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Wednesday, 23 April 1980
Page: 1781

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) - I thank the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) for his reply and his efforts to justify what I think is an unjustifiable situation. Firstly, if I said that there were doubts in the Minister's mind concerning Ranger, I stand corrected. The Minister said that doubts were expressed about Ranger, but he seemed to convey that they were not his doubts. I would have thought that any doubts held about the Ranger agreement would be doubts which the Minister had as to whether a legal agreement existed. That that is the case is verified by the retrospectivity of this legislation. That provision will ensure that the agreement is legal. It will cover the whole point.

On the other point, a mining company could enter into an agreement to mine my land. First, that company, through my solicitor, could go through a lot of land files, et cetera, to determine who was the rightful owner of the land. Of course, my solicitor could easily enter into an agreement on my behalf contrary to my instructions. If he did so, I do not think he would long be acceptable to me as my solicitor. Nevertheless, that is possible. In this case the role of the solicitor or lawyer is played by the land council. The land council could- possibly in its initial stages it might have a tendency to do so- express its views rather than the views of its client when entering into an agreement. Under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, the clients of the land council are the owners. Under that Act, the names of all the owners are registered. The commissioner responsible for granting land rights would state in his report that today there are 200 owners. He would state the names of the owners of the land. Those names are available to a mining company if that company doubts the honesty and sincerity of the agent for the owners, which is the land council, just as they are if it were to doubt the honesty and sincerity of the lawyer I engaged to represent me in such a case. I do not see any difference between those two situations.

The question is whether the mining company concerned has confidence in the land council. If the mining company had that confidence it could then safely enter into an agreement knowing that there had been discussion with the owners and that the owners knew what that mining would mean to them. But if the mining company had some doubt- I would say that a successful prosecution or court action to stop the mining because the requirements of the Act had not been fulfilled would create doubt- it would seek in the future to get an agency other than the land council to act for it in dealing with the land owners before it entered into an agreement with the land council as required under the Act. I see no difference between that situation and the situation which exists in respect of mining ventures in southern Australia at present. I can see no justification for introducing this legislation other than to make the position of mining companies secure if they can get the consent of the land council, which does not have the right to state what should be done on land owned by someone else.

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