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Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2682


Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(4.17) —The diatribe that we have just heard from the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment (Mr Cohen) is the best proof of the urgency of the matter which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) has brought before this House; that is, the callous disregard by this Government of the needs and aspirations of the people of the Northern Territory. The supercilious approach that the Minister took to this very serious matter which is before the Parliament highlights the contempt and disregard that the Government has for the concerns of the people of the Northern Territory. Members of the Government must have cringed when they heard the Minister's performance a few minutes ago. The very forlorn look on the face of his colleague the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves) showed how embarrassed he was about the whole situation.

It is little wonder that so much concern has been raised across the nation by the announcement during the week that the Uluru (Ayers Rock-Mount Olga) National Park would be handed over to the Aboriginals. The concern was not due to that fact, but to the way in which it was done; the very amateurish way in which this Government blatantly made a decision without going through the proper forms of respect for the Government of the Northern Territory and for the consultative procedures that have taken place over a long period dealing with 10 major points of issue with regard to the land rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. It was a complex and delicate matter to handle. It involved the Northern Territory, the Aboriginal land councils and the Commonwealth. Each had certain rights, obligations and responsibilities that needed to be looked at in a total package. But this Minister, who today in this chamber babbled on so blandly, obviously disregarded that whole complex series of negotiations, went ahead and made this bald announcement, totally ignoring the Northern Territory.

The result is that great suspicions have arisen across the country as to what is going on. Surely there must be complications if one is to hand over land title to people. Have all the details been worked out? What are the access arrangements to be for Australians, who all feel that Ayers Rock is theirs? What are to be the obligations as far as royalties are concerned? Take, for instance, the symbol of Ayers Rock. Who owns Ayers Rock now? It is pictured on our tourist brochures all over Australia. Is a fee to be paid for that? None of these things have been worked out. The handing over of Ayers Rock has been done more or less as some political gimmick to satisfy certain pressure groups.

This matter of public importance today highlights the need to draw to the attention of the Australian people the inadequacies of the way in which this Government has been handling the affairs of the Northern Territory. I would have expected some apology by the Government for the callous way in which it neglected the people of the Northern Territory. We heard no apologies for the contempt that it has shown for the Northern Territory. Most significantly, there has been no indication that the Government is ready in any way to change its attitude to the people of the Northern Territory or to remedy its neglect of them. All we have heard from this Minister today is a wild attack on the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, on his colleagues and on members of the Opposition for being so concerned about the welfare of the Northern Territory. I think of the most beautiful expression the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment used in Question Time today. He was asked why he did not get into consultation and negotiation with the people of the Northern Territory. His reply was: 'When it suits the Northern Territory Government, it sets us up in an unpleasant light.' Goodness me! Why is he feeling uncomfortable? Why does he feel as though he is in an unpleasant light? It is because he is embarrassed about what his own Government has done. He has a guilt complex. He is self- conscious. He knows that he cannot defend the attitudes of this Government to the people of the Northern Territory.

When this Government was elected on 5 March the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) made a solemn promise to the nation. He promised-and he did so with all the sincerity that he could muster-that he would govern for all Australians. We heard the Minister saying a few minutes ago that the Government governed for all Australians. I can tell honourable members one lot of Australians who have been forgotten-the people of the Northern Territory. Since the election and since that great promise by the Prime Minister, we have seen him virtually break every promise he has made. It is a surprise to no one that he has broken the most important promise of all-the promise to govern for all Australians. That is the tragic truth of it.

There is no integrity whatsoever in this Government. Slowly but surely it has become obvious that the Prime Minister and his Government believe that there are two classes of Australians. There are those who owe the Government their support and need the Government to survive, and there are the rest. If one is a member of the first group, one will get all the attention that the Government can offer . If one belongs to the trade union movement, the Government says: 'You're right , sport'. If one belongs to one of the environmental pressure groups the Government says: 'Okay, you can do what you like'. But if one happens to belong to the other group, one belongs to the lost group. The lowest of that lost group happens to be-in the eyes of this Government, at any rate-the Government of the Northern Territory and the people of the Northern Territory. The promise was to govern for all Australians. It is laughable. The people of the Northern Territory have been not only ignored by this Government but also treated like dirt, as far as the Government's promises are concerned. When this Government wants more money to spend on some of its sacred cows, who loses out? It is the people of the Northern Territory who lose out. The Government broke its promise concerning the Alice Springs to Darwin railway-a great national project. It would have created work. It would have been part of our national development, our national security. It did not matter that the present Government made promises during its election campaign; they are all broken now.

When this Government wanted to find a way out of its embarrassing, unworkable policy on uranium, who paid? The people of the Northern Territory, of course. The Territory's future as a major exporter of uranium for peaceful purposes was scuttled by this Government in its decision last week. There is now no hope of Jabiluka and Koongarra coming on stream. The other two projects are slowly to be scaled down. It will cost the people of the Northern Territory hundreds of millions of dollars. It will not be just the white people of the Northern Territory who will lose. It will also be the Aboriginal people, particularly the people of the Northern Land Council, who came to an agreement on these mines and who would have stood to benefit to the value of something like $100m each year when all of these mines got going. But this Government completely disregarded that. What compensation will there be for these Aboriginals? What compensation will there be for the miners who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars preparing for these operations? None whatsoever. When this Government wants to show its concern for the environment or for the Aboriginal land rights people, who pays? It is not the trendies in Sydney and Melbourne who pay, but the people of the Northern Territory.

There are many instances of this contempt, neglect and rejection of the Northern Territory people in general. A few minutes ago the Leader of the Opposition listed a few of them. I could talk about the price of petrol, which is so important to the people of the Northern Territory. They were promised a reduction of 3c a litre in the price of petrol. All they received was an increase. I could talk about the fuel oil levy that was introduced, the reduction in the fuel freight subsidy, the removal of the safe anchorages fuel subsidy, the slashing of the promised funds for the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign and the threat to Northern Territory funding. The list goes on and on. The Government's promises were nothing more than blatant lies. The people of the Northern Territory now recognise this. The people of Wannon showed their concern. The people of Bruce did also. So did the people of Moreton. The people of Queensland showed their concern, and the people of the Northern Territory will do likewise on 3 December. This Government will not get away with it.

The reason the Opposition proposed this matter of public importance is that we want to see some change in the attitude of the Government towards the people of the Northern Territory. They are fed up with being treated in such a contemptuous way by this Government. The very notification of the handing over of Uluru (Mount Olga-Ayers Rock) National Park to the Aboriginals was not even referred to the Chief Minister. It went through the Leader of the Opposition. What more contemptuous way could there be to treat the elected Government of the Northern Territory than through that single action? It is time the Government realised that there is a respected government in the Northern Territory-a very good government-and that if it wants to continue to treat Northern Territory people as it has they will express themselves on 3 December.