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Wednesday, 1 December 1976

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -Mr Chairman,I seek leave to move the 4 amendments standing in my name in respect of this clause.

The CHAIRMAN - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -I thank the Minister and the Committee.

I move:

In the definition 'alienated Crown land', omit ', but does not include land in a town '.

In the definition 'town ', omit ', and includes any area that, by virtue of regulations in force under that law, is to be treated as a town'.

In the definition 'unalienated Crown land', omit ', but does not include land in a town '.

Omit sub-clause (4), substitute the following sub-clause:

(4)   A reference in this Act to the granting of a mining interest in respect of Aboriginal land shall be read as including a reference to the renewal of a mining interest. '.

I hope that I will have the opportunity to make some brief comment on amendments 2, 3 and 4 and possibly to speak at a later stage in respect of amendment 5. In relation to amendments 2, 3 and 4, the Opposition is very concerned that the intentions of His Honour, Mr Justice Woodward, to include Aborigines who live in towns as being capable of having land granted to them have been circumvented by the provisions of this legislation.

The Opposition believes that it should be possible to make grants of land available in towns for Aboriginal people. When all is said and done, can a town be proclaimed in respect of a group of Aboriginal people? Can a town be proclaimed over a community to exclude it from the definition and the provisions of this Bill so as to prevent people in the community from obtaining a grant of Aboriginal land? That is the issue which is at stake in respect of these matters. Can a community be designated under the laws of the Northern Territory as a town and so be excluded from the benefits of this legislation? In short, the purpose of these amendments is to give effect to the recommendations of Mr Justice Woodward that the Aboriginal Land Commissioners have jurisdiction to make recommendations relating to grants of land for Aboriginals within towns.

In his recommendations Mr Justice Woodward stated in paragraph 328 that planning for Aboriginals in towns must involve consulting them and determining their preferences. He recommended specifically in sub-paragraphs (v) and (vi) that Land Councils should make submissions to town planners and the Land Commissioners who, after investigation, should report to the Government on acquisition of necessary land for Aborigines in towns. Without these amendments a large number of Aboriginal families and communities will be excluded from the operation of this legislation and will be forced to go once again cap in hand to the Department of the Northern Territory which has led the opposition to the granting of land in towns and to the claims heard already by the interim Commissioner, Mr Justice Woodward.

An example of this can be seen from the Alice Springs land claims where the Commissioner was ordered to stop his investigation of claims in which, in a preliminary report, he had rejected the arguments of the Department of the Northern Territory. In addition to holding this inquiry the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) announced that due to the economic situation no funds would be available for any site development for at least 12 months. In his report Mr Justice Woodward stated that most of the fringe dwellers of cities and towns have suffered more from the coming of white settlement than have those still living on reserves. He quoted from submissions from both the central and northern Land Councils to support his proposition. A large number of Aboriginal people living in towns will be deprived of the opportunity to obtain land under the provisions of this Bill unless the amendment is carried.

In his report Mr Justice Woodward referred to the census conducted in 1971. In the greater Darwin area there were 2374 Aboriginal people living in towns. In Alice Springs the number was 1269. In Katherine it was 174 and in Tennant Creek 1 19. Just in those places there is an aggregation of some 4000 Aboriginal people. Mr Justice Woodward said, in effect, of these people- I will not quote all the provisions because I do not have time- that their problems were urgent and important and that they related to social welfare and urban development issues. He pointed out that they were the dispossessed victims who had lost traditional land and he said they had suffered more from white settlement than those on reserves or cattle stations. They were now squatters. They became attached to their land. They wanted to live on the land where they were now living. They may have been part of a traditional area or formerly been part of some other area, but they have now left that area and have come to have an association with a new area.

He pointed out that there should be due regard for tribal differences, to avoid dissention. He pointed out that consideration should be given to their special needs in town, such as thenneed to have access to a hospital and matters of that kind. He recommended that the Land Council field officers should identify their needs in respect of such matters as camping areas, community housing areas, hostels, single family housing and the like, and that their views should be put to the town planners and the land commissioners. He said that the aim should be that within a reasonable time all Aboriginal groups should be living or camping on land in which they have an interest. His Honour went on to express the hope that by 1 976 there would be no Aboriginal groups in the Northern Territory living in sufferance on Crown lands. A number of honourable members in the chamber at the present time would know a good deal about the town people in places such as Darwin, the Kulalak people and the people at Railway Dam out of Darwin-people who occupy areas which were once the traditional transitional grounds over which those people passed and who now live there permanently in smaller numbers than in bygone times.

It is the hope of the Opposition that these amendments will be carried so that it will be possible to make grants to Aboriginal people living in the town situation and apart from the places of which they have been dispossessed. This is an extremely significant matter. The Opposition would like to call for a division on this question, but in consideration of the time involved we probably will avoid a division. But, in our avoiding a division, I would not like the impression to be given that we do not attribute the utmost significance to this situation. It is a departure from the Woodward recommendations, a departure from every attitude that any group of Aboriginal people has ever expressed about this matter, and a departure from the 1975 legislation introduced by the Australian Labor Party. If there is to be any give and take at all, if there is to be one skerrick of compromise at all in respect of the matters which the Opposition is earnestly putting to the Minister, this is an issue with such characteristics and with high objectivity.

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