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Wednesday, 16 August 2000
Page: 19122

Dr WASHER (3:10 PM) —My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. Is the Attorney aware of any recent consideration of the government's 1998 amendments to the Native Title Act? Is the Attorney aware of any alternative policies on native title?

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) —I thank the member for Moore for his question. He is well aware that I have come to the preliminary view that the proposed Western Australian alternative right to negotiate native title provisions comply with the Commonwealth Native Title Act. In fact I intend to consult with Aboriginal representative bodies on the subject in Broome next week. If the determinations are finally made, they will then be tabled in parliament and open to disallowance.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for the Northern Territory!

Mr SPEAKER —The member for the Northern Territory is warned.

Mr WILLIAMS —Members will be aware that the Senate currently has before it a series of determinations relating to Queensland's proposed alternative native title regime. These relate to mining exploration permits, claims and leases. However, the Democrats have moved a motion of disallowance, which is due to be debated by 30 August. It is the case, I regret to say, that the federal Labor Party have still not indicated whether they will support their Queensland colleagues and allow the legislation to pass through parliament. Premier Beattie has been pleading for months for federal Labor to deliver certainty to the people of Queensland. Caucus had the opportunity yesterday to reach a position on this issue, but we have heard nothing. Maybe it will go to the national executive.

I was asked about alternative policies. I expect that Labor will continue to leave this question unanswered. They will leave it open to conjecture whether they will reopen a divisive debate on native title by rejecting Queensland's provisions in the same way that they rejected the Northern Territory's. So where do we look for their native title policy? You might suggest the ALP platform debated in Hobart. I am afraid the answers are not there; there are only questions. The ALP platform says that the 1998 amendments are `unjust, unworkable and open to legal challenge'. But what does the platform say they are going to do about it? The platform vaguely commits Labor to refinement of the legislation in the future, but it does not spell out how this is going to be done. It leaves open still the question of whether Labor are going to repeal the amendments.

Of course there is a minority report of the parliamentary joint committee on native title recently delivered which may provide some answers. The majority of that committee found that the 1998 amendments were consistent with Australia's international obligations and are not discriminatory and represented a fair balance between all stakeholders. But the minority report, endorsed by Labor members, condemns the 1998 amendments as racially discriminatory. The minority appear to be proposing a whole raft of provisions to be added to the Native Title Act. The minority report also introduces a completely new concept of traditional title, which sits over and above native title, which is incapable of extinguishment. Is this Labor policy? Time is ticking away. Queensland native title claimants and resource developers need to know what Labor is going to do. But it looks like Labor is going to run to the death knell. With only two weeks to go, when is Labor going to get its act together?