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Thursday, 25 May 1989
Page: 2699

Senator COLLINS —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Is the Minister aware that on Tuesday of this week the Country Liberal Party (CLP) Government of the Northern Territory introduced into the Northern Territory Parliament over 60 amendments-comprising 22 pages-to a Bill to protect Aboriginal sacred sites in the Northern Territory? Is he further aware that these amendments, which in fact redraft the Bill, will proceed through all stages of the Northern Territory's Parliament today? Is he further aware that these amendments to redraft this Bill were introduced without the slightest consultation with the people most directly and, I might add, adversely affected by this legislation-the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory?

Senator Boswell —It sounds like ATSIC.

Senator COLLINS —On that point, is the Minister further aware that this reprehensible action by the Northern Territory Government is hot on the heels of a 12-month examination of Federal legislation by a committee established by the CLP's representative in this chamber, Senator Grant Tambling?

Senator Boswell —Humbug!

Senator COLLINS —It is absolute humbug and hypocrisy-the honourable senator is quite right. Is the Government concerned with these developments in the Northern Territory and is it monitoring the progress of this legislation?

Senator TATE —Yesterday Senator Tambling asked me a question about the status of this legislation in the Northern Territory House of Assembly.

Senator MacGibbon —You cannot pass a legal opinion here in Question Time.

Senator TATE —I am not going to give a legal opinion. I was asked about the status of this legislation in the mind of the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I think the general tenor of the question was whether in fact the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs approved of the legislation. I indicated that we were taking an interest in that legislation, as one would expect, and that the consultation between Mr Manzie and Mr Hand had been going quite nicely until Tuesday when, as was indicated again in the question by Senator Collins, I believe some 60 amendments, running to 22 pages, were introduced into the Northern Territory Parliament. That was done without-I think this would be conceded-the very necessary consultation with those very people in the Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory who would be affected by those changes.

In relation to some of the interjections, I believe that the Senate plays a very useful role at times in being something of a restraint on an over-enthusiastic government in the lower House. Indeed, in Queensland, and now in the Northern Territory, we have evidence of what happens in a democracy where there is only one chamber of parliament monitoring the actions of a government.

Senator Collins —What about the Australian Capital Territory?

Senator TATE —I do not want a Senate in the Australian Capital Territory-that would be too much to bear. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the total lack of consultation in relation to these many pages of amendments is at odds with the Opposition's campaign against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission legislation. I would say that the long period of consultation which was afforded by the operations of the Select Committee on the Administration of Aboriginal Affairs, which looked at that legislation, indicates the sort of procedure that might usefully be adopted by the Northern Territory Government and Parliament in relation to this matter. It may well be that Senator Tambling and Senator Collins, in a bipartisan way, might suggest to the Northern Territory Administration and Parliament that some such committee be established to look at the many pages of amendments-22 pages of 60 amendments-so that consultations can take place over an extended period. I do not mean to drag out this point, but such a process could be carried out in such a way as to enable consultation not only with the Aboriginal community but also with other interested and affected persons in the Northern Territory.

Senator Crichton-Browne —They gave two years notice of these Bills.

Senator TATE —They did not give two years notice of the 60 amendments; I do not think even the honourable senator could claim that. I hope that those consultations, which are necessary to the passage of good legislation, can be undertaken and, as I say, perhaps the model of the Senate Select Committee would be a good one.