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Wednesday, 29 October 1997
Page: 10016


Mr MELHAM(9.55 a.m.) —I move:

Schedule 1, page 5, after item 3 insert:

3A   Racial Discrimination Act to prevail over provisions of Native Title Amendment Bill 1997

(1)   For the avoidance of doubt, it is expressly declared to be the intention of the Parliament that the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 shall prevail over any provisions of the Native Title Amendment Act 1997 .

(2)   Nothing in the Native Title Amendment Act 1997 shall be taken to authorise any conduct, whether legislative, executive or judicial, that is inconsistent with the provisions or operation of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

That was the election commitment of the coalition in the lead-up to the last election. In their election platform, in relation to the Native Title Act, they promised:

The Coalition approach to Aboriginal land rights is based on the following:

(a)   the fact of Native Title where it has survived;

(b)   the Constitutional protection given to all property interests against Government resumption without compensation;

(c)   the prohibition of racially discriminatory measures or laws; and

(d)   the special relationship between Indigenous people and land which is at the core of Indigenous culture.

In Government, the Coalition will:

(a) retain the Native Title Act;

(b)   reserve the right to amend the Native Title Act to ensure its workability;

(c)   respect the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act; and

(d)   ensure that any amendments to the Native Title Act are preceded by wide consultation.

It was coalition policy that any amendments would respect the Racial Discrimination Act. This amendment to the Native Title Amendment Bill is to ensure that the coalition sticks to its election promise. It is a safety net to the effect that this parliament does not intend, intentionally or accidentally, to override the Racial Discrimination Act. As a later federal act, this safety net provision is needed to ensure that what is currently cross-party support for respect for the Racial Discrimination Act is maintained. The Prime Minister (Mr Howard), in releasing an outline of proposed amendments in May 1996, in a letter signed by him, said:

The coalition announced during the election campaign that it would retain the Native Title Act but reserved the right to amend it to ensure its workability while respecting the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The amendment I have moved does just that. When I asked the Prime Minister a question on Monday, 6 May 1996, I said:

My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment to this House that the government will not seek to repeal, suspend or override the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975?

Mr Howard answered:

The government has no plans to introduce any amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act.

This is a safety net. It holds the coalition to their election commitment. It is very important in the current times that that reaffirmation of respect for a non-discriminatory policy is heard in the community.

Last year, federal parliamentarians signed a code of race ethics to respect the religious and cultural beliefs of all groups living within Australia in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to help, without discrimination, all persons seeking assistance. That was signed by coalition members in this House—Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, Nick Dondas, Gary Hardgrave, Jackie Kelly, Brendan Nelson, Peter Nugent, Sharman Stone, Kathy Sullivan, Danna Vale, Michael Wooldridge and Paul Zammit. Others in the Senate and other members also signed.

As an opposition, we are saying that it is important, especially in the current climate, that we respect the Racial Discrimination Act. The Prime Minister has given assurances in answers to questions in this House that amendments to the Native Title Act will respect the Racial Discrimination Act. He said it to the Minerals Council and he said it to the Farmers Federation.  In this amendment we are saying that they should honour that commitment. There should be no discriminatory provisions in this act. This safety net is needed. In legislation last year, the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill, the government accepted this specific amendment, so there is a precedent. It is just humbug for the government to say, `We respect the Racial Discrimination Act', but for it then not to accept the amendment that I have moved. It is important, and it is important in the current climate.

We believe that the government should honour their election commitment and that the Prime Minister should honour his solemn undertaking to respect the Racial Discrimination Act. If the government vote against this, then it exposes them for what they are. (Time expired)