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Friday, 4 May 1984
Page: 1601


The PRESIDENT —Order! It being 12 noon, in accordance with Sessional Orders, I now call on Questions without Notice.

ABORIGINAL LAND RIGHTS


Senator KILGARIFF —Does the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs agree with the Minister for Resources and Energy that the terms in which Mr Hugh Morgan expressed his concern about the implications of Aboriginal land rights for the mining industry, to quote the Minister, 'do not necessarily invalidate the case itself'. Does she share the Minister's concern that, since 1981, 165 exploration licences have been offered to 42 companies on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory and none have successfully negotiated agreements?


Senator RYAN —In my capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and, I am sure, representing the Government generally, I share Senator Walsh's condemnation of the terms in which Mr Morgan chose to make a public statement about the problems for the mining industry in the implementation of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. I have no knowledge of the precise number of exploration licences which have been applied for, nor how many have been granted or how many are still under consideration. I am aware that sections of the mining industry are concerned about delays. Naturally, our Government will take those concerns separately. However-I am trying to remember the end of Senator Kilgariff's question-I certainly cannot give detailed comment on the number of licences. It is the intention of our Government, in the land rights area, as in every other area, to resolve dilemmas or possible problems by consultation with all parties concerned and certainly not to go down the track that Mr Morgan has apparently gone down of trying to create some racist backlash against Aboriginal land owners in the Northern Territory by describing them in such derogatory terms. I am perfectly confident that my colleague Senator Walsh, the Minister for Energy and Resources, and my colleague Mr Clyde Holding, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, will be able-through discussion, and consultation with miners and Aboriginal land owners in the Northern Territory-to overcome any legitimate difficulties that may exist with regard to the development of mining in that Territory.


Senator KILGARIFF —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the Minister's answer to the first part of the question. However, I think she said that she had missed some of the figures in the second part. I shall repeat it. The second part of my question is: Does she share the Minister's concern that, since 1981, 165 exploration licences have been offered to 42 companies on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory and none has successfully negotiated agreements?


Senator RYAN —If that matter is a matter for concern by Senator Walsh, then he is the appropriate Minister to express that concern. I would need to know a lot more about why so many licences were applied for, the extent of current mining projects on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory and a great deal of other background material before I could place in context the figure of 165 unapproved applications for exploration licences. The question is complex. Yesterday my colleague Senator Walsh expressed some sympathy with the miners' view, and I am sure that he is exploring that sensitively. I conclude my answer to Senator Kilgariff's supplementary question by saying this: Our Government is firmly committed to Aboriginal land rights. We welcome the fact that a substantial part of the Northern Territory is now owned by traditional Aboriginal owners.


Senator Durack —Welcome it?


Senator RYAN —Welcome it. I said we welcomed that fact. As the honourable senator will recall, the Whitlam Government introduced land rights legislation into the Northern Territory but did not have the chance to implement it. We welcome the fact that the Fraser Government proceeded with that legislation, even though with some amendments, and that in a bipartisan manner land rights for traditional Aboriginal owners in the Northern Territory have been established. I think there is bipartisan support for that development throughout this chamber and in the community. If there are difficulties with regard to delays in the consideration of applications for exploration, those matters will be addressed by my colleagues Senator Walsh and Mr Holding. I conclude by saying that any problems which have arisen or which appear to have arisen ought, in the view of our Government, to be resolved by consultation with all parties concerned; that is, the Aboriginal owners themselves and the miners.