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Monday, 20 December 1993
Page: 5339


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (11.01 p.m.) —There is a conversion provision in the Northern Territory land rights act which allows—at least until 1997 when I think this option runs out under this legislation—conversion to inalienable title under the Northern Territory act. The Northern Territory government—Senator Tambling is obviously following that position—has expressed concerns that the land fund under the legislation we are debating now will be used to convert pastoral leases to inalienable title under the Northern Territory act and hence take advantage of the veto provisions that are associated with that. That is the concern that has been expressed.

  It is my understanding that the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) has indicated to the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Mr Perron, that we will not necessarily allow the land fund under this act to be used in this way. My understanding is that there has been some communication of that kind and that has also been repeated to the Aboriginal negotiators on the subject.

  It would not be our intention to prevent existing land acquisition programs, whether pursuant to ATSIC programs or ABTA funds, from being used in this way. The matter in issue is the use of the land fund under this bill. We understand the concerns that have been expressed about that and the response is as I have described it. I cannot give Senator Tambling any more detail than that, but hopefully that will be sufficient to assuage some of the concerns Senator Tambling has been spelling out.