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Land Rights and Miners’ Rights – Are They Compatible?


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Author Heath GJ


The first grant of land rights in Australia was pursuant to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. That Act has been at the core of the dispute between land rights and miners’ rights. The mining industry believes that the Act, in giving a right of veto to Aborigines with respect to exploration and mining on Aboriginal land, has been responsible for a stagnation in exploration amd mining activity in the Northern Territory. In February 1985 the Commonwealth Government released for public comment its preferred model for national land rights legislation. The model has been opposed by the mining industry because it believes, first, that land rights is a matter which should be left to the States and, secondly, that the detailed mechanisms contained in the model constrain the industry in the manner of the Northern Territory legislation. Aboriginal leaders have opposed the model because it does not, in their view, measure up to undertakings given by the Commonwealth Government and, in addition, it provides for amendments to the Northern Territory legislation which are likely to result in the loss of the Aboriginal veto right. Are land rights and miner’s rights compatible? The answer is yes provided all parties, including Governments, are prepared to talk and compromise and Governments recognise that the grant of land rights and any control by the Aboriginal people of exploration and mining on their land is not a substitute for raising the living standards of Aborigines as a significant group of disadvantaged Australians.