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Wednesday, 1 December 1976
Page: 3078

Mr ADERMANN (Fisher) (Minister for the Northern Territory) -What I want to say relates not only to this amendment but also to subsequent amendments. The Opposition has been saying quite a lot by way of denigration of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. I think the words that the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) used should be rebuted. He talked about the unenviable record of the legislature of the Northern Territory. Already my colleague the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) has sought to put the record straight. It is in this context, and in the context of those words, that I pay tribute to the pioneering work on the subject of Aboriginal land rights which has been undertaken over the years by the Northern Territory legislature. Apparently members opposite do not know that many of the principles governing land rights were considered initially in the Northern Territory Legislative Council in the 1960s by people familiar with the needs and traditions of the Aboriginals, developed over many years of direct association with those people. I believe that it was from those debates that the first recognition of land rights for the Aboriginal people emerged.

In 1964 the Northern Territory Legislative Council appointed a committee on Aboriginal integration. In May 1965 the committee, in tabling one of its reports, proposed the first steps to give effect to land tenure for Aboriginals on reserves. In August 1966 a Bill dealing with land titles for Aboriginals was introduced by a private member of that Council, but this initiative was overtaken by a further Bill sponsored by the Federal Government. This latter legislation came into effect in 1970. My colleague Mr Ralph Hunt, the then Minister for the Interior, was able to approve a grant of over 70 leases to Aboriginals before the change of government in 1972.

I thank sincerely the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) for his consultation with the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, his time and the co-operative discussion on a large number of occasions with the Assembly. The Assembly is most anxious to give full cooperation to the Government. Indeed, it may well indicate the path for co-operation in legislation which eventually will reach far beyond the Northern Territory. I do not believe that sufficient recognition has been given by the Opposition and critics of the responsible approach adopted by the Northern Territory legislature to the question of land rights, especially in earlier years when the subject was less fashionable than it is now.

I remind the Parliament that the large schedule of land to be declared Aboriginal land under this Bill was set aside and protected over the years for the benefit of Aboriginals under the authority of the Northern Territory ordinances, not by legislation passed by this Parliament. The responsible approach adopted by the Northern Territory legislature in the past gives every reason for confidence that the complementary legislation entrusted to the Legislative Assembly by this Bill will be wholly in harmony with the objectives of the Government and will fully protect the interests of the Aboriginal people of the Territory. That is the sort of undertaking which I and the Assembly have given to the Minister. I do not take very kindly to the remarks of members of the Opposition about the attitude of the Assembly. I do not think it is worthy of them.

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