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Thursday, 8 March 1984
Page: 640

Senator KILGARIFF(4.12) —In speaking briefly to the seventh report of the Australian Heritage Commission, the report for 1982-83, I think the Australian Heritage Commission, its chairman and commissioners are to be congratulated for the work that they have carried out during the year. Australia and its people can be well pleased by what has been achieved by the Heritage Commission in its seven years of activity to protect the National Estate. In particular I commend the Heritage Commission for the work it is carrying out in education in publishing booklets listing nominations. This is excellent material . Honourable senators will note that material has been put out in regard to three Australian sites-the Willandra Lakes Region, the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park. As I have said, the work is excellent and is invaluable. In the education area, the Commission hoped to have its school kit ' Investigating the National Estate' updated by the end of 1983. I do not recall having seen the updated material but no doubt it is available. I commend the Commission for its efforts in this area as this material is spread far and wide amongst the schools.

I note that this year the Northern Territory has received very many grants. Various Northern Territory authorities, such as the Conservation Commission, museums and art galleries, the Sacred Sites Protection Authority and the National Trust have been funded. I commend also the work that the National Trust is doing. Funds have been made available and this has allowed many of the old buildings and valuable sites in the Northern Territory to be protected.

I wish to mention a matter that has arisen between the Heritage Commission and the Northern Territory. I do not say that there is confrontation but it appears that some legislation is required to bring about better teamwork with the Commission. I wish to read from a letter written by the Northern Territory Government. It states:

Dear Prime Minister, I wish to draw your attention to a matter of some uncertainty in the provisions of the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 which my Government believes should be resolved by legislative amendment.

The issue concerns the application of the Act to the Northern Territory and its statutory authorities. The scope of the definition of ''authority of the Commonwealth'' (section 3 of the Act) is uncertain. It appears that there is a conflict of legal opinion as to whether the definition extends to Northern Territory statutory authorities. I understand it has even been advanced that the definition is sufficiently wide to encompass the Crown in right of the Northern Territory-a simplistic approach which entirely overlooks the fundamental changes effected by the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act.

Legal advice suggests that the Act's definition of ''authority of the Commonwealth'' does not extend to either the Northern Territory as a body politic or its authorities. However, I believe there would be little merit in legal advisors to our Government engaging in a long and tedious technical debate which appears unlikely to reach finality short of a judicial ruling.

The present situation is clearly unsatisfactory. The Commonwealth Act is undoubtedly uncertain on the issue and, unless amended, inevitably will remain a source of friction.

The Australian Heritage Commission, while adopting an interpretation of its Act at variance with that of my Government, has recognised that the self-governing status of the Northern Territory is inconsistent with application of Commonwealth legislation to entirely ''State'' administrative decisions.

As long ago as 1979, in a submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation, the Commission stated that it would be appropriate to amend the Act to place the Northern Territory in a position similar to that of the States. The Standing Committee, in both its first and second reports (1979 and 1981) agreed that there was no reason why the Territory should not be treated in the same manner as the States. The Committee also suggested that complementary Territory legislation should also be introduced. However, this is entirely a matter for my Government's consideration and should not be adopted as an excuse for inaction in removing the present ambiguity from the Commonwealth legislation.

I hope that the two authorities will come to some agreement on this matter.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.