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Wednesday, 23 April 1980
Page: 1781

Senator CHANEY (Western AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - Senator Cavanaghhas really repeated a number of the arguments which were raised in the second reading debate. I would like to clarify one point. In my reply to the second reading debate I did not admit doubt about Ranger; I admitted that doubts about Ranger had been raised. I draw that distinction. With respect to the rights of parties which are entering into agreements, those parties do retain a right of challenge before the court if, for example, a group of Aboriginal people feel that they are not being consulted when they should be consulted. There is that opportunity for them to go to the courts at any time before an agreement is approved by the land council and the Minister.

The point that Senator Cavanagh was making was that there was no necessity for this provision because, provided the provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act are met, there can be no challenge. I simply ask Senator Cavanagh to place himself in the position of a contracting party. How would he ensure that the provisions of the Act had been carried out? The Act requires a contracting party to deal with the land council. The same pattern was provided for in the Australian Labor Party legislation. The contracting parties are not to deal direct with the land owners; they are to deal with the land council. It is the land council 's obligation to deal with the traditional owners. Therefore, the outside contracting party, the miner, deals with the owners through an agent. That is required by the Act. Indeed, I think it is an offence for them to act to the contrary. There is no register of owners. There is no way in which the miners can find out whether they are complying with the requirements of the Act other than by dealing with the land council.

Senator Cavanaghsaid that there is always a doubt in these commercial transactions. If a per- i son is contracting for a mining interest, normally that person can remove the doubts by searching the company register, the mining register and the land register to ascertain quite clearly who. he is dealing with, , the title of the .person he. is dealing with as to the asset that they purport to be contracting about and so on. There are various ways of guaranteeing legal certainty that the person concerned is dealing validly with the person who is entitled to deal. In the case of this legislation, that person is forced to deal with the land council. There is no way of going behind the land council to check. So if that person is to have that sort of certainty, which he has to have to borrow large sums of money and to commit large sums of capital, at some point that person must be able to rely on having a firm agreement. I think that is a situation which is unarguable and to which some regard has to be paid.

Senator Evansraised a question in respect of clause 2 of the Bill and the retrospective operation of the legislation. The matter of retrospectivity always has to be examined carefully. In this case the Government believes that in the interests of ensuring that the Act operates as it was intended to act, it is justified in ensuring that these provisions operate from January 1977. Hence, these provisions will apply to all agreements entered into under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, either before or after this Bill is enacted.

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