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Tuesday, 30 March 1999
Page: 4690


Mr RUDDOCK (Immigration and Multicultural Affairs; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) (4:48 PM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1999 corrects an error made in 1991 by the previous government, when it inadvertently included the Elliott stockyards and dip in schedule 1 to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The area of land involved is about 3.8 hectares. Regrettably, it has not been possible to return this land since the error was made. This part of the amendment will commence 28 days after royal assent.

The bill will also amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to ensure the effectiveness of subsection 50(2D) of the act, which prevents land claims over stock routes and stock reserves. The background to this matter is that the previous government entered into a memorandum of agreement in 1989 with the Northern Territory government concerning the granting of community living areas to Aboriginal people in pastoral districts in the Northern Territory. As part of that agreement, the Commonwealth undertook to proclaim a 1987 amendment to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 preventing the making of land claims over stock routes and reserves. This amendment was made because it was never intended that stock routes and reserves should be available for claim.

The amendment was proclaimed in 1990. However, it appears that the amendment was technically deficient. The effect of the amendment as drafted is that, while the claims cannot be heard by the Aboriginal land commissioners as a result of subsection 50(2D), they remain registered. This means that there is doubt about whether the Northern Territory government can deal with the land.

In 1995, the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory governments reached an agreement that an effective amendment be made in exchange for the Northern Territory accepting Commonwealth proposals for amendments to the Northern Territory's Pastoral Land Act 1992. The aim of these amendments is to expedite the granting of community living areas to Aboriginal people, particularly those being dealt with by the Community Living Areas Tribunal. This part of the bill will conclusively dispose of stock route and stock reserve claims by removing any doubt about the effectiveness of subsection 50(2D) of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

The bill will also amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to dispose of Aboriginal land claims if the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, in his report to the minister relating to the claim, finds that there are no traditional Aboriginal owners of the land or is unable to make a finding that there are any traditional Aboriginal owners of the land. Currently, the act finally disposes of land claims if the Land Commissioner makes a positive finding that there are no traditional owners. In cases where the Land Commissioner has held that it is not possible to determine traditional ownership, the claims have remained on the books.

The sunset clause introduced in 1987 was intended to prevent land claims being made after 5 June 1997. However, while the Land Commissioner cannot deal with claims lodged after this date, it does not prevent such claims being lodged and remaining on the books. The bill will finally dispose of claims in the following three categories:

(i) where the Land Commissioner is unable to make a finding that there are Aboriginals who are the traditional Aboriginal owners of land; or

(ii) where the claim is over stock routes or stock reserves and the Land Commissioner had not commenced a hearing by 1 March 1990; or

(iii) in all other cases, the claim was made after 5 June 1997.

These latter amendments will commence on proclamation, with a 12-month limit on the time within which proclamation is to be made. In accordance with the 1995 agreement with the Northern Territory, the amendments will therefore commence at the same time as the amendments to the Northern Territory Pastoral Land Act 1992. We believe that there are no financial implications arising from this bill. I commend the bill to the House and table the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Martin) adjourned.