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Tuesday, 29 August 2000
Page: 19518

Mr HAASE (3:24 PM) —My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General announced on Sunday that he will reconsider the Northern Territory's proposed alternative native title regimes. Would the Attorney inform the House of these developments? Is the Attorney aware of any alternative policies on native title?

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) —I thank the member for Kalgoorlie for his question, and I note his keen interest in native title issues. Members will recall that last August the Senate disallowed the Northern Territory's proposed alternative native title regimes relating to petroleum, mining and land acquisition. I am informed that the backlog of mining applications in the Northern Territory now exceeds 1,000. The Northern Territory has amended its legislation a number of times since it was first introduced to ensure its workability. In fact, it amended it after I made the determinations in relation to the basic legislation in April last year but before it was disallowed by the Senate. I received a request last week from the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory to make three determinations that the new Northern Territory regimes comply with the Native Title Act, and I am presently considering that legislation.

The question of whether there are alternative policies on native title continues to be an issue. Tomorrow, I understand, the Senate will debate 13 disallowance motions on the 13 determinations I made in relation to the Queensland alternative native title regimes. From media reports today it remains unclear whether the Labor Party have a policy to support their Queensland colleagues and allow the legislation to stand or to disallow it. In fact, it appears that, while Labor are facing the potential embarrassment of disallowing Queensland Labor's laws, there seems to be something of a split within the ranks. The Financial Review reported today that the federal shadow cabinet is deeply divided over the issue and it seems that the Leader of the Opposition has been personally in contact with Premier Beattie on a possible compromise. In fact, I am told he delayed shadow cabinet yesterday for the purpose of dealing with the issue. At the same time the Courier-Mail reported today that the shadow Aboriginal affairs spokesperson is threatening to resign from shadow cabinet over the proposal.

Government members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —Members on my right, the Attorney-General has the call.

Mr WILLIAMS —The member for Banks told the Financial Review that federal Labor should disallow the Queensland regime. The question continues to be what will federal Labor do, and it continues to be a question without an answer. The Leader of the Opposition seems to have backed himself into a corner. On the one hand he has told the Queensland indigenous groups that the opposition will reject the laws and guarantee the right to negotiate on mining tenements; on the other hand he is doing slick deals with the Queensland Premier against the opposition of the member for Banks. The people of Queensland still have to put up with this indecision, and that indecision comes at considerable cost. The Queensland Mining Council has estimated that over $300 million worth of mineral exploration has been lost in Queensland over the impasse. Premier Beattie has warned of a meltdown in Queensland over this issue and he has been pleading with his federal counterparts over the matter for months. The federal Labor Party must stop bickering and get on and make a decision.

Opposition members—Oh!

Honourable members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —The Attorney-General has the call.

Mr WILLIAMS —It is long past the time for the Leader of the Opposition to show leadership on this issue.