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Wednesday, 1 December 1976
Page: 3056

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -The honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) was arguing against the Opposition's case before he heard it. I would consider that he is now enlightened, following the remarks of my colleague the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant).

Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) - You said you were moving the 4 amendments together.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -It is true that I moved the 4 amendments at the one time but I did not make any reference to the matter about which the honourable member for Lilley spoke. I think he thought he was replying to another matter because he had a speech prepared on it. In any event, I will say a few words about it now but more will be said about this matter at a subsequent stage. The fundamental question here is this: Should miners, those people who are entrepreneurially engaged in a pursuit of gouging minerals from the ground in the Northern Territory, need consent when land becomes Aboriginal land? For the first time in Australia's history, as a result of this legislation, Aboriginal people will have land rights. It might have been all right to ride roughshod over the Aborigines in bygone times but the whole purpose of this legislation is to grant land rights.

The Opposition is moving amendments to delete a number of words which would have the effect of giving Aborigines rights in this particular matter. The amendments are designed to ensure that mining interests with options and other rights, interest in land and the like, must seek consent from Aboriginal people in their corporate state when land becomes Aboriginal land. The Government can bastardise this legislation and it can ruin it but this was indeed the unqualified intent of Mr Justice Woodward which has been set out in the most unequivocal and unambiguous terms in his report. I should like to make a brief reference to some of the salient comments that he made about this matter. An inquiry has been conducted into this matter. The then Opposition, the present Government, was in agreement with the fact that we should have this great and high principled application to the issues involved. Unless the Government can put up a case against the recommendations of Mr Justice Woodward to this Parliament it ought to adopt the amendment. Mr Justice Woodward certainly made out a most forthright case along the lines that the amendment proposes. In paragraph 623 of his second report, His Honour said:

No doubt all those companies -

A lot more than one paragraph of his report could be referred to- which can show substantial expenditures should and will receive priority when any areas of Aboriginal land become available for exploration under any new arrangements that may be decided upon.

Paragraph 624 states:

However I think it is essential that they should all be required to adhere to the new arrangements and should not, as the Australian Mining Industry Council has urged on me, be exempt from them.

In paragraph 625, he said:

When the understandable expectations of these companies that they would be able to continue exploration under the rules which governed them to begin with, are weighed against the equally reasonable expectation of Aborigines that their wishes about reserve lands will now be respected, I have no doubt in my mind which expectation must be disappointed.

I am sure that the Committee has no doubt in its mind about what His Honour implied in that respect. The 1975 Labor legislation, which acted as a catalyst on the whole consideration of this matter and which is still substantially upheld in the current legislation, gave expression to these principles. I do not think, Mr Minister, that I am mistaken if I say that the 1976 legislation, as distinct from the current legislation- the Coalition legislation- also provided that mining interests seeking extensions should be subject to consent. At one point in time we were all in agreement in respect of this matter- His Honour, Mr Justice Woodward, the Opposition and the Liberal and National Country parties. But something has happened. What is it that has happened since June 1976 to cause the Aboriginal needs to become secondary and subjective. I believe that the Government has a lot to answer for in this regard. This is not a question of saying that the Government does not want mining in the Northern Territory or that it does not recognise the need for mining; it would recognise the need for mining in any State or Territory regardless of who owned the land. If the Government is trying to get the thing on the cheap, and to come in on the grouter and say that here it has this distinctive, discriminatory situation where only Aboriginal people will not have a say about the terms and conditions, it is resorting to the extreme form of paternalism and it is running in the face of the attitude of the Aboriginal people which has been unanimously expressed.

Can any honourable member present- the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) is a great zealot and enthusiast and is highly experienced in these things- point to one corporate body of Aboriginal people which wants what this Government is proposing under this provision? Of course not. So, the Government is just denying all the counsel and all the high conviction that it has had in bygone times. It has changed its course of action. The Government is not prepared to require these mining companies to front up now in the face of the new situation where there are now new owners, the Aboriginal people. If the Government does not accept the proposition that the legislation will be significant it will not be significant, especially in respect of the great area of responsibility that the Government is turning over to the Country Party dominated Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory which comprises people who have opposed nearly all these principles.

The Minister has put the whole situation in such a way that so many of the important implemental aspects of these matters will be in the hands of people who have opposed any progress in these issues. Unless this Government which in fact has a prerogative over the matter about which we are now talking- the question of consent about existing mining interests- is prepared to put some teeth into the legislation and show that it means business what will happen in respect of these things about which the Commonwealth, has a oversighting role in regard to the Legislative Assembly? These people have shown an antipathy. I do not regard the Minister as having an antipathy to the best interests of Aboriginal People and their quests for land rights. I regard him as being sympathetic. I am putting it to him that here is a matter in respect of which he has an unfettered prerogative and for which once he showed some enthusiasm. Now he has welshed on the deal and the Committee is entitled to some explanation. Unless there is some explanation I believe Aboriginal people around Australia will regard this government as lacking good faith in respect of this important matter.

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