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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 808

Senator CAMPBELL (3.38 p.m.) —I too want to speak on this debate to take note of the answer by Senator Collins, as Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Mr Tickner), in response to Senator Ellison's question about this land claim. There are a number of issues which also flow from the minister's answer. When there are areas of hundreds of thousands of square kilometres being claimed under the Native Title Act, it raises another important issue under the land fund bill which is currently being debated in the other place. The object was made quite clear in the preamble to the Native Title Act. It says that a land fund will be established to ensure that the 95 per cent of Aboriginal people who have been informed will not be able to benefit because of native title claims will be directed to those areas where native title claims are not made.

  When there are hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of country in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Goldfields regions of Western Australia—and, of course, areas right across our great land—that are already the subject of native title claims, it raises some important issues about how the land fund will work. It again focuses our attention on the lack of consultation that the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) and the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs have had in relation to the drafting of this deeply flawed bill which the coalition is constructively seeking to reform by ensuring that it is more focused.

  One of the issues that I think is crucially important and should be brought forward in response to this minister's answer to Senator Ellison's question is the sort of consultation that took place in the drafting of the so-called land fund bill. The Joint Committee on Native Title has just completed two weeks of hearings in northern Queensland, northern New South Wales and up the coast of New South Wales. The committee met with something like 30 Aboriginal organisations which had an interest in the native title legislation and the land fund. Those groups would have incorporated in excess of 100 Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. Of those hundreds of people with whom the committee came into contact, two or three or four had had consultation on this land fund bill.

  I put it to the Senate that it is an act of absolute sanctimony for the minister in the other place, Mr Tickner, to claim that he can reject the coalition's reforms to this bill within a period of three or four minutes of having seen those reforms and to then say that he has done so on behalf of the Aboriginal people. Not only had he not spoken to the Aboriginal people in the period during drafting of the land fund bill up to its introduction in the House of Representatives in June but he did not do so during the winter recess. Nor during the three or four minutes consideration he gave to the opposition's reforms to the land fund bill could he have spoken to any Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders.

  The Australian people should be made well aware that the government's decision on the land fund bill is not only a slap in the face to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. It is also a slap in the face to the whole Australian electorate which genuinely wants to see an approach to Aboriginal affairs that actually directs benefits to those people who are most disadvantaged, namely, those Aboriginals who have very little access to land and, specifically, those who cannot benefit under the provisions of the Native Title Act.

  The government pretends to represent the views of Aboriginal people when it says no to reforms of the bill. That is not only sad; it is also cynical. The government took a political decision not to look at any reforms to its bill. To oppose those reforms for cynical, political reasons and not to look at ways of amending and improving the bill, we can only presume that Mr Keating thinks that the land fund bill is a 10, it is perfect, and cannot be reformed. We know that if consultations were held with a wide cross-section of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia, we would find out that is just not the case.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.