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Tuesday, 15 August 2006
Page: 10

Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) (1:14 PM) —I have some responses to the matters that have been raised. Let me deal with Senator Siewert’s comments first. Senator Siewert, this is a government which listens to people. It is a consultative government. We do not think the UN is the fount of all wisdom. Sometimes the UN gets it right and sometimes it gets it wrong. That is where we differ from you. The mere fact you have ‘UN’ before some comment does not make it right. We do not dip our lid to anybody. We are an independent country and an independent government. The mere fact that you quote the UN does not immediately mean we must jump and ask how high.

It is interesting that you mention the UN special rapporteur. He met with Minister Mal Brough’s office yesterday but he did not raise in that meeting the criticisms of the 99-year lease provisions and his questions about Australia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and not enough consultation. Isn’t that interesting? This is an individual who comes to Australia, meets with the office of the minister, apparently raises some issues with you—and fair enough; you are an important person—and apparently raises some issues with Senator Evans, another important person. If he is meeting with Minister Brough’s office it is a little surprising that if he feels so strongly about this matter he does not raise it with them. I have no way to explain that. Maybe it was an oversight on his part, but if he said what you said he said—again, he has obviously kept you fully informed—he might like to keep Minister Brough’s office fully informed. You might like to point out to him that in a democracy even the UN should consult with both sides and make its views known.

I am grateful that you have raised this, because it raises curious issues about what has transpired. We will be very happy to provide the rapporteur with a full briefing. We will be very happy to answer any criticisms that he has and to see what we can do to encourage a more rounded perspective. I do not attribute any mala fides to the rapporteur, and maybe it was an oversight on his part. But it is curious, is it not, that he feels so passionately about a variety of matters, which I have mentioned, and meets with Minister Mal Brough’s office but does not raise them. We will have to wait until another day for an explanation.

As the minister acting on behalf of Minister Brough, I find it curious. The rapporteur has been here for a preliminary two-week visit, and we will do what we can to make sure he has additional information and is better informed. However, he should recognise that offering the opportunity of property rights to township residents is offering them a basic human right that they do not share with other Australians at this point in time. It is strange that he did not mention that. If I can find anything more on these conversations, I will see what I can do to inform you—if not in this chamber then elsewhere—but it is strange.

In relation to the points that Senator Evans raised, I am not sure I can add much more to the discussions that we have already had. You and I will differ on this issue. As I said, it is a complex matter and a matter that a lot of people far wiser than me and, undoubtedly, even some who may be a little wiser than you have thought very hard about for a long period of time. It has crossed party lines. That is the awkward nature of the debate for the Labor Party, but it has crossed party lines and there are significant elements in the Labor Party and the Territory government which are more on the side of this government than on the side of the federal Labor Party. It is a complication for the Labor Party. It shows you that people of goodwill can differ on this issue. It is not an intensely partisan issue; it is an attempt to work our way through and solve the very big social issues that we are facing in Northern Australia, and this will make a contribution. I do not pretend it is going to solve the problem, but it makes a contribution. We will not be supporting the amendment. If there is anything more I can provide you with on the rapporteur, I will see what I can do.