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Queensland: Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister criticises State lands rights legislation during a visit to Cape York.

MARK HAMLYN: Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen may have gone, but when it comes to fights between the Queensland Government and its Federal counterpart, it seems nothing much has changed. Back in the old days, Sir Joh and the Federal Labor types just never saw eye to eye on many things, but Aboriginal affairs was one of the touchiest. But with a Labor Government in Queensland, surely that's all in the past - well, not when it comes to land rights. Federal Aboriginal Minister, Robert Tickner, has attacked Queensland Premier, Wayne Goss's land rights law. Already smarting under criticism of the law from local Aborigines, Mr Goss has responded in traditional style by inviting Mr Tickner to stay out of Queensland affairs. While in Cape York for a local Aboriginal festival, Mr Tickner was asked, by John Austin, what he had to say about the Queensland Premier's suggestion.

JOHN AUSTIN: It would be hard to get further away from the nation's wintry capital than Cape York and still be within reach of some traditional comforts. For a community past celebrating its centenary, the old gold-mining town of Laura has always looked, well, temporary, as though the Queensland bush could claim it back at any time.

It's here Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister of only 16 months, Robert Tickner, has chosen to spend the weekend. Like the roads, some things here don't change. A former alderman from inner city Sydney, Mr Tickner is yet another in an historic procession of Federal Ministers who've been told they're not welcome in Queensland.

In 1991, the fight is between two supposed allies - Mr Tickner's Labor Federal Government and the Goss Queensland Labor Government. In dispute: Queensland Labor's long-awaited treatment of Aboriginal land rights.

Do you believe, State-wise, that things have changed much since the Bjelke-Petersen era for Aborigines up here?

ROBERT TICKNER: I think I'd like to reflect on that question and perhaps talk about it later on.

JOHN AUSTIN: Hardly a ringing endorsement of Mr Tickner's northern Labor comrades. Listening on is local northern Labor man, Steve Bredhauer, Member for Cook - one of the nation's largest State electorates.

The Goss administration, like the parliamentary gates, were shaken but unmoved by black protests at its land rights package. From Brisbane to the Cape, Aborigines are angry at the Government's refusal to make more land accessible for claims, and its refusal to fund Aboriginal purchases of significant privately owned land. They say Wayne Goss has broken his promises. He wasn't invited anywhere near this festival. Minister Tickner was, and he's come to the Cape to tell black Queensland that he's on their side.

ROBERT TICKNER: .. that the Queensland land rights legislation fails to reach the minimal acceptable level to be able to deliver justice to Aboriginal people in Queensland, and there are precedents in other parts of Australia, including the State of New South Wales, where there are significant advances from that which exists in Queensland. And I guess I'd be doing all I could to persuade the Queensland Government and Mr Goss, as the Premier, to adopt that kind of model of a land acquisition fund similar to the one that exists in New South Wales.

JOHN AUSTIN: It's Robert Tickner's first visit to Laura, and in the tradition of tourism, he's here to see what's happening, with land rights and also the future of one of the nation's last frontiers.

Well, the future of Cape York is inextricably connected with the future of the black communities here. The Aborigines say that they believe that land rights in Queensland is not so much about grabbing the land back, but being in a position to control it and manage it, especially at a time of mounting outside pressures to develop the Cape.

NOEL PEARSON: With issues such as the Cape York Land Use Study, unless the Commonwealth comes down in support of the concerns of Aboriginal people, we're going to be railroaded by a very resource-hungry Goss Government.

JOHN AUSTIN: Even in Laura, it seems, politicians have to do what politicians have to do. As always, there's a degree of posturing. There's also another political tradition to uphold - one of federal outrage at Queensland conservatism.

ROBERT TICKNER: Well, Mr Goss has adopted an approach - one that has involved, unfortunately, a lack of consultation with Aboriginal people - and I would hope that he would hear the very real concerns that people have and that he would move to ensure that the land rights legislation and the package that's beEN adopted is only a basis of further improvement.

JOHN AUSTIN: The personal infight between the two Labor men is curious. Both once worked for Aboriginal legal services; both claim to be reformists.

NOEL PEARSON: In past history of Queensland, the Commonwealth's been constantly pushed aside by previous State Governments. I mean, Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a classic case of refusing any kind of Commonwealth intervention, especially in Aboriginal Affairs, and it seems that the Goss Government's taking a similar line.

JOHN AUSTIN: Almost alone, local Labor member, Steve Bredhauer - with an electorate primarily of black voters - chooses to defend the Government.

STEVE BREDHAUER: But I do regard the legislation as a positive step forward for Queensland Aborigines, in that, for the first time we have a legislative recognition of their prior ownership and entitlements to land, and I believe, particularly for the constituents of the Cook electorate, the legislation does hold positive benefits.

JOHN AUSTIN: Black voters, though, are now talking of unseating Labor and Bredhauer, at next year's State election. And for his pains, Bredhauer was told some other simple truths: that blacks don't want him anywhere near Robert Tickner.

NOEL PEARSON: We asked Mr Bredhauer not to assume any kind of public profile at this festival because we were not going to provide a platform for the Queensland Labor Party. This is a celebration of Aboriginal culture, not a chance for politicians to score points.

JOHN AUSTIN: Strangely, the festival has brought blacks and whites together in a lifestyle most blacks call home, but many whites would call poverty stricken. Wayne Goss offended black sensitivities when he summed up his impressions of Aboriginal poverty, like this.

WAYNE GOSS: In some communities we are perpetuating a cycle of drunkenness, violence and disease. I don't blame any one party for that, but we can't allow that to continue.

ROBERT TICKNER: As an Australian, I was deeply saddened by those comments because I don't think that they are, in any way, a reflection of what life is really like for Aboriginal people. You know, these are the poorest Australians.

JOHN AUSTIN: Queensland blacks have heard high ideals from Federal Ministers before. Ministers have made promises to help and even intervene, only to depart in failure. Now, Aborigines are again calling on a new Federal Minister to take on the Goss Government.

NOEL PEARSON: We want the Commonwealth Government to assist with an acquisitions program to enable people to buy land because, as we heard in the last few months, urban people get absolutely nothing out of a Goss Government's land rights legislation and most of the land in Cape York Peninsula is private land. And if there's no money set aside for us to purchase land, people are going to end up with nothing.

JOHN AUSTIN: Is this a testing time for Robert Tickner and the Federal Government also? Is their reputation, credibility on the line?

NOEL PEARSON: Absolutely.

ROBERT TICKNER: And I think there's very great sympathy for a co-operative approach including some Federal funding for land acquisition, but that will not happen and should not happen without a comparable commitment from the Queensland Government.

JOHN AUSTIN: Having made no promises, Minister Tickner departs south.

MARK HAMLYN: Queensland politics: the more they change, the more they stay the same.