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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2890

Senator DURACK(3.46) —I want to follow this up further with the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Gareth Evans. I am not so much frustrated by the fact that, as he said, I am not in there making the decisions. What I am utterly frustrated by, and so is the mining industry, are the completely confused signals about the decision-making process that we are receiving from Senator Evans. He told Estimates Committee E that the problems with the mining titles would be all fixed up in a few weeks. Has anything been done by the Government in the space of the last nine or 10 weeks to fix up those titles? There seem to be indications that there will be a considerable change in decision-making. If, as Senator Evans has said, there is still to be some role for the private sector to play in this area, the Government should have been getting on with cleaning up the mess that the officer, Mr Ryan, identified very clearly to the Committee. Senator Evans cannot get out of it by simply saying that the Government is going through a difficult decision-making process and he will let us know when it is completed. At that Committee he indicated that something would be done within a few weeks about the mess with the mining titles.

A further mess and problem that was revealed by Senator Evans related to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. If the Government's plans are to resume the two pastoral leases, they will be open to claim by Aboriginal communities under that Act. I raised that with Senator Evans on 18 September and asked him whether this would be another problem that would confront the private mining industry, given the notorious delays that have occurred in coming to agreements with land councils under the existing Act. Senator Evans delivered a totally misleading answer. He said:

We hope--

maybe he can get out of it under the phrase `We hope'-

and expect legislation to be introduced which will clarify many of the ground rules governing the acquisition of mineral interests on Aboriginal land and include time frames within which negotiations are to be accomplished, with arbitral provisions at the end of those time frames if agreement cannot be reached.

Having said that on 18 September, the Government's amendments to the Aboriginal land rights legislation have been introduced into the Parliament. Senator Evans foreshadowed that this legislation would deal with the problem which he accepted existed when I raised it. The legislation does not address the problem at all. I do not know whether the Government is ever going to address this problem. Probably it will not. It is certainly not addressing it in the sort of time frame we were discussing on 18 September and which we are discussing now.