Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 27 November 2002
Parliamentary Record 9
Debates for 9th Assembly 2001 - 2005; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 9th Assembly 2001 - 2005
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
DEBATES - Wednesday 27 November 2002 large number of NT parks and reserves. I also highlighted how our park systems represents one of the Territorys major competitive advantages and needs to be leveraged into playing a key role in the Territorys future economic development. My government has acted responsibly and decisively to address the uncertainty that has arisen as a result of the High Courts judgement to ensure the interests of all Territorians are protected both now and into the future. We have also acted in an open and transparent manner. This has involved briefing all major stakeholders at the first opportunity on the implications of our legal advice and the governments approach to resolving the issues involved. This included briefing the Opposition Leader, the Commonwealth government, the land councils, the Conservation Land Corporation, representatives of the mining, tourism, pastoral and fishing industries, the media, and the community. My government has publicly laid down a set of core principles that will remain central to any negotiated framework agreement. I am also pleased to report that I have raised these issues with the Prime Minister and Minister Ruddock, who both indicated in-principle support for the Northern Territory governments approach of negotiation instead of litigation. This evening I will bring the House up to date on developments over the past week, and set the record straight about the governments approach to achieving certainty in relation to the future access and enjoyment of our parks and reserves. These issues are not only of importance to all Territorians, but also have significant implications for our numerous interstate and overseas visitors and for the future development of our tourism industry. The recent Ward High Court decision held that the declaration of the Keep River National Park was invalid. The finding is a result of the wording of section 12(1) of the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act which only provided, until it was amended in March 1998, that: An area o f land could only be declared as a park or reserve if all the right title and interest in that land is vested in the Territory, or if no person other than the Territory or the Conservation Land Corporation holds a right, title or interest in that land. In other words, the High Court held that because the expression right, title and interest could include native title rights and interests such that if, at the time of the declaration under section 12, there were any native title rights and interests in the land, there was no power under the statute to make a declaration. In essence, the Ward High Court decision means that where native title rights and interests exist on land over which 49 parks were declared between 1978 and 1998, these declarations were invalid. A further major impact is that, included in the 49 parks and reserves, are some 11 separate areas of land which have previously been claimed under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 and to which the Conservation Land Corporation has no tenure other than pursuant to a section 12 declaration, can now proceed to hearing before the Aboriginal Land Commissioner. I know that the Leader of the Opposition questioned our reliance on legal advice from the Solicitor General following the briefing that was provided to him prior to the governments public announcement. During that briefing, I drew the Opposition Leaders specific attention to the fact that, because of the potentially serious implication of the Solicitor Generals advice, the government had engaged eminent external counsel in order to gain a second opinion. That second opinion not only supported the Solicitor Generals advice, but did so in ever more firm and clearer terms regarding the invalidity of the park declarations and the consequences for land claims to now proceed under the Land Rights Act. In light of the Ward High Court decision and the legal advice before us, there were clearly two broad options available to the government in seeking to resolve the issues involved. The first option would be to engage in litigation and disputation at every possible level. In my governments view, this would merely evade our responsibility to find a comprehensive solution. This approach would defer, for the time being, any transfer of title to Aboriginal interests and would keep the government and the land councils in the courts for years contesting native title and compensation issues. It provides no guarantee that land claims would not, ultimately, be successful and no guarantee that existing parks would remain open and part of our parks estate. It is obvious to anyone with a knowledge of the history of litigation in this area that this option would not only be horrendously expensive for Territory taxpayers but would even, more importantly, merely serve to exacerbate and prolong uncertainties in ways that frustrate and delay economic development and divide the community. The second option was for all parties to agree to put litigation to one side and negotiate a framework agreement that not only deals with the implications of the High Courts decision but also settles, once and for all, all other outstanding existing and potential litigation affecting NT parks and reserves. At its heart, this framework will provide the certainty 3089
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