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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3219


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (11:30): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that since the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill was first introduced on 8 February 2010, it has been referred to the following committees:

(a) the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee which commenced its inquiry on 25 February 2010 and reported to the Senate on 22 June 2010;

(b) the House Standing Committee on Economics which commenced inquiry on 17 November 2010 and reported to this House on 12 May 2011;

(c) the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee which commenced its inquiry on 24 March 2011 and reported to the Senate on 10 May 2011;

(d) the House Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry which commenced its inquiry on 15 September 2011, was due to report to the House on 2 November 2011 and is yet to table a report; and

(e) the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs on 24 November 2011 with a reporting date which is yet to be determined;

(2) expresses its concern that despite the unprecedented scrutiny for a private Members' bill this House is yet to have the opportunity to vote on this bill;

(3) notes that Noel Pearson and the Cape York Institute have called for traditional owners of land on Cape York to have more control over the way the land is used; and

(4) calls on the Government to allow the members of this House to exercise their vote on this important bill.

This bill was first introduced on 8 February 2010. Since that time it has been referred to no fewer than five separate committee inquiries. First of all there was a Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry. Then there was an inquiry by the House Standing Committee on Economics, which inquired into the second bill in the same terms that I introduced after the 2010 election. It reported in May last year. Then there was a further Senate inquiry by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, even though it had, prior to the 2010 election, inquired into the bill. Then there was a House Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry inquiry. Finally, the most recent inquiry was by the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs.

That is five separate committee inquiries into a bill that is no more than five pages long. In fact, the operative clause in this bill simply seeks to ensure that Queensland wild rivers declarations should not apply other than with the consent of the relevant traditional owners. That is all my private member's legislation seeks to do. It seeks to ensure that Queensland legislation on wild rivers will apply only with the support of the relevant traditional owners. It is a very simple point designed to ensure that Indigenous land rights are real rather than simply notional. And there have been five separate committee inquiries into this five-page bill.

Plainly this government is trying to deny my bill as well as the vote in the parliament that it is so scared of. The government is trying to bury this bill and to bury voting on this bill in endless committee inquiries. I say to the parliament: this bill has been inquired into enough; bring it on for final vote, and do it straightaway. That is what should happen.

This is not a government that loves scrutiny. This is a government that has rushed some of the most important legislation through this House with almost no serious committee scrutiny. Yet this simple private member's bill has day after day, week after week and month after month gone through inquiry after inquiry of committee scrutiny. Well, we can see through the government. It is trying to procrastinate. This is yet another institutional go-slow. It is perhaps not quite as significant an institutional go-slow as the endless Fair Work inquiries into the Health Services Union. Nevertheless, it is of a piece with a government that tries to bury that which is not in its political interest.

I will say again for the benefit of the House that this bit of private member's legislation is incredibly important if this government's protestations on Indigenous matters are to be taken seriously. Let me repeat, as I have on previous occasions, the fine statement of the former Prime Minister, the member of Griffith, in this place in February 2008, on the day of the historic apology. The then Prime Minister said:

… unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong.

The former Prime Minister was absolutely right. Unless the symbolism is accompanied by substance it is empty noise. My bill is an attempt to give that symbolism some substance. My bill is an attempt to give members of the federal parliament their chance to make land rights a reality, particularly for the people of Cape York, who do not want their economic development to be stymied by more bureaucracy, more green tape. That is the situation now under Queensland wild rivers legislation.

Let me also remind the House that on the very day that this national parliament acceded to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples the Queensland parliament, in absolute contradiction, was making various wild rivers declarations to take away the rights of Indigenous people. It is just not good enough. And it is not good enough that this government should try to bury this important bill under endless committee inquiries.

We all know what is happening in Queensland this week. It is the final week of the Queensland election campaign. We also all know the genesis of the Queensland wild rivers legislation. The Queensland wild rivers legislation was born out of a squalid Greens preference deal by then Premier Beattie, followed up by subsequent Premier Bligh. This parliament should no longer connive in a squalid deal for the Greens and against the interests of the Indigenous people of this country. By not allowing my legislation to be voted on this week, the Prime Minister is engaged in a cover-up with Anna Bligh of something which is vital to the economic interests of the Aboriginal people of Cape York.

Mr Fitzgibbon: Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition has been in this place for a long time. He knows that if he wishes to make an accusation of that severity he should do so by way of substantive motion.

An opposition member: Sit down, you auto electrician!

Mr Fitzgibbon: A bit of elitism!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs D'Ath ): Order! The Leader of the Opposition has the call.

Mr ABBOTT: Let me just remind the Chief Government Whip that the carbon tax legislation, surely the most significant legislation to be brought into this parliament in the current term, was simply looked at by one single joint committee. There were 19 bills of carbon tax legislation and one single joint committee was given just 19 days to look at that shattering legislation. Here we have a tiny five-page bill that has gone off to five separate committees, which have now dragged on their inquiries for the best part of two years. It just is not good enough.

Let me make this point: this is a government, and a Labor Party, which is happy to pose as a defender of Aboriginal people until that pose runs up against the political interests of the Labor Party. We all know who is running this government. The real power in this government is not the Prime Minister but is, in fact, Senator Bob Brown, the Leader of the Greens. This is a Bob Brown veto that is being exercised over the parliament's consideration of my private member's bill. If members opposite had any real desire to do the right thing by the Aboriginal people of this country, they would say: 'Let us slough off the Bob Brown veto. Let us for once, just for once, put the real interests of Aboriginal people ahead of our political interests and certainly ahead of the political interests of the Greens and Senator Brown.'

To think that the understandable desire of the Aboriginal people of Cape York, who just want to turn their land into more than a spiritual asset, who just want their land to be an economic asset too, is being thwarted by the additional levels of green tape which have been placed upon it by the Queensland Labor government is just scandalous. Time after time, I have been approached by the decent people of Cape York, the Richie Ahmats, the Noel and Gerhardt Pearsons and all of the mayors of the Aboriginal communities of Cape York, who say, 'Please, do whatever you can to take this green-tape strangulation off us.' They want to do the right thing by their communities. They want to do the right thing by their people and see economic development on Cape York go ahead in ways which are consistent with maintaining the extraordinary environmental qualities of that marvellous area.

Do you think for a second that the Aboriginal people of Cape York, who have been the custodians of this land since time immemorial, would for a second do something that is going to prejudice the environment in which they live? Is that what this government thinks, that the Aboriginal people of Cape York are just waiting for a chance to despoil their environment? Shame, if that is what this government thinks. Of course the traditional owners of Cape York are not going to do anything which is inconsistent with the environmental amenity of their land. That is why we should trust them. We should trust them with the power that my bill seeks to give them. That is why this bill should go for a vote in this chamber this week.

It would be shameful if Labor members of this House, particularly Queensland Labor members of this House, were not forced to declare themselves on this issue this week. They should be forced to declare whether they are standing up for the Aboriginal people of Cape York or whether, rather, they are prepared to defer to Prime Minister Gillard and Premier Bligh in this sordid deal with the Greens. They should be forced to declare exactly where they stand, and that is why this particular resolution of the House is so important.

We have had a lot of sanctimony from members opposite over the years about the importance of Indigenous rights. I think that many members opposite are sincere in wanting to do the right thing by Aboriginal people. That is why it is so shameful that this government has conspired for so long to bury this important but simple and short piece of legislation in these endless inquiries. It is not too late for members opposite who care deeply about Indigenous issues to recover their decency and conscience on this issue and actually get this matter voted upon in this chamber this week.

The suspicion has to arise, if this government continues to bury my bill, that Aboriginal people are being used by the Labor Party, that Aboriginal people are being manipulated by the Labor Party. When you see what this government does, as opposed to what it says, you can understand Aboriginal people feeling that they have for far too long been politically used by the Labor Party rather than politically benefiting from the Labor Party. Just a couple of weeks ago we had the spectacle of the Labor Party passing over, yet again, one of the most distinguished Aboriginal leaders this country has produced, Warren Mundine. A former national president of the Labor Party, no less, and he was passed over yet again, this time for a failed state premier.

The time is coming when Aboriginal people will say: 'This is not good enough. We want to be properly represented by the political parties of Australia and by the parliament of Australia.' That is why this motion of mine is so important.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs D'Ath ): Is the motion seconded?