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Monday, 11 November 1985
Page: 1884

Senator KILGARIFF —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. In view of the opposition to many of the governments of the States of Australia, the criticism expressed at the Northern Australia Development Conference in Darwin last week and the media reports of Aboriginal dissatisfaction with the Federal Government's proposed national land rights legislation, what are the Federal Government's intentions now in relation to the introduction of such legislation? Is it not now to be proceeded with or does the Government still stand firm? Will any such legislation be in accordance with the five principles enunciated in Mr Holding's preferred land rights model? Finally, I also draw the Minister's attention to statements made at the NADC last week regarding the Federal Government's intention to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. When is it the Government's intention to introduce such legislation? As there has been no clear statement of what such legislation would achieve, can the Minister at least explain the proposed function of the tribunal which has been mooted by the Minister, Mr Holding?

Senator RYAN —I am not familiar with the proceedings of the Northern Australia Development Conference but I can assure Senator Kilgariff that our Government has not shifted its position on the issue of land rights in the last few days, weeks or months. In fact, there has been no change in policy on land rights since our Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Holding, first announced the general principles which we wish to see incorporated in land rights legislation throughout Australia. Those principles should be very well known in this place because they have been repeated on many occasions by me in answers to questions, especially from Senator Kilgariff, and in many of the debates that we have had on this subject.

I remind Senator Kilgariff that the Government has considered the responses to the preferred model and has endorsed the principle of the model as a proper, reasonable and balanced basis for the implementation of land rights in all parts of Australia. The Commonwealth's clearly preferred position is that, except in the case of the national heritage protection matters, land rights should be implemented by State legislative and administrative action broadly consistent with the preferred model rather than by overriding Commonwealth legislation. The Government has been consistent in this view and the Minister's Press release of 14 August clearly set down this position. There has been no change since then.

The Government will continue discussions with all the relevant Northern Territory interests to finalise acceptable legislative amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 based on the preferred model and the Toohey and Altman reviews. The Government hopes to secure the general acceptance and implementation of the basic principles of the preferred model through consultation with the States over the course of the next 12 months and in this respect will further review the progress of continuing negotiations with the States early in 1986. The preferred model is consistent with and will give effect to the fundamental principles of Australian Labor Party policy except insofar as the model does not address the question of compensation for lost land. This is a matter for consideration when the extent of the application of the first four principles is known.

In his very lengthy question to me, Senator Kilgariff asked what will be the function of the tribunal set out in the preferred model. That function has been explained on many occasions but I will explain it again briefly. The tribunal will exist to give the opportunity for Aboriginal owners to oppose mining on their land and to express their reasons for not wishing a particular mining or exploration venture to take place. At the same time, it will allow those who believe that the proposed mining venture is an important and necessary one or one in which they wish to participate to put their views before the tribunal. In other words, all interested parties-Aboriginal traditional owners, mining companies and others interested in development-will have the opportunity to put their views about a proposed development which is on land owned by traditional owners under our legislation. It will then be the job of the tribunal to decide whether the opposition, in the event that opposition is expressed by the Aboriginal owners, is so great as to be upheld or whether the opposition can be outweighed by other matters of national interest put forward by those who wish to develop. The tribunal's function will be to adjudicate between opposing views on the question of a proposed mineral or any other mining exploration development on Aboriginal land.

Senator KILGARIFF —I ask a supplementary question of the Minister: Is she in a position to be able to advise when the amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act may be enacted? If not, will she advise the Senate at a later time when she has obtained the information?

Senator RYAN —I said in my reply to Senator Kilgariff that further discussions are to be held between our Government and all relevant Territory interests before acceptable legislative amendments to the Northern Territory legislation can be finalised. I cannot predict how long those amendments will take to be finalised, but the Government hopes to secure the general acceptance and implementation of the principles which those amendments will be a part of within the next 12 months. Should more progress be made in securing the agreement of parties with a proper interest in these matters, I will be very happy to inform Senator Kilgariff of that progress.