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Tuesday, 21 December 1993
Page: 5481

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (9.48 p.m.) —Let me address the Democrats' clause 14C and indicate briefly that the Democrats can speak for themselves. We endorse what they have said already, but I will add as follows.

Senator Spindler —Greens.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am sorry; it is the Greens' amendment 14C. Senator Spindler does not need to be quite as strident in his identification. The purpose of this amendment is to guard against the possible effects of the validation provisions on Aboriginal people whose legal rights have been extinguished, despite the fact that they have access to or reside on a pastoral property. Clause 15 already provides protection for Aboriginal people who benefit from a reservation in the legislation or a lease or otherwise have rights under the common law or rights of usage. Amendment 14C affords protection to any Aboriginal people currently living on or with access to validated pastoral leases who are not protected by clause 15.

  The amendment, I guess, is moved against the background of some of the really very dark moments in the history of our country when Aboriginal people were forcibly dispossessed of their land, in many cases to live just in corners of their former domains by the grace and favour of the new owners. In some cases Aboriginal people living on pastoral leases had the protection of legal rights and, by virtue again of clause 15, the validation of any such pastoral leases will preserve those legal rights. Having considered this whole matter rather carefully, the government believes that it is right to afford this additional protection for Aboriginal people who are unable to demonstrate a right under the law to their presence on pastoral leases other than any native title rights which might be extinguished as a result of the provisions of the bill.

  The amendment provides that such people cannot be ejected or removed from the property simply by virtue of any such extinguishment. I think it does convey, accordingly, a pretty important message. It may well be that the whole context of validation, as I have said so many times before, is a largely theoretical one, but in the practical world of actually identifying pastoral lease properties where there was an invalid grant by virtue of the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act and so on, and that has subsequently to be validated, it may be that those cases will prove to be theoretical only and that, in practice, there were few, if any, actual such examples.

  To the extent there may have been examples, and it seems likely that the part of the country where this issue is most likely to arise is the Kimberleys to the north-west of Western Australia, and to the extent it may have practical impact the question of forcible ejection and dispossession may have some practical relevance utility, as well as being a standard in principle set by the legislation and, as such, we support it accordingly.