Territory Stories

Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 27 November 2002



Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 27 November 2002

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Parliamentary Record 9


Debates for 9th Assembly 2001 - 2005; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 9th Assembly 2001 - 2005




Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory





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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

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Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory



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DEBATES - Wednesday 27 November 2002 in the best outcomes for the people of the Northern Territory. But I am concerned that by making too many concessions too early in the process, that too much ground may have been given in that process, and if the matter ends up in court, which is something that the Chief Minister is not able to guarantee this House, I hope that the promises and assertions that she made here today do not come back to haunt her. Mr VATSKALIS (Parks and Wildlife): Madam Speaker, the truth is that the Australian High Court has ruled that 50 of our park declarations are invalid. This government has sought legal advice from both our respected Solicitor General, Tom Pauling, QC and a Senior Counsel from New South Wales, and the advice was clear. The High Court decision means that 50 park declarations are invalid. They remain open to existing and potential native title determinations and native title compensation claims, and 11 parks are now subject to land claims. This government was faced with two clear choices: fight this in the courts, or negotiate an outcome that resolves the matter forever. This government chose negotiation. Why? Well, we looked at the history. Every CLP administration has fought these type of issues, and every CLP administration has lost. Almost every land claim fought was lost. Native title legal battles had very mixed results. We also looked at the financial costs. Considerably, the legal option would cost us between $50m and $100m and we probably would fare very badly. For $100m I can employ a thousand rangers and I can have the best parks system in the world. In addition, we can probably employ numerous police, more nurses, more teachers. We could add enormously to our social and economic infrastructure. $100m is a lot of money; it is a lot of money to spend on lawyers. We looked at the cost to the community. There is a cost of division, a cost that we have all paid in the last number of years. There is the cost of having our parks system in limbo for 20 years. No new parks, all parks unattended and unable to have a management system in place, and questions about our regulations. There is the cost of having other policy initiatives such as improved land release, development of Aboriginal land, the resolution of measure of standing acquisition of native title issues, all placed in jeopardy. We looked closely at policy issues: what was in the best interest of the Territory and Territorians? It is in the conservation by diversity interests for the Territory to have a first class park system. It is in the financial interest of the Territory to promote our parks as major tourist attractions. It is in the development interest of the Territory to have the future infrastructure and needs of our parks rolling along smoothly. It is in education, training and employment interests of the Territory, to have more Aboriginal people being trained, skilled and employed in our parks system. It is in the interest of good governance of the Territory that all people are united and work towards one purpose, not divided by litigation and division. Given those important interests, the policy decision for government is and was clear. Having established the right way to go, the government then went about fleshing out our position. We determined what principles guided the negotiation; these principles would be embedded in the outcomes of negotiations and draw a line beyond which the government will not go. Those broad principles are: resolution by negotiation rather than through the courts; Territory parks and reserves will remain accessible to all Territorians and visitors on a no-fee, no permit basis. No fee, no entry fee; business as usual in parks while negotiations are completed; where title changes, it is conditional on being leased back to the government for use as parks and subject to joint management arrangements; and current mining exploration leases and current tour operator concessions are guaranteed. Those principles mean that the way in which Territorians enjoy their parks will not change. Access will remain as is. There will be no fees, there will be no permits and there will be business as usual. Regardless of title to the land, the Territory government will receive the land through very long term leases. Existing rights of tourist franchises and mining operation leases all remain in place. The government has specifically acted to protect the interests of the mining industry by including a core principle in any negotiation which guarantees existing exploration and mining leases and existing applications. Just as importantly, we will take the opportunity to put in place a comprehensive park master planning process that will proceed over the next 18 months to systematically examine the parks estate and recommend on future land use. The government recognises that apart from Aboriginal interests, there are also legitimate interests in the parks estate involving the mining industry. We know there are areas that might be appropriate for multiple land use. 3100