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Statement to the joint select committee on Aboriginal Land Rights



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DEPARTMENT OF ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS

STATEMENT BY THE MINISTER FOR ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS TO THE JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL LAND RIGHTS - DARWIN. APRIL 13 1977

On 11 November 1976 when I announced the Government'e decieione on amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Bill, I stated that the Government had decided that the legislation should express general principles on the basis of which the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly would be enabled to make ordinances covering entry to Aboriginal land, sacred sites, wildlife conserva­ tion and entry to seas adjoining Aboriginal land. I stated that:

11 have an express undertaking from the majority leader of the NT Legislative Assembly through the Minister for the N.T., Mr Adermann that any ordinances must be prepared in consultation with me and must be acceptable to : me·.

This undertaking had been taken into account by the Government in giving final approval to the terms of the Land Rights Legislation. I referred ; again to the undertaking in my speech to the House of Representativee on 17 November 1976.

. On 3 March I stated that there had been some consultation on the compler mentary legislation but that I had not seen the bill which had just been ; introduced into the Legislative Aesembly before its introduction. I said that the commitment given by Dr Letts still stood and that, as Dr Letts himself has said, the legislation must be acceptable to the Commonwealth Government.

In making decisions in relation to this legislation, the Commonwealth Government will of course give very careful consideration to the views of this select committee.

While it ie not possible to indicate at this stage firm Government policy views on all aspects of the proposed legislation the Government has taken some decisions relevant to the legislation, the adequacy of which this committee is examining.

The Government decided that land councils, should under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, have the central role in the administration of Aboriginal land, acting in accordance with the wishes of traditional owners of particular areas . of land and after consulting the views of other Aboriginals interested in the land. The Government expressly decided to enhance the role of land councils

by, for example, giving them responsibility for helping in the pursuit of : traditional land claims. The Government also included express provision in the Act for land councils to carry out functions conferred by Northern Territory law.

The Government could not have indicated more clearly its policy.that Territory law should, like the Commonwealth Act, give land councils central responsibility in all matters affecting Aboriginal land. The Government has a broad policy of encouraging and developing Aboriginal self management and

Aboriginalisation in Aboriginal affairs, and consistent with this, sees the land councils, as wholly Aboriginal bodies, having a very important role in

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the future administration and development of Aboriginal land in the Territory.

The bill as introduced, however appears to give land councils a relatively minor and indirect role. An entirely new concept of an "authorised Aboriginal" is invoked so that the legislation appears to be incompatible with, rather than complementary to, the Commonwealth Land Rights Legislation.

The Land Rights Act entrusts land councils with the responsibility and the authority to represent and protect Aboriginal interests in relation to land but this Bill proposes a radically different scheme whereby a great number of individual Aboriginals would have that responsibility and authority.

It is at least uncertain whether according to Aboriginal custom and tradition a ‘person or persons may control the entry of persons* upon every area of land. The scheme proposed in the Bill seems to be inadequately thought out and likely to be unworkable in practice, whereas the scheme of administration through land councils is simple and effective and fully protects traditional Aboriginal interests. ;

This general point is made in my Department*s submission to the committee and more detailed comment is provided on the administrative difficul­ ties as well as the policy and conceptual inconsistencies which are seen in the proposed NT legislation.

The Aboriginal Land Rights Act sets down some guidelines for NT ordin­ ances. It provides, for example, that ordinances providing for the protection of sacred sites shall provide a right of access for Aboriginals to those sites in accordance with Aboriginal tradition.

Similarly, it provides that Territory ordinances relating to the entry of persons to Aboriginal land ‘shall provide for the right of Aboriginals to enter such land in accordance with Aboriginal tradition*. In relation to the ordinances regulating entry into waters adjoining Aboriginal land, the act requires that they shall provide for the right of Aboriginals to enter and use the resources of those waters in accordance with Aboriginal tradition.

My Department*s submission indicates that inadequate attention seems to have been given to these guidelines in the preparation of the Territory Bill. The Bill does not seem to provide for the right of Aboriginals to have access to sacred sites in accordance with Aboriginal traditions or to provide for the right of Aboriginals to enter Aboriginal land in accordance with tradition: or to provide for the right of Aboriginals to enter and use the resources of waters of the sea in accordance with Aboriginal tradition.

In relation to the proposals for controlling or prohibiting fishing or other activities in the seas adjoining Aboriginal land, policy decisions by Government may be necessary if agreement cannot be reached in the Territory. At the moment the proposal that entry and use of waters within 2km of Aboriginal land should be regulated through land councils in consultation with interested departments and other bodies, is seen as more in keeping with the spirit of the Land Rights Act and follows the approach recommended by Mr Justice Woodward. Commercial fishing, now controlled under the fisheries ordinance, could, I believe, be fairly accommodated by such an arrangement.

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The Northern Territory Legislative Assembly has already passed a new ordinance relating to parks and wildlife which includes specific provision for the protection and management of wildlife on Aboriginal land. Since this legislation was prepared before the Commonwealth Land Rights legislation was passed, it does not take full account of the provisions of that legislation.

In particular it does not provide specifically for land councils to have functions in relation to schemes for the management of wildlife on Aboriginal land. It also seems doubtful whether it provides adequately for 'the right of Aboriginals to utilise wildlife resources' as required in the Land Rights Act.

I commend to the committee's attention the various sections of Mr Justice Woodward's report relating to the control of entry to Aboriginal land, the protection of sites of significance, wildlife conservation and entry to seas adjoining Aboriginal land. In particular, I draw attention to the provisions on those aspects included in the draft act appended to his second report.

The process of consultation about the terms of the complementary legisla­ tion will be continuing in relation both to the legislation of concern to this committee and to other bills to amend Territory ordinances in order to take account of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act or otherwise to give effect to recommendations of the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission. I have had a prelim­ inary discussion with Dr Letts and my officers will be available for consulta­ tion with officers of the Chief Secretary's Department on the preparation of adequate reciprocal legislation as provided for by the Land Rights Act. As indicated in my Department's submission my officers will be available also to provide information and assistance to the committee if required."

DARWIN N.T. CANBERRA A.C.T 13 APRIL 1977