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Tuesday, 13 May 1997
Page: 3161

Senator BOB COLLINS(3.20 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for the Environment (Senator Hill) and the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Senator Herron) to questions without notice asked by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Faulkner) and Senator Mackay today, relating to the Prime Minister's 10point plan in response to the High Court decision in the Wik case.

There is currently a serious dispute on foot between the coalition partners over the question of alleged commitments given by the Prime Minister to his coalition partners, on which he failed to—

Senator Ellison interjecting

Senator BOB COLLINS —You are at liberty to tell us about that. Madam Deputy President, The question of extinguishment of native title on pastoral leases and the representations made by the National Party led to what I found to be a very strange amendment produced to the 10-point plan. I do not know who it was that was playing members of the National Party for mugs—I do not know whether it was the Prime Minister or whether it was, indeed, the National Party's own leadership—because immediately after this debacle came about, the Prime Minister released an amendment to the 10-point package in respect of extinguishment of native title on pastoral leases which changed it to the extent of saying that there would be extinguishment on pastoral leases which provided for exclusive possession.

I just thought that change was hilarious, because it was no concession whatsoever. It was no change whatsoever to the position. It was, in fact, what the High Court has said from day one. I wondered that day just who it was that was playing members of the National Party for mugs—the people who were, in fact, intended by that change to believe there had been some kind of shift in respect of the 10-point plan. If they were not intended to believe that, then why was that silly change made?

The High Court, ever since Mabo and including the Wik decision, has made it absolutely clear that where, legally, exclusive possession exists in a title, then native title is excluded. So I am not quite sure who it was that was playing National Party members for mugs. But I am not surprised, because, as I said in the Senate yesterday, never has a decision of the High Court of Australia been so deliberately distorted and misrepresented as the Wik decision.

I refer to something that Senator Boswell has had to say, and he has repeated this many times. In respect of this real attempt at a land grab—which is the significant upgrading of the actual lease conditions themselves—let me tell you one thing that I can guarantee from a personal perspective. When this legislation comes before the Senate, if indeed it does contain provisions that will result in some massive change in the Crown's current position in respect of leasehold land across Australia, then I will want to see the relevant Senate committee examine it in very close detail.

In fact, it would be a great vehicle to use for actually having a look at who really does own Australia at the moment and under what conditions. I would be personally interested in pursuing that because I am genuinely angry about the way in which the High Court decision has been distorted in recent weeks to suggest that somehow or other pastoralists have been economically disadvantaged in respect of the value of their properties as a result of the Wik decision. Senator Boswell has made that claim many times. He has said that this upgrading of leases is needed so that the value of pastoral leasehold land could be restored and, to quote Senator Boswell, be put back to square one after it had been devalued by Wik.

In this flood of misrepresentation, I draw the attention of all honourable senators to just one of a number of interviews given by Mr John Sheehan, a representative of the Australian Institute of Valuers and Land Economists. This is the institute that provides advice to banks and lending institutions about the value of land. This particular interview was on 25 April, Anzac Day. In response to a question about the institute's position on the value of land, Mr Sheehan said that in:

. . . the decision of the . . . institute . . . nothing has changed. The case and the decision that came out of the case clarified the rights that were held by the pastoral lessees and probably, at the end of the day, little more than that.

He went on to say:

. . . the judgment in the Wik decision indicated that there were certain rights that were held by pastoral lessees, there may have been some anticipation by the holders of those leases, that they had something that was equivalent to freehold, but certainly that wasn't the case. I mean, they were holding leasehold.

They were holding leasehold land. As the institute has said previously, the rights that were held by pastoral leases are unchanged as a result of the Wik decision. I might add that is also the position of the Australian Bankers Association. It made a statement to a Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation meeting last year to that effect. I have checked with the association today and it has confirmed that its position has not changed. The Wik decision has not devalued pastoral leases. (Time expired)