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Wednesday, 30 August 2000
Page: 16995

Senator LIGHTFOOT (7:04 PM) —My colleague Senator Ferris noted one positive thing that has come out of the tortuous eight years since native title was introduced: the light yesterday when the rights to over 50,000 square kilometres of land in the Murchison and Gascoyne region of Western Australia—an area where I lived for many years and where I had a large station property—were settled. The matter was settled out of court, and it was settled largely without the interference of the debilitating effect of lawyers with respect to Aboriginal and white Australians. It was good, and I do congratulate Clarrie Smith, the leader of the people up there—the Nganawongka, Wadjari and Ngarla people, who are traditionally from that area. But they did not want to maintain the right to negotiate. They wanted consultation, they got it and they settled with the pastoralists. The pastoralists knew them. Clarrie Smith and his people trusted the pastoralists, and the pastoralists trusted and admired Clarrie Smith for his forthrightness. I congratulate Clarrie for bringing about that settlement.

Did the senator for Queensland, Senator Ludwig, speak this evening on behalf of Queensland? No, he did not. Did my friend Senator John Hogg speak on behalf of Queensland? No, he did not speak. We had someone from Western Australia, Senator Chris Evans, who has opposed this settlement and who has opposed the type of thing that was brought about yesterday without the interference of lawyers. Why do we think the disallowance motion should be not allowed? It is not just because of John Woodley who moved the disallowance. John does not have a clue about it. John seems to have lost his way. John does not worry. Senator Woodley is going to get a good pension from this place. Senator Woodley is going to benefit a great deal more than when he was a preacher. He is well-off.

Let me tell you what is happening in Western Australia. Western Australia contributes 43 per cent of Australia's mining and energy production. We are now the biggest energy producers in the nation in terms of petroleum. Some of those things are in jeopardy. In 1994 we produced $13 billion worth of energy, and within Western Australia the minerals industry accounts for 75 per cent, or $11 billion worth, of export income, 66 per cent or $4 billion worth a year of private investment and, directly and indirectly, for 250,000 jobs. Why am I saying this? I am simply asking what the Labor Party's position will be when it comes to vote on the Western Australian legislation that needs ratification. Who is going to vote to have that disallowed?

Senator Ferris —Would Senator Evans stand up for Western Australia!

Senator LIGHTFOOT —Senator Evans and all the other senators in the Labor Party and the Democrats never stood up for Western Australia when we were pleading for them to allow the type of legislation that we had perfected in Western Australia through this house. They did not stand up, and I am going to follow them right through to the election. I am going to tell the people of Western Australia what has happened there. Let me proceed with some of those things that the court ratified in that historical agreement—as I might refer to it—involving 53,000 square kilometres of land, done outside the court system and only ratified by the court system. The representatives of the claimant group, as I said, were led by Mr Clarrie Smith, a well respected Aboriginal person around the Carnarvon, Meekatharra, Murchison and other areas. Judge Madgwick said:

Over the great bulk of the land, there are now 20 functioning cattle stations operating under pastoral leases. In addition, the WA State government has, over many years, asserted its right to many parts of the land for roads, other infrastructure and various other public purposes.

... ... ...

The active parties have managed to arrive at a settlement of the case. No other party has appeared to call that settlement in question.

It was left to the native title claimants, the pastoralists and a few miners. The judge went on to say:

This is a considerable achievement. I have been told that, if the Court gives effect to the settlement proposed, it will be

· the first consent determination of native title in Western Australia;

· the first consent determination arising out of a native title claim where the hearing has commenced in the Federal Court; and

· a consent determination of native title in respect of the largest land area than has previously been achieved.

That is vastly different to the settlement with Justice Malcolm Lee over the Miriuwung Gajerrong people last year, when a devastating decision was brought down by him over a 7,000-odd square kilometre area of land that was, thank God, overturned by an appeal to his colleagues on the full bench of the Federal Court. That was overturned, and just as well.

I have to wind up and let my colleague speak because it is an important issue for the Northern Territory as well. I will wind up with this last quote from Judge Madgwick from that momentous decision of yesterday. He said:

After a considerable amount of evidence had been taken from Aboriginal and pastoral witnesses, it became apparent that there was strong, personal goodwill between at least the elders of the claimant group and at least a number of the present pastoralists with long family associations with the land concerned. The Court therefore took the initiative of urging the parties to try to build on this goodwill through mediation. To their great credit and guided by their legal advisers, the parties agreed. They jointly invited the Court to ask Mr Graeme Neate, President of the National Native Title Tribunal to act as mediator. However, a breakdown of negotiations was reported to the Court. While the mediation was not immediately successful, the Court is grateful to Mr Neate for interposing this matter among his onerous commitments as the leader of the Tribunal. Subsequently, at the instigation of the Court, the parties agree to renew negotiations between themselves, without a mediator. These negotiations ultimately proved successful.

I think this is a wonderful settlement. It is something that the other side would do well to follow. I see that Senator Ludwig has come in here again tonight, but he has not spoken on behalf of his constituents in Queensland. We are not afraid to speak for our constituents in our states, Senator Ludwig, and I hope you make a contribution for your people at some stage of this sitting.