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Tuesday, 15 October 1985
Page: 1230

Senator PETER BAUME(4.04) —I join Senator Cooney in commenting upon the Mount Allan and Gurindji land claims. There is an unfortunate spirit abroad in the community at present which would assert that land is being handed to Aboriginal communities in some capricious, careless or reckless way under provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. The tabling of the reports on these two claims is one more occasion on which we can set that record straight. These reports by two Aboriginal land commissioners, Sir William Kearney and Mr Justice Maurice, are merely steps along the way by which land claims are processed; they are not in themselves the granting of land to anyone. Those of us who have been Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs will know that built into the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 are quite severe requirements which need to be met before Aboriginal communities can claim land. Procedures are laid down which must be followed before a recommendation can go to the Government that land should be granted. Even at that stage the Act provides that the Minister must exercise further judgment and must make a decision before any land trust is established.

I put on record once again that in my time as Minister there were at least a couple of occasions when I declined for good and proper reasons to establish a land trust even where one had been recommended. One occasion involved the land at Vanderlin Island, associated with the Borroloola claim, where to have granted the land trust would have meant dispossessing another Aboriginal person who had some claim to the land but who, under the terms of the Act as it was drafted, would have had no right. No one really objected to that ministerial decision; the Aboriginal community understood it. The other claim which caused a lot of concern-I do not even know whether it is resolved now-was the claim in relation to Beetaloo Station where some Aboriginal people held a pastoral lease but under the Act as it is drafted it was possible for those who alleged that they were traditional owners to claim the land and have their land claim heard.

For those who seem to think that things are happening in a reckless or capricious way I simply put on record what these reports contain. They contain considerable evidence as to traditional association, evidence as to traditional attachment and ownership, determinations by the Commissioners as to those matters, determinations by the Commissioners as to various matters of detriment and finally, of course, they contain the recommendations of the commissioners. Under the Aboriginal Lands Rights (Northern Territory) Act land trusts have been established only following careful, thorough, painstaking and sensitive consideration. As the debate develops in the community I would not want to hear anyone claim that land is being given wrongly or recklessly. I would say to anyone who claims that any white Australian has been dispossessed of land which he or she held that that is simply not true and I would ask them to examine the record and try to tell us where land has been taken away.

As Senator Chaney said in an excellent contribution in the Senate last week, great gains are to be made from a sensitive, reasoned, bipartisan debate on Aboriginal affairs. Part of that debate should be an acknowledgment of the care with which the whole process of land claims proceeds and of the care which the Parliament gives to the reports which are brought down. I trust that the Government will give such attention to these reports. I notice that one claim is for the Gurindji people and that has certain historical importance. It will be of great interest to see how the Government responds to these claims.

Question resolved in the affirmative.