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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3199

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(8.46) —I will deal first of all with a point that I think Senator Crichton-Browne was making. He objects to the definition of 'Aboriginal tradition' in the legislation because he says it is so broad and so wide that it could incorporate almost any corner of this land which had been occupied by the Aborigines before 1788.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Where they had a presence.

Senator GRIMES —Where they had a presence. The first thing I will point out to Senator Crichton-Browne is that that definition is essentially the same definition which is in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, which was introduced by a Liberal-Country Party Government.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Do you commend that to the Committee?

Senator GRIMES —I am just making a point, and the honourable senator has had several years in this place to object to this definition and this is the first time he has ever got up and objected to it.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Well, our Party room has no leaks.

Senator GRIMES —I ask the honourable senator to let me lead on to this point: If that is what it was about and if this legislation or the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act meant that, because of that definition, every square centimetre of this land could be claimed, of course, and no one would be happy with it. I think Senator Chaney suggested that that definition of 'Aboriginal tradition', of which he picks out a particular part, provides that we could in fact declare the land in totality as a sacred site. But I point out to the honourable senator that in this legislation--

Senator Chaney —No, not sacred sites-significant Aboriginal areas.

Senator GRIMES —Well, in this legislation that is qualified by the definition of 'significant Aboriginal areas' and 'significant Aboriginal objects'. It is qualified by the fact that the area involved must be an area of particular significance to Aboriginals and it must be an area or a site or an object of particular significance to Aboriginals. If we take the broad definition that Senator Crichton-Browne is worried about, people would be claiming Sydney, Perth and God knows what and the Minister would be declaring them sacred sites, or as Senator Crichton-Browne puts it, giving people land rights over the whole of that area. I suggest to honourable senators that that is a nonsense definition and a nonsense way to interpret this legislation. I put to honourable senators that the Minister does not have unfettered ministerial discretion. There are all sorts of areas in which he is fettered. He is fettered by the need to consult with the relevant State and Territory ministers. He is fettered by the fact that a House of this Parliament can overrule him. He is fettered by the fact that he has to make his decisions public, that he has to have an independent inquirer who publicly calls for submissions and considers a wide range of interests. It is easy in any piece of legislation which comes before this Parliament to pick out a definition in isolation, in the way honourable senators opposite have done . I suggest we could have done that in 1976. We could have said: 'Look at what you are doing. You have a broad definition there which includes everything in the country'. But no one expected that that would happen then and no one is suggesting that that would happen now.

If we look at the rest of the definitions and at the qualifying definitions, I suggest that what the Opposition is saying is a nonsense and just a debating point and not more than that. I say that because no one in his right mind would seriously suggest in this place that any government-either the Government which introduced the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 or the Government which introduces the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage ( Interim Protection) Act 1984-would declare this whole country a sacred site or turn this whole country open to land rights legislation. That sort of tactic and that sort of activity takes out a single definition and implies: 'This can cover anything. We are all under threat-the people of Redfern, the people in Vaucluse, the people in Toorak and the people in Sandy Bay are under threat'. That is a nonsense interpretation of this legislation and I suggest that honourable senators opposite know it.

Senator Chaney has made a reasonable point that when we are talking about definitions such as this we are talking about the Aboriginals' concept of land and about a totality that most of us do not conceive. But I suggest that the definitions are qualified by the further definitions and by the restrictions which are placed on the Minister. I accept that if we had some Minister who was a maniac and who decided to declare the whole country a sacred site or to declare the whole country under the original land rights Act, we would be in trouble. But we are not dealing with that situation and I suggest that it is unreasonable to deal with this legislation in that way.