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Wednesday, 1 December 1976


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -The main issue involved in this clause is similar to the ones that were debated just a short time ago. The clause involves the issue of exempting existing mining leases or interests from delivery to land trusts. Sub-clause 10 (3) reads:

For the purposes of this section, a lease of land granted under a law of the Northern Territory relating to mining for minerals shall be deemed to be an estate or interest in that land if the lease was granted before the date of commencement of this section or in pursuance of an agreement entered into by the Commonwealth before that date.

The Opposition is seeking to omit the words 'before the date of commencement'. The effect of this sub-clause is to exempt the mining interests that are already existing from the provisions of the Bill which apply to Aboriginal land.

Our views have been stated. We believe that it is not proper and it is not consistent with the recommendations of Mr Justice Woodward to be renewing mining leases; that mining leases should get automatic renewal. We believe that all the companies holding leases should reapply and that they should not take for granted the question of consent. It is interesting to note that His Honour Mr Justice Woodward said in his report, which was brought down in April 1974, that 29 exploration licences had been granted to 17 applicants. We know that the issuing of exploration licences was frozen in December 1972.

I would like to summarise what His Honour had to say. For reasons that I have mentioned I will not quote large extracts from the report as this would be time consuming. His Honour said that the capital involved was risk capital. He pointed out that companies had been on notice for several years that Aboriginal wishes could no longer be ignored. I think that is an understatement of the fact. They have been on notice for a long time- since the 1967 referendum and certainly since the election of the Labor Government in 1972 when the then Prime Minister clearly indicated the intention of the then Government to give effect to these recommendations. So in that context these people have certainly been involved with risk capital and with risks. The fact that they have been there for so long ought not to represent a great deal of consolation or security of tenure for them, in view of the clear indications that there were going to be new concepts applying to these situations.

His Honour said also that the freeze should continue for some time. He said that he did not stand for pre-exemption- and who does? The Opposition does not, anyway. It does not stand for pre-exemption of these existing mining interests- a fait accompli. Now that there are new owners, or the traditional owners have been legalised in terms of the white man's way of doing things, things obviously have to change. Mining interests cannot regard renewal as a fait accompli. In fact, the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, as His Honour Mr Justice Woodward pointed out, actually made the recommendation that there should be a freeze over mining renewals and mining development for 20 years. This was not just for one year or 2 years. We have had this freeze now for a certain time. As I understand the position it will run to the end of this year. The people who made that recommendationthe members of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs- cannot be regarded as slouchers in this situation. When it is all said and done the Council had among its members Professor Stanner who is one of the country's leading anthropologists- probably the leading anthropologist- in respect of these matters. Certainly he is highly and mutually well regarded from the standpoint of the 2 major sides of politics in this Parliament. Mr Dexter, the permanent head of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was also a member of the Council; so too was no less a person than Dr Coombs. These men made the point that the freeze should go on for 20 years. But this Government is not applying that principle. It is seeing that those who have had these vested interests, advantages and privileges for so long are given the chance of compounding their privileges. This, as I see it, is completely unprincipled.

When we consider the conditions enjoyed by some of these people, the Australian community would be shocked to know the extent to which this great bonanza has been handed out on a platter. Let me take, for example, the lease that Nabalco has, which covers 1800 hectares. His Honour pointed out that the rental was $8,630. This lease was given in 1969, and it runs for 42 years with an option for another 42 years. The proposition that the Minister is putting before us is that there should be automatic rights of renewal even in respect of the new legalised Aboriginal ownership. This is contrary to what he put before; it is contrary to what the Bill introduced by the Labor Party provided; it is contrary to what was said by Mr Justice Woodward; it is contrary to the recommendations of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs; and it is contrary to what has been said by anybody with a reputation in respect of these matters. This bonanza is to go on and on. The attitude seems to be that if one has an advantage one should keep it and compound it. We can look at Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd at Groote Eylandt where the Gemco operation is producing manganese. His Honour said that the rental was $478-not $478,000-for 33 square kilometres from 1 964 for 42 years with options. The wharf area has a great allocation of space for 99 years and the town area has another allocation as well. Lots of lesser people like Kailis in the Northern Territory were paying $5.

That is an incongruous amount in terms of the capital which he has invested and the benefits which he accrued. Others were paying a rental of $118.

When we go through the list which His Honour provided in his second report we see companies like Western Nuclear (Aust.) Pty Ltd in the Bulman area which has a lease granted from 1953. The Utah Development Company at Daly River had a mineral lease of 2590 square kilometres granted in 1971. Then, in the petroleum area there was Magellan Petroleum Aust. Ltd at Yuendumu, Southern Pacific Petroleum NL at Lake Mackay, Magellan Petroleum (NT) Pty Ltd at Haasts Bluff, United Canso Oil and Gas N.T. Pty Ltd at the same place and Australian Aquitane Petroleum Pty Ltd at Daly River and Wagait, and so the list goes on. His Honour stated:

Aborigines should have the right to prevent exploration for them -

That is minerals- on their traditional lands.

I do not want to labour the point much more. We were on it for a while when we spoke about the previous provisions which applied to this matter. But is seems to me that, if this legislation is to go through in the form proposed by the Minister, Australia will be breaking new ground. Here we have real owners who will not have any say and whose traditional lands which might be granted to them will be subject to mining ordinances and all sorts of complicated procedures which could deleteriously affect their way of life. They will not be given any opportunity to have any say about the matter. I put it to the Minister that he should accept the amendment which simply provides that there should now be a renegotiation. There is obviously a premium on the fact that owners can have an effective say in a situation which will emerge after the commencement of this legislation. I move:

Omit sub-clause (3).







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