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Wednesday, 6 November 1985
Page: 1655


Senator PARER —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy, who will be aware of attacks on the mining industry in recent days by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, in which he said that the Australian Mining Industry Council argument on land rights was a rerun of the position the industry had taken over a decade in a campaign to gain access to farming land and other private land where the landowners had independent control over mining on their land. I ask: Did the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs consult the Minister before he made this incorrect statement? Is it not a fact that landowners, including farmers, do not have control of exploration for minerals beneath the surface of their properties? Why do Aboriginals have mineral rights over and above those applicable to every other Australian?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I have had continuing discussions with Mr Holding over the whole question of the Commonwealth's land rights package and the character of the Government's reaction to the campaigns that have been mounted from time to time, most recently by AMIC, against land rights for Aboriginal Australians. I am well aware of the complexity of mining and petroleum laws as they operate in various parts of the country. It is the case that by and large ordinary landowners do not have, certainly mineral rights, or rights of absolute veto over the use of their land for exploration and mining production purposes. What they have a capacity to do is to object to claims by mining companies for such access and to have such objections heard and determined by appropriate tribunals, the nature of which differ in different parts of the country.

What seems to be conspicuously overlooked in the mining industry's attack on Aboriginal land rights and, in particular, the preferred Commonwealth model for land rights, is that the rights proposed for Aborigines are in no essential respects different from those presently available for white landowners. If Aborigines make successful claims, through a complicated tribunal process, to land based on historical association or whatever else and subsequently mining companies seek access to that Aboriginal land, it is proposed, under the Commonwealth's preferred model, that there be no absolute veto but that there be a capacity for the Aborigines in occupancy of such land to object, in effect, to the mining company's claims and, in the event of there continuing to be a disagreement, that objection to work itself out before an appropriate tribunal, with the ultimate discretion being vested in the government of the day. That is the reality of the situation.

An extraordinary amount of mythology is erected, most of it misleading, some of it quite deliberately so, by elements within the mining industry. As I said yesterday when answering this question, the Government's intention is not to give any particular presumption in favour either of Aboriginal interests or exploration and development interests, as important as each of those interests are in their respective ways for both the dignity and the long term prosperity of this nation. Our desire as a government is to treat each of those competing interests equally, to weigh and to balance them through appropriate machinery, before appropriate tribunals where necessary, and at the end of the day to produce decisions which represent justice for all Australians, not just a particular privileged group.