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Chief Executive praises native title legislation

MONICA ATTARD: What's been described as an absolute milestone in relations between Aborigines and miners, the new head of CRA, Leon Davis, has praised the Federal Government's Native Title Act. Mr Davis, who spoke publicly this week for the first time since taking over at CRA, says the legislation lays the basis for better exploration access and will lead to more partnerships between the mining company and Aboriginal people. Addressing the Securities Institute in Sydney today, Mr Davis also had considerable praise for the Prime Minister for what he described as Paul Keating's clear vision on Australia's relationship with Asia. Mr Davis told Sharon O'Neill that while CRA was satisfied with the central tenet of the Native Title Act, there were still some problems which needed to be sorted out.

LEON DAVIS: I think everybody now accepts that native title is here to stay, it's what has been passed by the Australian Parliament, it's what the Australian people want, and now the process has to be worked out on how it's going to work, and I have a great deal of sympathy with the problems that Western Australia has in this regard because their pastoral leases are different than pastoral leases elsewhere in Australia. So all of those things really do need to be worked out.

SHARON O'NEILL: But do you think the Act in its present state is workable?

LEON DAVIS: What I'm saying, that I think that the tenet and what the Act is trying to achieve is correct, and we, in CRA, are quite happy to work within that. What we do see as a problem is the uncertainties that still exist , and they have to be resolved before we can all work together to resolve our problems.

SHARON O'NEILL: So there needs to be some finetuning, some amendments to the legislation in your view?

LEON DAVIS: Well, it's unfortunate that we all finish up in the courts and leaving it to the courts to decide on certain basic beliefs like native title and pastoral leases, for example. That needs to be resolved, and it's a pity that we're in the courts resolving that issue because it brings about delays, it brings about delays in reaching agreement with all interested parties, and that's unfortunate for the mining company, it's unfortunate for Aboriginal communities, and more than anything, it's unfortunate for Australia.

SHARON O'NEILL: So what would you like to see happen then? How could that process happen more quickly, more easily?

LEON DAVIS: Well, I think it could happen if all political parties realise that amendments are needed, and everybody sat down in their rational way and sorted out how the native title legislation can work effectively because I think that's where the problem is today, that the tenets are accepted, and certainly accepted by us, and we want to do what's right by that Act. Our problem is that we're still unsure of the rules of the game.

SHARON O'NEILL: You had a lot of very positive things to say about the Prime Minister in your speech today. Do you think he's generally doing a good job?

LEON DAVIS: Well, I think what's happened in the mining industry has been very useful with what's happened in floating the dollar. I think that's been useful for the mining industry; that happened with this government with dividend imputation, with reduction in corporate tax, with the sweeping away of duties and subsidies, while painful, is something that this country had to face. So I think that the industry has been better because of those changes.

SHARON O'NEILL: What about on the broader issue of his handling of the economy or the Government's handling of the economy?

LEON DAVIS: Well, that's not my position to talk on that. I'm really only concerned about how CRA operates in that environment, and I think that the benefits that have flown from government decisions have been quite beneficial to CRA.

SHARON O'NEILL: You talked about the Prime Minister's interest in Asia and you welcomed that in your speech. Is that something that's unique to Australian Prime Minister's in your view?

LEON DAVIS: Well, I don't think so, but it's certainly .. the initiative of forming APEC is very useful - Australia is at the forefront of that - and I think it's recognised in Asia, in most of the Asian countries I've visited recently, it's recognised that this was an Australian initiative. I think that's useful for us. It places us firmly in the Asian sphere. I don't think we're ever going to be accepted as full Asians because of our European background, and so I don't think that is important. The important thing is for Australians to realise that they are in the Asian region and it's one of the most exciting and the fastest growing regions in the world, and there's many opportunities for all of us here.

MONICA ATTARD: Leon Davis, the new Chief Executive of CRA, and he was speaking there to Sharon O'Neill.