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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 149


Senator REYNOLDS(4.12) —I am pleased that Senator Messner has somewhat moderated his speech on the heritage legislation. If honourable senators cast their minds back to June when we last debated this important piece of legislation they will recall Senator Messner using words such as dangerous and confrontationist and, if I remember, raising his voice if not his fists in claiming that this legislation would bring about dire results throughout Australia. At least today he has moderated his attitude. I believe he is being extremely cynical. We all know that if he really believes there is genuine need for concern about the way in which the Government is dealing with Aboriginal policies at present, it is about time he began to deal with the reactionaries in his own party. He used the word 'draconian' at least four or five times-a word that aptly describes the attitudes of many members in the Victorian and Western Australian branches of his party.

It is indicative of the Opposition's hypocrisy on the subject of Aboriginal policy, particularly the heritage legislation, that it is prepared to raise this issue in the Senate today as a matter of public importance. I would challenge the mover of this so-called matter of urgency to deny that had the Government agreed to the three claims brought to date we would have seen an equally vociferous and high-minded debate on the basis that the Government was going too far in granting recognition of Aboriginal rights and heritage. It seems that the Opposition is determined to have its cake and eat it too. We did not proceed to accept the three claims, and in a few moments I shall go into the reasons for that decision in regard to Queensland. Therefore, as the Opposition is determined to campaign on this issue, it seeks to criticise the Government because for eminently good reasons it has knocked back the claims.

The Opposition is determined to make the two issues of land rights and immigration emotive platforms on which to attack the Hawke Labor Government. The Opposition knows that the Government is faring so well in many areas across the board that its members can find no issue on which to criticise the Government. After two-and-a-half months in recess and a Budget aimed at assisting Australians for the next 12 months, the Opposition can only dream up this issue- an issue that was fully debated at the end of the autumn session. We now have a rerun of the heritage legislation debates that occurred in June. I was tempted to bring out my speech of 15 June and give it a rerun, but I would not be guilty of misusing the time of the Senate. The Opposition is devoid of any issue to debate in this place. It indicates how lacklustre is the Opposition's performance that it seeks to raise this issue today.

The Opposition is divided on its Aboriginal policy, as it was divided in the original debate when some of its members praised aspects of the heritage legislation while others condemned it as dangerous and confrontationist. I agree with Senator Macklin that the Opposition is most confused on this issue. The Opposition is merely using the Aboriginal issue in an attempt to mislead the Australian community and to play on the fears of the racists in that community. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) has changed his mind about Aboriginal policy and land rights to suit the reactionary elements in his Party. I am waiting for him to announce his support for the Queensland Premier, who said last night that the Budget must be bad because it gives too much money to Aborigines and ethnic television. I do not know whether Mr Peacock supports those remarks, but on his past performance it would not surprise me.

I wish to deal with the real issue that should be dealt with in this debate- namely, the two applications in Queensland. I refer to Daintree and Stradbroke. In regard to Daintree, application was received from Mick Miller, the Chairman of the North Queensland Aboriginal Land Council, for a declaration to be made to prevent further work on the controversial Daintree-Bloomfield road on the ground that certain sites of significance were under immediate and serious threat. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding), through his Department, instituted inquiries to establish the views and feelings of the local Aboriginal community at Bloomfield. Those inquiries resulted in the Minister receiving advice that the Aboriginal people to whom the various sites identified were significant did not consider those sites to be under serious or immediate threat. The Minister was also advised of arrangements which had been made by the Douglas Shire Council to engage an Aboriginal consultant guide, who was himself a custodian of certain sites within that area, to ensure that sites would not be inadvertently intruded upon or desecrated as a result of roadworks. That arrangement was supported and confirmed by the Chairman of the Aboriginal Community Council at Bloomfield along with other Aboriginal people whose sites had been the subject of the original application. Given all these circumstances, the Minister could not be satisfied that the sites were subject to serious or immediate threat and declined to make the declaration requested by Mr Miller. Again, it must be stressed that the Minister acted in a way totally consistent with his undertakings given in his second reading speech. He did not rely solely upon the advice of the applicant, but made sure that the local Aboriginal people who had direct affiliations with the area were given the opportunity to put their point of view and it was on the basis of that point of view that the subsequent action was taken. The engaging of an Aboriginal consultant guide by the Douglas Shire Council is a positive and direct consequence of actions taken as a result of this legislation.

Secondly, an application was received from Mrs Kath Walker seeking a declaration in respect of a number of areas of North Stradbroke Island, including an area covered by mineral lease 1180. That lease covered an area of sand dunes which were to be the subject of sand mining by Associated Minerals Consolidated Ltd. The application asserted that the area of sand dunes contained middens which were significant to the Aboriginal people of Stradbroke Island.

Prior to the application being made objections to the mineral lease had been heard in the Mining Warden's Court in Queensland and had been upheld by the Mining Warden. Notwithstanding that ruling, the Queensland Minister for Mines and Energy overturned the Warden's ruling and granted the mineral lease to the mining company. Following that action, Mrs Walker, who had given evidence in the Warden's Court, made an application under the Commonwealth heritage legislation seeking protection of the area which would be subject to sand mining.

One of the very first steps taken by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs was to contact his counterpart in Queensland, Mr Katter, Jr, and ask what action, if any, the Queensland Government proposed to take under its legislation to protect any sites of significance which were being threatened by sand mining. Mr Katter responded by advising that, following preliminary archaeological examination of the area, the area was not considered to contain sites of significance but the mining company would be required to engage the services of an archaeologist during the operations. The Minister then convened a meeting involving Mrs Kath Walker, other local Aboriginal residents of Stradbroke Island, the mining company and his Department. That meeting was held on Stradbroke Island on 8 August. The Minister requested also that an anthropologist attend that meeting, and she subsequently made a report to the Minister.

It was evident, not only as a result of the meeting held at Stradbroke on 8 August but also as a consequence of representations made to the Minister, that a significant proportion of the Aboriginal community living on Stradbroke Island did not support the application which had been made on their behalf and did not support the assertion that the area which was the subject of the application was of any particular significance to the Aboriginal people according to Aboriginal tradition.

The company made it clear that it was prepared to employ an Aboriginal overseer and an Aboriginal bulldozer driver to co-operate with an Aboriginal consultative committee in conducting its operations. Again, this proposition had the support of a significant proportion of the Aboriginal people concerned. Again, it can be seen that the Minister, in declining the application, ensured that appropriate consultation had taken place with the Queensland Government prior to making his decision. Senator Macklin has already noted that we have heard absolutely no criticism from the Queensland Government on either of these issues. We know that if the Queensland Government does not complain about the Federal Government it must be happy. It can be seen that adequate action had been taken to gain advice concerning the attitude and views of the relevant Aboriginal people.

That case again demonstrates the fact that arrangements were entered into ensuring the participation of the Aboriginal people and ensuring that their interests were properly considered-all as a direct consequence of actions taken under the Commonwealth's heritage legislation.

It is clear that every possible step was taken with those two applications and that Aboriginal interests were placed foremost with regard to the ultimate rejection of the applications.

I am not convinced that the Opposition speakers have, to date, brought into this debate any new information to support their call for the repeal of the heritage legislation. The Opposition has simply used this afternoon as an opportunity to grandstand. One needs only to look at the Opposition benches at the moment to see how seriously Opposition senators regard this matter of urgency. If it were as important as Senator Chaney would have had us believe earlier in the debate, I would obviously have expected to see all Opposition senators present. As it is, there is only one Opposition senator in the chamber and that proves that this afternoon's exercise is simply a cynical misuse of a matter of urgency.