time to make his inquiry, based on evidence put before him, and with objectivity, I am quite sure that there will not be any pressure on existing interests holding alienated Crown land, or undue pressure on Aboriginals, and there will not be any clash between Aboriginals and others in the Northern Territory.

Amendments negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 51 to 67- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.

Proposed new clause 6 7 A.

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