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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3839

Mr HOLDING (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)(11.42) —I listened with some interest to the comments of the spokesman for the Opposition, the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly). Basically, he is repeating somewhat ill-informed comments that were made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Everingham) in the second reading debate. In fairness to him let me say that he does so with greater clarity and with greater elucidation. Nevertheless, intrinsically his argument does not rest easily upon the general attitudes taken by the coalition and certainly seems to me to be an off the top of the head response to the nonsense arguments put by the honourable member for the Northern Territory. I put it this way: This is an Opposition which at every level continually says to the public at large that it is against the over-administration of sections of public administration and that we are all under a duty-particularly the public sector-to cut costs and to eliminate red tape.

Mr Connolly —You won't cut costs to the northern and central land councils. We have been watching your figures very closely on that. You don't even table annual reports in this chamber. We don't even know where our money goes.

Mr HOLDING —The honourable member can easily find out if he is prepared, with some members of his Party, to sit down and talk to land councils. His problem and the problem of the Opposition-it is becoming clear throughout this whole debate-is that they will talk to the miners and they will talk to the Northern Territory Government, but the only people they seem to have a great reluctance to talk to as a party are the Aboriginal people and the land councils. If they did that, perhaps they would not be putting some of the nonsense propositions they are putting.

The honourable gentleman says: `If you look at the area of Arnhem Land you will see all kinds of mining applications all over it'. That is perfectly true. If one looks at a map of my own State one will see that there is not one inch of it that is not covered by a mining application of some sort or other, although not a great deal necessarily takes place in respect of any of those applications. Let us follow through the logic of the honourable gentleman's argument. There are over 30,000 Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, many of whom are traditional owners of a number of properties. There is a cost of recording just that on the basis that at some stage it may be relevant if some miner wants to do something--

Mr Connolly —But Aboriginals may want to do something too, not just the miners.

Mr HOLDING —Will the honourable member please listen? I listened to him in silence.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! The honourable member for Bradfield will cease interjecting.

Mr HOLDING —He is getting upset, I suppose, because the simpleness of his arguments is being exploded before his very eyes. Does the honourable gentleman, who in so many areas regards himself as a member of the waste watchers committee, understand what is involved in trying to produce and keep updated a register for 30,000 Aboriginal people, many of whom, for traditional reasons, change their names? It would have to be kept updated in terms of births, deaths and marriages.

The honourable member suggests that we do that despite the recommendation of Mr Justice Toohey in a very lengthy report that it ought not to be mandatory. We have had it examined by Mr Justice Toohey. He has looked at it and he is prepared to give some general advice. The detail of what he says is that he does not believe that this ought to be a mandatory obligation on the land councils. Has the honourable gentleman opposite talked to the land councils or to the Aboriginal people about the details and the problems with this? No. What happens is that, on one of his periodic visits to the Parliament, the honourable member for the Northern Territory walks in and says `You had better do this' and the Opposition says: `That's all right, let's do it'. It does not matter that we have had a distinguished former land commissioner, a judge of the Federal Court of Australia, saying that it should not be a mandatory power and that it should not be obligatory on the land councils. That is his recommendation. But the coalition walks in, half cocked as usual, and says: `It doesn't matter what he says. We will listen to the jaundiced views of the honourable member for the Northern Territory'. His opinion on any- thing is likely to change as often as we change our shirts. The coalition says: `We'll pick up his argument. We won't bother to look at the details, and we won't bother to look at the cost and the problems'.

Land councils are there to serve Aboriginal people on a variety of day to day problems. They are not there to produce huge manifests which would be inordinately expensive and in many cases almost a total waste of taxpayers' money. Therefore, I commend to the honourable gentleman a closer reading of the comments of Mr Justice Toohey. The Government has no intention of accepting a proposal which makes mandatory an obligation on land councils which flies in the very face of the recommendation made by His Honour.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 17 to 20-by leave-taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 21 (Application of money of Land Council).