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Wednesday, 1 December 1976

Mr VINER (Stirling Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) -The Government cannot accept the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). I think it is most unfortunate that the honourable member for Mackellar should use such exaggerated language in his debating of this Bill. He used a similar kind of language when debating the second reading speech, and here he is again using the same words, such as betrayal and defrauding of the traditional birthright of Aborigines. I think, with the greatest of respect to the honourable member, that it does not do his intellect any justice to hear the arguments which he has put forward. His amendment would limit the operation of the Bill to those Aborigines who are traditional owners. The arguments of the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) would do the same. What neither honourable gentleman knows or acknowledges is that many Aborigines are not traditional owners but they have a traditional interest in the land. Traditional owners form a special and very small class of Aborigines within the clan group and who by reason of Aboriginal law and by Aboriginal custom, one might say by inheritance or by choice according to Aboriginal law or custom, are the owners of the land. They are not the owners for themselves with a proprietary interest such as you, Mr Lucock, and I have in our land. They are the owners for all Aborigines who, by reason of their clan grouping, have a traditional interest of one kind or another in that land, to live on it, to use it, to pass through it or to attend ceremonies upon it.

I should have thought that the honourable member for Mackellar and the honourable member for the Northern Territory would either have known or have acknowledged the distinctionit is a fundamental distinction- between the traditional owner and the Aboriginal who has a traditional interest. Therefore, if the amendment of the honourable gentleman were accepted he would exclude from the protection and the benefit of this Bill all those Aborigines who have traditional interests in the land.

The particular definition is adopted on the advice of the Parliamentary Counsel as being the definition which conforms with the constitutional power of the Commonwealth to make special laws with respect to people of any race. Hence, the definition of an Aboriginal is a person of the Aboriginal race. Some might say that that is tautological. If the matter were ever in dispute it would be a question of law and fact to be determined by the courts. The honourable member for the Northern Territory mentioned Mr Peterson and spoke of a definition put forward by him. I direct the attention of the honourable gentleman to the definition of Aboriginal provided in the draft Bill annexed to the report of Mr Justice Woodward. The definition is that an Aboriginal means a descendant of an indigenous inhabitant of Australia. I should have thought that that meant the same as the definition which we have in the Bill. I direct attention to the limitations on membership of certain organisations which are established under the Bill, particularly land trusts and land councils. I refer to clauses 4, 7, 21 and 23. Through the mechanism of those limitations the kinds of fears which the honourable member for Mackellar has asserted are not only diminished but are obliterated.

Mr Wentworth - I am not going to sit silent while the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs misrepresents me.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The chair will be resumed at 8 o 'clock.

Sitting suspended from 6.2 to 8 p.m.

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