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Thursday, 14 May 2009
Page: 3882

Mr HAASE (11:13 AM) —I rise to speak on the Native Title Amendment Bill 2009. Native title is the recognition by Australian law that some Indigenous people have rights and interests to the land that come from their traditional laws and customs. Native title is a critical matter in my 2.3 million square kilometre electorate. In addition to having vast mineral and energy resources, many of which are yet to be developed, more than 18 per cent of the people in my electorate are Indigenous. I will explain more about native title in my electorate a little later.

Let me first refer to the comments by the member for Banks. Among other things, he admitted that among the Australian population there was a great deal of ignorance about and a great deal of hesitation in their knowledge of the detail involved in native title legislation. The member for Banks has admitted that this legislation and the act are not perfect. In that regard, I agree with him wholeheartedly. I say from the outset that in principle I support this legislation. I have been, as the member for Banks mentioned, with him a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. I was also a member of the joint standing committee on native title. If there is any need for me to indicate my credentials in this matter, having grown up in rural Western Australia, I have spent my whole life in association with Indigenous people.

The Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993 came about following the well-known decision of the High Court of Australia in Mabo v Queensland in 1992. In that particular case, what the High Court was dealing with was primarily the issue of whether native title ought to become law and whether it was something that needed resolution at the time. The Australian people, broadly, were very much in favour of resolving that issue.

But the process of resolution of the boundaries, the delineation of land that might be covered or ruled upon by courts, in the Mabo situation was much easier—so much easier that it was almost a different world. Certainly, it was an environment in which there had been little impact by European occupation, and the association with the land on an ongoing basis by Indigenous peoples had been consistent. However, governments of the day—and subsequent governments, I confess—thought it was sufficient in 1993 to introduce the Commonwealth Native Title Act. It was broadly applied to the mainland of Australia for the resolution of issues where claimant groups were identifying themselves and laying claim to particular country. Then the Native Title Tribunal and the Federal Court were expected to make determinations on these matters.

At the time of the introduction of the act, there was an all-pervading point of view that said: ‘Native title and the introduction of the act will be a panacea of all ills, the solution to all problems, almost nirvana for Indigenous people in Australia. All they will have to do is prove their association with the land on an ongoing basis according to the act and all problems will be solved.’ There was a great and ready acceptance of that belief, of that propaganda. I call it propaganda because it was nothing less than propaganda.

It was something promoted broadly by ignorant suburban populations, mainly in south-eastern Australia, who wanted their collective conscience eased by the introduction of this act so that they could sleep at night secure in the knowledge that Indigenous people who had been wronged in the past by European occupation would now have all of their problems solved. So the message was sent out by the law fraternity and those associated with it into communities that money would be forthcoming to push the cause and to find resolutions and that milk and honey would flow as a result. That was 16 years ago.

I am yet to find in my 2.3 million square kilometres a decision on native title that has created any good whatsoever. Money has flowed, compensation has flowed, royalties have flowed and go-away money has flowed. All manner of cash resources have come into communities. All manner of committees and associations have been set up, with a great hierarchy of leadership, committee members et cetera. Infrastructure has been created on community as a result of the settlement of native title and determinations by the courts about land use agreements and access to country by mining companies—exploration companies in the first instance and sometimes active mining companies. But I have never seen anything good. I have not seen change to the point where Indigenous lives have been improved by determinations of native title. They have certainly not been improved by the introduction of the act in 1993.

On the other hand, what I have seen is whole cohesive families torn apart. I have seen communities commit murder as a result. I have seen the largesse of expenditure of these cash funds that I talk about create death or at least long-term ill health and huge costs to successive governments in relation to curing Aboriginal health problems created by an excess of various drugs—alcohol and other chemical drugs—and excess generally. The worst thing, I believe, has been the destruction of the harmonious community aspect of family life. You might say that I am suggesting that ignorance is bliss—I am not for a moment. But the conditions that existed pre the myth of native title were, in the majority of cases, much better than the mayhem that has been created since. Those are the circumstances that exist today.

These amendments that we are speaking of are another hope—out of goodwill, I am sure, shared across the chamber—that we will make the 16-year-old dream become a reality—we will make these amendments and once again everything will be put right. I do not believe it for a moment. I am not going to oppose these amendments, because they are a bit like throwing a handful of wheat at a shed—something just might hit. Even the discussion of this issue in the chamber today just might make people think. It just might stop aunties, cousins, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers from being at each other’s throats because somebody has been excluded from a claimant group, because some wet-behind-the-ears anthropologist has come into a community and made the determination: ‘The line will be drawn here. This group will be beneficiaries. They will be part of the native title claimant group. This group will not.’ There is as much chance of that determination being real, accurate and embracing of reality as there is of me picking up a couple of squillion dollars—it is just not going to happen. We are talking about cultural circumstances that go back thousands of years. What is your estimate—30,000 years, 60,000 years? We are talking about a culture that once upon a time was ingrained into the minds of all Indigenous people that occupied the land. That was about 200 years ago and, since then, so much has happened.

The determinations that are made today by well-meaning individuals about who will and who will not be part of a claimant group are creating mayhem in communities. I have a constant path to my electoral office door of complainants who have been left out in the cold. The stories are numerous.

Mr Randall —James Price Point.

Mr HAASE —That is the most recent occurrence. The stories are: ‘I was excluded. Mrs X has just received her royalty cheque and I’m getting nothing. It’s not fair. The person that’s administering the distribution of the funds is corrupt; they’ve got their own family on that group and they are getting all the money and we’re not. They’ve got a new air-conditioner, washing machine, Toyota’—or whatever.’We’ve been excluded. We live in poverty. We’ve been ignored by the courts. We’re the real people; all of these remotely Indigenous people that have got a bit of education have swamped and snowed our legitimate claim.’ The stories go on and on and on. We are led to believe by the government today that these amendments are going to, once again, create nirvana. It is simply not true.

Much needs to be done in relation to this act to change the public colour behind it, to change the philosophy behind it, to change the attitude of those who milk it dry for everything it is worth, including this latest $50 million. I can see those in the industry saying today, ‘Will I put another metre or two metres on the yacht?’ There has been a great deal of good done by this in 16 years, and it has all been for whiteys, whiteys who are milking this act dry for every last cent they can get.

The member for Banks talks about being proud to be part of the legal profession prior to entering this place. I am sure he is. I am sure that it is an honourable occupation and it does much good, but it has certainly also got a free ride on the back of this 1993 act. For 16 years governments of different colour have been feeding funds into that system and lawyers are continuing to enjoy a lifestyle that they would not otherwise be entitled to—they would actually have to get out and do some real, hard work. To say that I and the majority of my people are disappointed with the Native Title Act is an understatement.

Before we are sat down by time, a few stats were mentioned by previous speakers. From 1997 to 2006, 81 determinations were made and 600 were waiting to be made. The cost to taxpayers was $900 million, or some $11.1 million per determination. There are currently around 500 claimant applications to be determined. Of those, 100 are in Western Australia and most of those are in my electorate. I digress for a moment again. There are 100 determinations waiting regarding native title in Western Australia. Can we collectively imagine how many billions of dollars of investment are being held up and how many hundreds, if not thousands, of local jobs are not being created because these determinations are being held up? What gets in the way of these determinations? The process—the claims and counterclaims by individuals as to the correctness of the identity of the individual establishing their right as a member of a claimant group.

I digress further. When the Mabo issue was around, the people of Australia were incorrectly assured that the boundaries dividing one claimant group, one kin group, from another in Australia were so easily defined that every Indigenous person in Australia knew of these boundaries. They were assured that determinations would be made readily—that some mediation might be required but basically determinations would be made quickly and easily—because everyone knew where the boundaries were, just as they did in the Mabo situation. But historians who know their stuff will tell you, and demonstrate very clearly, that the drawing of boundaries in the Torres Strait and the establishment of boundaries on the Australian mainland are chalk and cheese. There is absolutely no comparison, and that is the basis for all of the delays in making determinations.

So mining companies, explorers, are being absolutely frustrated by this act in getting equipment onto country, developing resources and providing jobs so that Indigenous people can get off welfare and become independent and enjoy all of the benefits of self-sustainability. That is what we really want for Indigenous people. Certainly on this side of the House we do not want Indigenous people to be captives of the welfare system and dependent upon the government for handouts. We would like them to stand alone. We would like them to be proud members of the Australian working community, not tethered to a welfare cheque which some would believe philosophically ties them to vote in a particular way. So we need to resolve these 500 claimant applications. We certainly need to get those that determine outcomes for mining companies well and truly resolved so that we can provide jobs.

Historically—this is something we can really look forward to; this amendment today is endeavouring to convince us that all this will change—the average time to process an unopposed native title claim, notwithstanding that there is almost no such thing these days, has been 12 months, for determinations by consent it has been five years and nine months and for determinations by litigation it has been seven years. So, if a mining or exploration company fronts up in good faith, tries to identify those in a community who might legitimately speak for country—and that is an ongoing practical problem, because once a deal is struck today another mob stick their hand up and say, ‘You got the wrong people; you’ve got to now compensate us as well’—and eventually gets onto country and carries out all of the surveys necessary, at huge cost to that company, and then strikes something that is worth having, we are now expecting them to hang around for seven years before shareholders can get a return by developing a resource in the ground. It is la-la land. And it is preventing jobs. That is what we ought to be talking about here. If we really want to ease our collective conscience in Australia, we ought to be about creating jobs for Indigenous people.

In conclusion, I simply reiterate that the act of 1993 made great changes in Australia, and the aspiration was to improve the lot of Indigenous people. It has not done that. Irrefutably, it has not achieved what it set out to achieve. We make amendments in this House today in an endeavour to achieve what we set out to 16 years ago. I do not believe the amendment will improve the situation as we expect, but it has focused our attention on the subject once again, and that cannot be a bad thing. But this is an ongoing problem that needs a real solution. It does need bipartisan support. I sincerely hope that in the future Aboriginal people will have jobs in this community. (Time expired)