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JOINT COMMITTEE ON NATIVE TITLE AND THE ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER LAND FUND - 08/10/1997 - Native Title Amendment Bill 1997

CHAIR —I welcome representatives from the Carpentaria Land Council.

Mr Callope —During the discussion, I would like to make comments regarding the fact that I am a traditional owner of my country. I have just recently been employed by the land council and I will lay out a basis for the information that we want to give this afternoon. I will finish by making a few comments about the Century negotiations that we think are relevant. I was a claimant for those negotiations, so I would like to field any questions from you but also make comments as a traditional owner in that instance.

CHAIR —The committee prefers that all evidence be given in public but should you at any time wish to give your evidence, part of your evidence or answers to specific questions in camera, you may make application to the committee. The committee will give consideration to your application. I would point out, however, that evidence given in camera may subsequently be made public by order of the Senate. Do you have a submission?

Mr Callope —We make submission to you here tonight in a very brief--

CHAIR —Sorry. I meant do you have a written submission?

Mr Callope —We would like to indicate that we would like to make a more detailed submission in writing to you at a future date. Unfortunately, because of our meagre resources, we were unable to produce one at this time.

CHAIR —That is no problem. I will invite you to make some opening remarks about the committee's inquiry into the Native Title Amendment Bill 1997. At the conclusion of your remarks, I will be inviting members of the committee to submit questions to you.

Mr Callope —I had this big speech already written out, but the more I went through the actual amendments and what the actual reality on the ground is going to be for Aboriginal people, I guess my first reaction was that I was totally numb and devastated by what I believe is going to happen on the ground in light of what we believe to have been the successful running of the Native Title Act with the Century negotiations--keeping in mind that it was triggered quite late in that seven-year period.

The first thing I would like to say is that, in the Aboriginal community, we felt a great sense of pride and victory when a courageous man named Eddie Mabo and his equally courageous kin from the Murray Islands won that landmark case now known as the Mabo case. We had a sense of justice. We feel now that these amendments are starting to sour the feelings that we had at that time.

I must say that we are very familiar with adversity, but we cannot understand these amendments when we had come so close to a successful formula. Like I said, we believed the Century negotiations were ones of national significance and also in the media nationally. We believed they were successfully run. We cannot understand why now, when we are starting to get close to a successful formula, you are wanting to change the ground rules again.

The Native Title Act as it now stands--before whatever happens with the amendments--is nowhere near addressing the rights of Murray people, and these amendments, if they go through, will erode those meagre rights even further. The proposed native title amendments reflect poorly on the present Commonwealth government and on the nation generally--firstly, by even suggesting that these amendments need to be made and, secondly, it is so clear which vested groups they are going to look after and the injustice that Aboriginal people are going to feel from them.

It shows the immaturity of the nation not yet grown up and prepared to become a world leader on indigenous affairs nor to pull away from the apron of mother England. For Australia, it is time to grow up. The old saying is that those things which will not kill you will only make you stronger. I think it is a sad state that we are at the crossroads now where either we can become a stronger nation or we can go down the same old road of terra nullius once more.

I would like to make a few comments about the land claims that we have in the gulf at present and how the present amendments will affect them. We have got sea claims over Mornington Island, Bentinck Island and Forsyth Island, and also along the coastlines of the Gangalidda and Garrawa people. We believe that under the present amendments, even if those claims are successful and native title is proven, they will still be no better off because of the fact that all the planning procedures and the giving of licences for fishing and other leases that will affect the people's rights to practise their cultural practices in the seas will be unaffected; they will still have no say in what is happening. In other words, whether or not the sea claims are successful, they will still not have the effect that the people wanted of protecting their religious rights to practise their culture and also, most importantly, manage the natural resources.

There are also negotiations with the Lawn Hill National Park. Even if they are successful under the Aboriginal land act, the park management can still be developed without indigenous input. So the traditional owners of that country and the other Aboriginal groups that have interests there will not have to be involved in any consultation on that management board.

The Waanyi claims actually made up the Century negotiations that were the basis for the actual mine site itself. There are a couple of claims there. If the new test is applied to the first set of claims that were put in they will be rejected. This is because they cover what will probably be deemed `non-exclusive pastoral leases'. The claims will be rejected as they are claiming exclusive possession, and this will not be allowed now over pastoral leases. The second Waanyi claims were put in early last year. The new test will apply to these cases because they were made after 27 June 1996. The claims will be rejected as they are also claiming exclusive possession, and that will not be allowed over pastoral leases. New claims will have to be made for those areas. It all seems a little silly, like I said before--going back through wanting to have these amendments when the Century negotiations were so successful.

ACTING CHAIR (Senator Abetz) —So you are against the new regime which would not allow a native title claim for exclusive possession of a pastoral lease? Did I hear you correctly or not?

Mr Callope —Sorry, would you mind saying that again?

ACTING CHAIR —You made a criticism, I thought, that under the new regime you would not be able to bring an application for native title for exclusive possession over a pastoral lease. Did I hear you correctly? Did you say that?

Ms Parkinson —I think perhaps the point that Mr Callope was trying to make, if I may clear up this--

Senator FERRIS —Why can't he clear it up?

ACTING CHAIR —Yes. First of all I want to know what Mr Callope actually said before I ask questions, because I may well have misunderstood.

Mr Callope —I will go back to my notes.

ACTING CHAIR —Yes, all right.

Mr Callope —Under the new test you can't claim exclusive rights.

ACTING CHAIR —Over a pastoral lease?

Mr Callope —Over a pastoral lease. For example, all the native title claims that were made in relation to the Century Zinc applications, after section 29 notices were put in, claimed exclusive rights.

ACTING CHAIR —Right. So, just following that through, if a native title claim for exclusive possession on a pastoral lease were to be successful, what would happen to the pastoralist? Wouldn't exclusive possession mean, by virtue of the term `exclusive', that the pastoralist would have to leave?

Mr Callope —Depending on the individual pastoralist and the traditional owners involved, and reading that on face value, yes. But, as always, what the Native Title Act encourages is negotiated outcomes.

Mr MELHAM —But you also know, after Wik, that Wik confirms basically that the pastoralists' rights prevail, and so native title would have to give way to the existing pastoralists' rights. Are you saying, in effect, that those claims would be knocked out because they are technically deficient in the way that the applications have been made and so you would have to start again?

Mr Callope —Yes.

ACTING CHAIR —Can you amend them?

Mr MELHAM —I think that is the point he is trying to make.

Mr Callope —When I started out I said that we were both devastated by what is suggested in the amendments. Reading today through schedule 4 of the native title amendments, under the Queensland section, I was quite interested to read through all the leases that, once they are granted, will extinguish native title. It is quite a thorough list. I would not like to guess at the numbers but I would say that just about everything is there: bowling clubs, Boys Brigade halls, Apex clubs, club houses for the Grand Lodge of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, the British Australian club, Endeavour workshops, delicatessens, snack bars, Jaycees rooms and Returned Services Leagues clubs. There is not going to be very much left if the pastoralists have got the big open spaces. People who are traditionally from areas that now have cities, where are we to go? We have got nowhere else to go.

Senator ABETZ —Do you have a concern that the Lodge of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes and Girl Guide halls and RSL clubs and scout halls will not be able to be claimed under native title?

Mr Callope —No, my point is that--

Senator ABETZ —Why did you mention those examples? I would have thought that there would not have been much dispute that native title, by virtue of a building having been erected on a parcel of land--for that area at least--would have been extinguished, but you are suggesting that that should not be the case.

Mr Callope —My point is, by virtue of that quite extensive list, where do we go? Where do Aboriginal people fit in these amendments? We have got nowhere else to go.

CHAIR —Do you realise that schedule 4 represents a total of less than 7.7 per cent of the entire landmass?

Mr Callope —And the rest is probably covered by pastoral leases.

CHAIR —Some 14 per cent is covered by freehold title. They are the actual amounts. I understand something in the vicinity of about 40 per cent is pastoral leases, but there is still 78 per cent of the landmass that is claimable for native title claims, and 15.3 per cent of the Australian landmass is currently owned and controlled by Aboriginal people. They are the actual figures.

Mr MELHAM —Are you saying, Mr Callope, that, as far as you and indigenous people are concerned that your native title might have survived the issuing of some of those titles and you want the right to continue argue your native title's survival?

Mr Callope —Certainly.

Senator ABETZ —Including RSL halls, Guide halls, Boy Scout halls? Is that what you are saying?

Mr Callope —I am not being very particular about the issue. All I am saying, in essence, is that the list is very thorough. If, in fact, we have no come backs on national parks or on pastoral leases--and the list is very thorough--where the heck does native title exist but in our minds?

Senator ABETZ —What sort of comeback would you want to have on pastoral leases?

Mr Callope —My comeback on pastoral leases is very simple: it is Aboriginal land and it always will be.

Senator ABETZ —And, therefore, you ought be entitled to exclusive possession?

Mr MELHAM —He is not saying that. With respect, he is not saying that. That is not what Wik decided.

Senator FERRIS —He said it before.

Mr MELHAM —Do not put words in his mouth.

Senator ABETZ —You are desperately trying to do so to avoid embarrassment, I think, to your side of the debate.

Mr MELHAM —You know very well what Wik decided. That is, they can argue residual native title on pastoral leases on a case by case basis.

Senator ABETZ —Why do you have to be so consistently rude, Mr Melham?

Mr MELHAM —It is not a question of being rude. I do not like witnesses being misled.

Senator ABETZ —I am asking questions of the witness. I would have thought you could clear it up in your time for questioning, if there were any problems. Mr Callope, did you just tell us that pastoral leases were Aboriginal land and would be Aboriginal land basically forever? Is that what you said?

Mr Callope —In light of the legal situation at the moment, that is not the case but, I guess, ideologically, people believe that. We do believe it. That is our country.

CHAIR —You are certainly entitled to that view. There is no question about that.

Senator ABETZ —Do you apply that view to freehold as well?

Mr Callope —I believe that, because in the last 200 years white history has been superimposed upon Aboriginal history, that is also true.

Mr MELHAM —But you still regard it as your country, irrespective of what the courts decide? You have an attachment to that land. It was the land of your forebears.

Mr Callope —That is certainly right, and that includes cities. People do still have a spiritual attachment to that area and they still have responsibilities in that area.

CHAIR —Was there anything else that you were wanting to continue on with that?

Mr Callope —There is just one thing I wanted to say. Again, I repeat the fact that the Century negotiations were drawn out over a seven-year period. But actually the Native Title Act was triggered quite late and, in the period that section 29 was triggered, resolution was there.

Mr MELHAM —Mr Callope, you accept that there are vast areas of this country that Aboriginal people will not be able to successfully claim as a result of Mabo, Wik or the Native Title Act, do you not?

Mr Callope —That is correct.

Mr MELHAM —But you still have an attachment to your country even though you might not be able to successfully claim it?

Mr Callope —Certainly.

Mr MELHAM —Is that where your stories come from, your dreaming comes from?

Mr Callope —Yes, that is what we believe.

Mr MELHAM —So when you say that this is your country, that is what you mean, is it?

Senator FERRIS —Can't he think for himself?

Mr MELHAM —Of course he can think for himself.

Senator FERRIS —Stop putting words in his mouth.

CHAIR —Order! Please, it is very late at night.

Senator FERRIS —Control him. You controlled us.

Mr MELHAM —I just want it clear for the record, Mr Chairman, so there is no misconception on the record as to what Mr Callope is saying when he says `country'. We had a fairly eloquent statement by an earlier witness in relation to this, and I will leave it at that. My questioning is finished.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Melham. I do thank you, Mr Callope, very much for your attendance. As you can see, it is certainly a very emotional and very divisive issue, even for members of the committee. It is very hard to deal with it without that emotion coming through. Thank you very much for taking the time to be here. It is a late hour, and I guess tempers are starting to get a little short.

Committee adjourned at 8.19 p.m.