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Tuesday, 18 June 1996
Page: 1684

Senator BOB COLLINS —My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Minister, you would be aware that the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory has recently made a statement saying that he has the strong support of the Prime Minister for statehood for the Northern Territory. You would also be aware of the absolutely crucial role that Aboriginal issues will play constitutionally in that road to statehood and you would also be aware that the preferred root of statehood for the Northern Territory is by an act of this parliament. That being the case, can you advise the Senate if you support the proposal that the preamble to that act should recognise the prior occupation and ownership by the Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Territory before European settlement? Do you support the proposal to have the Commonwealth 1976 Land Rights Act enshrined in that act as organic law?

Senator HERRON —I thank Senator Collins for the question. It is a very important one. It has been discussed and mentioned in the media. Senator Collins, you will be aware that the Fraser government instituted the 1976 land act which was of vital importance. There are about to be celebrations in that regard and we will certainly be supporting those as the act was a coalition initiative.

Senator Bob Collins —It was Big Mal; he was very strong on those issues.

Senator HERRON —It was; and he is still very proud of that fact. He will be invited back to the Northern Territory when those celebrations occur. You are aware that not only did the Commonwealth government support the Northern Territory's movement towards statehood but so did the states. It is still up for discussion as to when that should occur and the details of that. I am sure that will occur in the progress of time.

Certainly in my visits to the Northern Territory—and you might be interested to know that I have been to Alice Springs on two occasions and Tangentyere and the out-stations as well as Kununurra, Port Hedland, Jigalong, Warburton, Perth—

Senator Cook —They are in Western Australia.

Senator HERRON —They are in Western Australia but I am just announcing where I have been in that period of time—Thursday Island, Warraber, Badu Island, Boigu Islands, York Islands, Yuendumu, Port Keats, Daly River, Kakadu and Darwin. I might tell you in none of those areas were those questions asked. I think Senator Collins ought to accompany me, because after 13 years of Labor neglect—

Senator Bob Collins —What has that got to do with it?

Senator HERRON —It has got to do with where the Aboriginal community is today after 13 years of your government. They are not questions that are going to influence the outcome of Aboriginal communities. That is the importance of that question. If it is to the benefit of the Aboriginal community, then certainly I support it. It is in that context that I am mentioning those other areas that I have been to.

Senator Bob Collins —So you do support the concept.

Senator HERRON —Yes.

Senator BOB COLLINS —This is an important concept, as Senator Herron says. Both of the proposals I have raised today are things Aboriginal organisations do want. Whether or not they have actually asked Senator Herron those questions I do not think is particularly relevant, but they do want the preamble to contain those provisions and they do want the 1976 Land Rights Act enshrined as organic law in the constitution. Can I get clarification of your last answer? Do you, by your answer, indicate your support for both of those propositions?

Senator HERRON —What I have tried to explain to you is that the details of that will be up for discussion through the COAG process. It is too early to give you—

Senator Bob Collins —That's not what you said a minute ago.

Senator HERRON —Yes, it is. If you had listened, you would understand. I would suggest that you read the Hansard .