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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3195

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(8.19) —I suppose the first thing one must do is dispose of the words of Senator Kilgariff. I do not know what they had to do with the Bill except to say that it should be deferred. I should point out to Senator Kilgariff that it is not the first time in this place that the Minister representing someone else had been unable to be here. Senator Kilgariff has no idea why she is unable to be here. I believe her reasons for not being here are valid. I believe there are plenty of reasons why Senator Kilgariff should not be in this chamber tonight, and they involve the last two hours. The first problem which arises tonight-

Senator Kilgariff —I raise a point of order. I find that remark offensive.

Senator GRIMES —In what way?

Senator Kilgariff —I ask that the Minister withdraw that remark.

Senator GRIMES —In what way does the honourable senator find it offensive? Spell it out.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Elstob) —Order! On the point of order, the Minister said that he did not know where Senator Kilgariff was for the last two hours.

Senator GRIMES —I did not say that at all.

Senator Withers —Don't cheek the Chair.

Senator Kilgariff —Are you correcting the Chair?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Order! There is no point of order.

Senator GRIMES —The first matter that was raised tonight was raised by Senator Messner who is concerned about the definition of 'Aboriginal tradition'. In this Bill the definition reads:

''Aboriginal tradition'' means the body of traditions, observances, customs and beliefs of Aboriginals generally or of a particular community or group of Aboriginals, and includes any such traditions, observances, customs or beliefs relating to particular persons, areas, objects or relationships;

I will give honourable senators another quotation from the Aboriginal (Land Rights) Northern Territory Act. It reads:

''Aboriginal tradition'' means the body of traditions, observances, customs and beliefs of Aboriginals or of a community or group of Aboriginals, and includes those traditions, observances, customs and beliefs as applied in relation to particular persons, sites, areas of land, things or relationships.

This Act was produced by the previous Government in the past.

Senator Messner —Which is different.

Senator GRIMES —It is marginally different. Is the honourable senator really suggesting that the difference is such that it is a major point in the argument? Of course, we have problems of definition when we deal with the Aboriginal community. We have had problems for a long time. I remember the problems when William Wentworth, a distinguished member of the Liberal Party of Australia, had those definitions of Aboriginality. Problems and vagueness of definition used to echo across the chamber and across the country. Of course we have great difficulties in this area of definition. One cannot make strict definitions of the type that Opposition members talk about.

Senator Chaney and other honourable senators talked about that definition of ' area' because it includes a site. As he said, because it includes a site, it is obviously wider than that. An area is defined as the area as declared. It must be defined when the Minister declares it. It becomes subject to public scrutiny. It becomes subject to parliamentary scrutiny. It is only declared and it is only defined if the area is under threat by mining or other sources. It is not, as the Minister assured us in another place, intended to include the sorts of broad acres to which Senator Chaney inferred that it would--

Senator Chaney —Could; I asked a question.

Senator GRIMES —It could, but the Minister's discretion is not unfettered and Senator Chaney knows it is not unfettered. The Minister must consult with the relevant State or Territory Minister. He must call for or consider the report of an independent inquirer who publicly calls for submissions and considers a wide range of interests. He may call parties together to consult. He will consult with his Cabinet colleagues and consider any other matters that are considered relevant. The decision is reviewable by either House of the Parliament. It is only in those circumstances and where the Minister and the Government consider that a State or Territory law provides for effective protection that the Minister may revoke that declaration.

This nonsense that suddenly the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in this place is going to come in and make broad declarations which no one can say anything about, which no one can question and which no one can argue about is nonsense. It has been pointed out that it is nonsense in this legislation. To bring up the definitional problems because they are vague-they are essentially vague because we have a large number of Aboriginal communities and a large number of different Aboriginal traditions-and to question the definition of 'Aboriginal tradition' in this legislation when the definition in the legislation brought down by honourable senators opposite when in government is essentially the same, I think demonstrates that they are grasping at straws and really trying just to protract this debate. If we are to have the sort of contribution that we had from Senator Kilgariff tonight, who said, 'Why isn't Senator Ryan here? She should be here', and questions as to why she is not present, that is appalling. We could have asked that same question many times about Ministers of the previous Government. We never did that.