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Tuesday, 7 July 1998
Page: 5091


Senator BOLKUS (12:18 PM) —With respect to the category of statutory access rights, the opposition does wish to press the amendments which the Senate found acceptable in April this year. Once again, we are talking about one of those areas that was not publicised last week. Once again, we are talking about an area where there are further incursions made on the rights of native title holders as defined by this parliament in December last year and April this year. When people went out last week and claimed that it was a huge success for the indigenous side of the debate, they were not being totally up-front with the public nor with indigenous Australians. This is another one of those areas where indigenous rights are being eroded.

I turn to opposition amendment N30, a provision which was accepted last year and in April this year. One of the conditions for the application of the government's statutory access regime is that each native title applicant who seeks access to a pastoral lease must have had regular physical access to the pastoral lease as at 23 December 1996 or must be a descendant of a person who enjoyed such access. Opposition amendment N30 was a provision that created an exception to the regular physical access requirement to take into account cases where native title holders and applicants have been denied access to their traditional country either by an act of government or by a lessee.

The government has now rejected the Senate's amendment, and in doing so we believe the government and Senator Harradine have ratified wrongful acts where Aboriginal people have been unlawfully excluded from pastoral property in the past. It has even rewarded the wrongdoers. We see this particular measure as a disgrace to the process and a disgrace to legislation which will evolve from this particular process. In the first debate of the bill, the government may not have understood what it was doing. That excuse I do not think was available then to Senator Harradine, nor is it available now to anyone. There is no excuse of ignorance available to any party to the secret deal in respect of this particular provision. It is a gratuitous flick at indigenous people, and it is one that needs to be redressed.

With respect to the removal or the suspension of common law rights, opposition amendment 183 and Democrats-Green amendment (WA) 151 were accepted last time. Section 44C of the bill prohibits any person from enforcing native title rights over any part of a lease that is the subject of a native title application, whether or not the application covers the whole of the lease area. Opposition amendment 183 deleted the offending section entirely. The government has rejected the Senate amendment. It has reinstated section 44C. Basically this provision removes any net benefit to native title holders from the government's statutory access regime. It is likely to lead to anomalies, to injustice and to inequality between parties, and as such the opposition presses the amendment moved and carried in this place in the earlier debates.

Once again, we are embarking upon and probably finalising a debate on this particular point without any reason from Senator Harradine as to why he chose to concede this point. These two points are important ones. They are points that he thought were important twice over the preceding eight months or so with respect to this debate. Without reason, without excuse, without any publicly stated comment, we are now seeing an abdication of a position on these particular provisions. The point to stress once again is that those who thought this package related to only four highly disputed areas were wrong; it relates to a hell of a lot more, and this is another manifestation of what it relates to.