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Wednesday, 1 December 1976


Mr BRYANT (Wills) -In speaking to the amendment, I think a little bit of history will not go amiss. This is where we came in! I think of Nabalco Pty Ltd which, as I understand it, was one of the bodies with pre-existing arrangements written into its lease back in the 1960s. I recall what that situation was like and how the arrangements were made. There was supposed to be consultation. There was great unrest amongst the people of Yirrkala. A select committee of this Parliament was appointed. We went to the area and examined the matter. We heard what the people had to say. It was quite obvious that the

Aboriginal people had not been consulted in the sense in which we talk of consultation. Neither were the people defended in the way in which people defend their interests in our society. Neither did they have the same sort of advocacy. One of the sad things about the Aboriginal situation is that when they have to have advocates for their own cause, in the face of the needs of the rest of the community, the advocates are normally the people who also act for the sovereign power.

When this happened the mining people had pegged the place out. They had put lines across it. The Aboriginal people raised this matter with us down here in the south. A number of us visited the area. In the first instance there was my friend the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) and myself. The people presented a petition to this Parliament. It was a celebrated petition in the form of a bark painting. Subsequently, the select committee made its recommendations. Not much notice was taken of those recommendations. So the lease was written for Nabalco, one of the great mining enterprises of the world. That was bad enough, but in the writing of the lease there was an extension so that when it is necessary for the company to have extra facilities available it will have the rights to those facilities. As far as I can see, it is almost a continuing right ad infinitum and total in the geographical sense. For example, it covers ports, buildings and the expansion of the mining area. That is not within the spirit of this legislation. That is not what it is supposed to be about. That overwhelms any chance of the Aboriginal people owning the area.

I regarded the whole operation by Nabalco and the Australian Government, and the impact which that had upon the people there, as a sad event in Australian social history. We have not done all that much towards repairing the situation. So I appeal to the Government and to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs as strongly as I can not to tolerate a continuation of this mining mystique in this situation. This of course raises another interesting piece of social philosophy, namely, the question of pre-existing contracts. In this case the contracts are in the mining lease. I do not think that if we were to assert the paramountcy of Aboriginal rights to the land in this situation Nabalco would leave this afternoon or tomorrow or before its 42 years were up. My friend the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) has pointed out the return which the mining companies receive in this instance. They are getting their pound of flesh over and over again. This legislation is not about Aboriginal land rights. It is about miners' rights. That was all right back at Eureka, but this is a different situation. I believe that we are abdicating our responsibilities.

I speak as one who took an active part in the very beginnings of this matter. I mention this for the benefit of those honourable members who are sitting in the House and who are interested in the matter. It happened at that time that I came across advertisements in a Northern Territory newspaper advising that the company was going to apply for leases on the Gove Peninsula. It was stated on the bottom of the advertisement that objections could be lodged in the Warden's Court. I was going to Darwin so I sat down and lodged objections. I suppose that was one of the first instances in which Aboriginal land rights were claimed in a court. My action caused a great deal of difficulty for the mining companies and it raised a great deal of hostility on the part of the Government at that time. Some honourable members tried to have me put off the select committee because they said I had a personal interest in the matter. But they were not able to do that because on that occasion they did not have the numbers. So we soldiered on. Here we are still arguing the same case. I think the time has come when we should say that Aboriginal rights to land are superior to the rights of miners to the use of that land. If the land is to be used for mining it should be used for and on behalf of the Aboriginal people by some kind of authority, company or corporation which works on behalf of the Aboriginals, not for anyone else.







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