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Wednesday, 29 October 1997
Page: 10136

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON(5.42 p.m.) —The Labor Party believes that the settlement of outstanding native title issues is of fundamental importance to the future of the nation. I also believe this is particularly important at the moment, at a time of so much international economic uncertainty. The current international stock market crisis is the latest example of that. It is also at a time when unemployment remains entrenched at unacceptably high levels with one in three Australians who are now unemployed being long-term unemployed and there being little hope in the current economic environment under the Howard government of any improvement with respect to that major issue.

To get any meaningful improvement in the job market for the unemployed, Australia requires a number of significant changes to the way we are approaching the issues before us today. We all accept that we need to have significant economic growth and that to achieve this growth requires substantial private investment. But, as we all know, investors are unlikely to make the decision to invest where there are questions about the security of their investment.

Mr Marek —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I ask in relation to relevance what this has got to do with native title. He hasn't even mentioned the bill.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. N.M. Dondas) —Order! I call the honourable member for Batman.

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —As I was saying before that ignorant interruption, in the context of the native title debate, the prospect for regional agreements—and those who are concerned about the issue of jobs, unlike the member for Capricornia (Mr Marek), understand that between native title holders and developers we must provide certainty that investors require—is that they have the capacity to deliver certainty while providing real economic opportunities for indigenous Australia, particularly in terms of jobs. The flow-on effects to regional economies are obvious and have the potential to bring the benefit of real growth to these economies. There is the potential for very real benefits to flow for everybody.

There are numerous practical examples of agreements that have already been reached between indigenous Australians and developers and others with an interest in land. Thirteen of these in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria were listed in the Weekend Australian of 18-19 October.

Mr Tuckey —How many? Thirteen?

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —I understand that the member for O'Connor is more interested in the form guide than the successes listed in the Weekend Australian . An example in the Northern Territory that I am personally aware of involves agreements between the Central Land Council and Alice Springs acting on behalf of local communities and miners in the Tanami region. I am pleased to say that I have visited the Tanami and seen at first hand the success of these negotiations on a range of mining projects. These agreements provide not only jobs for Aboriginal people in Central Australia but also the capacity for them to be involved in some of the business opportunities that have arisen as a result of this mining development.

The benefit of these agreements is plain. The government, while advocating in its legislation acceptance of and a need for these types of agreements, has neutered the ability of indigenous Australians to participate in any negotiations by gutting the right to negotiate provisions in the Native Title Act 1993. Pastoralists, miners and other investors with an interest in the land want the Native Title Act to be workable and to provide certainty. Anyone in business knows the key to investment is certainty, not legal uncertainty and ongoing challenges through the legal processes in Australia. That is what we are about—certainty, investment, economic growth and jobs.

We also want to give some hope to the people of regional Australia, the people so neglected by the Howard government. We want to give them the opportunities they so rightly deserve, to give them the opportunities the Howard government has withdrawn from regional Australia. What we are about is providing them with a chance to get maximum benefit from mining and other developments within their regions, jobs and business opportunities. It is about saying that, yes, there is certainty on the development front. It is about saying that, yes, we will go ahead with development of job growth in Australia. It is also about saying to our indigenous people that we treat you with respect and we want you to participate in the economic and social benefits of Australia.

Members such as the member for Capricornia have clearly evidenced today the lack of understanding and their ignorance of the very fundamental issues of certainty that are so much central to this debate. They have no concern for jobs, no concern for regional Australia, no concern for indigenous people and no concern for a sense of decency and prosperity in Australia. They are condemned for their ignorance. They are condemned for their lack of respect for indigenous people in Australia. They are condemned for their failure to face up to their responsibilities, for their failure to create opportunities for all in Australia, not just the self-interested group that sit on the other side of the House today. (Time expired)