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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2671

Mr SINCLAIR (NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the Minister for Northern Development and the Minister for the Northern Territory aware of the intense feeling among the people of the Northern Territory and among the thousands of Australian small investors at the Government's refusal to allow 2 Australian companies, Queensland Mines Ltd and Kathleen Investments (Australia) Ltd, to develop mining areas in the Alligator River area of the Northern Territory? Is it true that these companies are going to be kicked out of the Northern Territory without any compensation? Is the Minister prepared to recommend to his colleagues that licences should be issued to the companies, even prior to the finalising of the Woodward report, with guarantees against the encroachment on Aboriginal sacred sites and payment to the Aboriginals of royalties for any development which takes place on the mining areas? What is the new Minister for the Northern Territory, who is now responsible for the issuing of leases, going to do about this situation?

Dr PATTERSON (DAWSON, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Northern Development) - I am aware of the controversy and unrest that are in the north regarding this problem of the development of mineral areas in the vicinity of the East Alligator River and the South Alligator River in the Northern Territory. Some of the mineral areas lie within Arnhem Land and some within Aboriginal reserves. Some of the licences lie outside them. Some lie within the proposed national park. Perhaps the 2 most pressing areas for decision relate to Ranger which has leases outside the Aboriginal reserve of Woolwonga and outside the proposed national park and Nabarlek, of course, which is in Arnhem Land so that its licence is inside the Aboriginal reserve. I am conversant with the area. Although I have not been there for some time, I spent a considerable time some years ago in the area. I was working there with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, horses and a full-blood Aboriginal tracker. I know the area and in particular those areas around Magela, Jim Jim, Adder and Deaf Adder Creeks and from memory Tin Camp Creek near Nabarlek. I was working in the area on land classification for cattle. The mineral areas are hungry country and in fact would not feed a billy goat. Most of the Aboriginals in the area live at Oenpelli. I did not see any Aboriginals there myself, with the exception of the fullblood with whom I was working. On the other hand, there was plenty of evidence which showed that Aborigines have lived in the area for a long number of years. There were paintings and I saw graveyards in the mountains.

The problem of granting licences and mineral leases is one which I can assure the honourable member will receive full consideration from me, but I will not be stampeded into it. I make no apology for the fact that I am biassed, as everybody knows, towards development. I believe in development providing it is soundly based and is common sense development. I make no apology for that. On the other hand I am fully conscious of the rights of others in these areas. I assure the honourable member that I am giving very serious consideration to this problem. It is my intention to make certain recommendations to Cabinet setting out the pros and cons of the matter as I see it and keeping in mind the serious unrest that has developed in the north. Personally I can see no reason why Ranger should not go ahead and provided that the claims of Aborigines are protected with respect to both compensation and rights, I can see no reason also why Nabarlek should not go ahead in those areas with those qualifications. However, I shall be putting a submission to Cabinet and Cabinet will decide, taking into account all those considerations.

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