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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2421

Mr LAMB(10.37) —The honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous) has made a significant and rational contribution to the debate, as he has on other occasions when Aboriginal affairs have been debated. His last comment was that he hoped that further examples would be brought forward by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) whereby restitution would be made to the dispossessed Aboriginal people in Victoria. Later in my speech I will dwell on a possible further example of that taking place.

This debate provides me with an opportunity to discuss the issue of Aboriginal land ownership, the specific examples of Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest, and to draw parallels with other properties in Victoria which exhibit a similar historical background. Aboriginal culture and way of life is, as we know, extremely old. It is 40,000 years, or more, older than any other culture or civilisation in history. More importantly, the culture is alive today, not only in the outback but on the fringes of our cities and in the very cities themselves.

A major part of Aboriginal culture is the Aborigines' relationship to the land. Aboriginal owners see themselves not as owners with speculative and trading rights but as custodians or trustees, responsible to current and future generations for holding and keeping their birthright intact.

Traditional owners talk not of rights to exploit the land, to make a fast buck, but of their duty to look after the land. Use of that land which is compatible with care of the land, use that does not offend their culture, use that does not despoil the spiritual side of the land, can be a use, therefore, that provides benefits to the general community-Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.

The Aboriginal Land (Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest) Bill and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Bill relate to traditional Aboriginal land which, as the honourable member for Calwell observed, in the nineteenth century was reserved for Aboriginal mission stations. Today, descendants of the Aborigines who were held in these missions still live on the same land. To the examples of Framlingham Forest and Lake Condah can be added Coranderrk at Healesville in my electorate of Streeton.

In 1861 the Framlingham Forest formed part of an area of land temporarily reserved from sale and set aside for the use of Aborigines. Despite the wishes of the Aborigines and without regard to any form of recompense for the existing state of dispossession from traditional tribal lands, the land was gradually sold off or leased. The last excision was as recently as 1952.

In contrast, Lake Condah reserve originated as an Anglican mission station in 1869. This has been stated by other members in this debate. Just 17 years later a Victorian law required Aboriginal people of mixed race under 35 years of age to leave mission settlements, and the population naturally dwindled. Gradually the reserve area was revoked and officially closed in 1919, many of the people moving to Lake Tyers. The reserve was finally revoked and the area carved up for soldier settlement after World War II, but no Aboriginal returned soldier received land there. That fact should not go unnoticed.

Also, around 1861, the tribes living in the Upper Yarra and Healesville area-the Wurundjeri, the Bunurong, the Taurngong and possibly the Yorta Yorta-were moved to a reserve at Acheron, along with other Aborigines from all over Victoria. This land proved unsuitable, so the Watts river reserve was created at Healesville. The Aborigines walked from Acheron to the Watts River Reserve over the mountain range, which has become known as the Black Spur as a result of that march. However, like Framlingham, Coranderrk was also whittled away. In 1883 half the permanent reserve was taken back by the Victorian Government and in 1924 Coranderrk was closed when the resident Aborigines too were transferred to Lake Tyers in Gippsland.

In 1948 the Coranderrk Lands Bill was passed, which revoked permanent reservation of the land. The land was disposed of through the Soldier Settlement Commission. However, I understand that as with earlier leases and sites, Aborigines were not allowed to apply for the land which was once permanently reserved for them. Some 90 acres of the original reserve became Commonwealth property in early 1952 and on it was established the Army School of Health. After 34 years of active use, during which the Army School of Health became an important part of the Healesville community, the school was transferred to Portsea. The Government, in its 14 May 1985 statement, decided to dispose of the property. I will speak more on that matter later.

I have given this detail to illustrate the parallels between and the similarities of the dismemberment of Aboriginal reserves in Victoria. We can see that Victoria, like other States, had gradually dispossessed Aborigines of all their community owned land. However, in more recent times, the general community has questioned the wisdom and justice of that dispossession and demanded some restitution.

The original Victorian legislation-now in Commonwealth form in these Bills-provides for the return of the remainder of the Framlingham Forest to the traditional tribal owners the Kirrae Whurrong. Some 237 hectares had been vested in the Framlingham Aboriginal Trust by the Bolte Liberal Government in 1970 under the Aboriginal Land Act. That Act granted the land in what amounted to inalienable freehold title.

Recognising the non-exploitative affinity between the land and Aboriginal people, the current Victorian Government acknowledged that the form of property title chosen by the Bolte Government was the most appropriate and best suited the particular nature of local Aboriginal community ownership. These Bills therefore, give the Aborigines inalienable title, as this satisfies their concern to prevent the land from ever being taken from them again or about being dispossessed of it by any one generation. This point was made most emphatically by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Calwell. The need for a non-commercial form of ownership was recognised by the Fraser Government in 1976 when the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ian Viner, speaking to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, stated:

The coalition Parties' policy on Aboriginal Affairs clearly acknowledges that affinity with the land is fundamental to Aborigines' sense of identity.

With such honourable and solid conservative political support behind the concept of inalien- able freehold title spanning some 120 years in Victoria, it is astounding that the State and Federal Liberal parties have opposed inalienable freehold title. They have forced this legislation out of Victoria and into the Federal sphere. They are not challenging the grants, or their size; nor do they challenge the traditional connections between the trust membership and the land. They merely challenge the nature of the title, and in doing so expose their inability to accept that there can be a non-commercial interest in property, that the objective of owning land need not necessarily be exploitative. Their only concept of ownership is personal property, rights over property held, and to deny rights or sell rights in return for payment. Because of this inability to comprehend or accept the cultural affinity between Aborigines and land, they completely fail to see the distinction between use of the land and ownership.

The response of the State Opposition, and here today the Federal Opposition, has been obstructionist and backward thinking. Their attempts to persuade members of the general public that Aborigines would be somehow disadvantaged if these Bills were passed are politically irresponsible and have no factual foundation. Today racial discrimination is being replaced by a growing concern and willingness in the wider community to find ways of bringing cultures together and to find ways of acknowledging common benefits. The Opposition however, is seeking to take society as a whole back to an unhappy era of prejudice. That is happening right now in my electorate concerning the Army School of Health property, which I mentioned earlier in this debate had been an Aboriginal reserve declared by the Victorian Government last century.

When the Hawke Government decided to dispose of the property I approached the Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services (Mr Uren) and argued successfully that there should be no disposal until the community advised the Government on the best future use of the property for Healesville and the wider community. I was appointed chairperson of a consultative committee which included, appointed and elected local representatives and representatives of local, State and Federal Government. After six months of exhaustive, open public meetings and after discussing 19 well prepared submissions received in response to public advertisements, the consultative committee recommended that the site be used for a post-secondary education centre and/or, as a secondary priority for low cost tourist accommodation. Some land in this former Aboriginal reserve was to be made available to the nearby sanctuary. If these options were unattainable, we recommended that the land be sold. While the consultative committee specifically rejected discussion on future ownership of the land as being outside its brief, it went without saying that the consultative committee's recommendations could be achieved only if the future ownership was compatible with the recommended future use.

Much has been said in this chamber today and last night about people meeting and not meeting with Aboriginal groups and others associated with the lands in question. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, who is at the table, I believe, has an excellent record of communication with various representative groups of Aboriginal people. He is willing to travel around the country, inspect sites for himself and meet with those groups. The Minister, for instance, met with the consultative committee that I chaired and indicated to us:

The Army School of Health was formerly part of the old Coranderrk Reserve which makes it an area of great significance and importance to Aboriginal people, not merely locally but throughout Victoria.

The Minister then indicated that he supported proposals which would return the land to the traditional Aboriginal owners and which at the same time met the needs of Aboriginal people and related to the broader needs of the local community of which they are essentially a part. The Minister argued that such proposals would be one of the most important and innovative developments for Aboriginal people not only in Victoria but within Australia. A post-secondary education centre could provide cultural and educational training for Aborigines, as well as providing important training and education facilities for the local non-Aboriginal community.

The Minister very recently advised the Shire of Healesville by letter of the Government's determined intention to transfer title of this Commonwealth owned portion of the former Coranderrk reserve to the Aboriginal Development Commission. Eventually, traditional Aboriginal owners will gain inalienable title to the land in the same way as the traditional owners of Framlingham and Lake Condah are regaining their land through the legislation that is now before the House. Equally importantly, the Minister indicated to the Shire of Healesville that title would not be transferred until proposals satisfactory to the Victorian and Federal governments were put in place, proposals which, among other things, would contain elements of cultural opportunities and vocational training for Aboriginals.

This Government's decision, when it is completed, made final and flesh put on the bones of the consultative committee's proposals by consultants, will have bridged or helped to bridge the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures through combining wide community use of the land with non-commercial ownership of that same land by the Aboriginal people. Given the good news for Healesville residents, I am very surprised that this month's council meeting, held a couple of days ago, the Shire President did not disclose the letter or the item in it that I have worked closely with the Minister to ensure that the consultative committee's proposals will be implemented.

The Government's decision will bring great benefits to Healesville. It will bring education opportunities to Healesville students, who now have to travel long cross-country distances to post-secondary education centres. Victour expects big increases in tourists due to the potential of the property. School students will be able to stay there to enjoy the fauna, flora and Aboriginal treasures which abound at Healesville and in the upper Yarra Valley and ranges, in the very same way as tourists now use the Mount Buffalo Chalet and students enjoy the live-in facilities at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. The Government's decision will complement the Healesville Sanctuary and the neighbouring Worowa Aboriginal College. The Government's decision will create employment opportunities and increase trade for business, which is already feeling the absence of the Army School. The consultative committee's proposals, when fully implemented, will indeed put Healesville on the map.

Just as the Opposition is unable to comprehend the non-commercial, non-exploitative affinity of Aborigines to the land and the need to grant inalienable freehold title to the Framlingham and Lake Condah reserves, so it totally fails to comprehend the fact that the traditional owners of Coranderrk will be able to regain the land, yet be more than happy that the total community of Healesville will be able to enjoy the benefits of that property.

But local Liberal opposition to the Government's intention is not based solely on ignorance. Attempts by members of the local Liberal machine to use the Healesville Council for their short term political ends are nothing short of deception towards the ratepayers. They talk of a sell-out of the consultative committee's proposals. At the same time, two members of the Liberal Party on that Council this week pushed through two motions. One motion called for the overthrow of the consultative committee's proposals in favour of another sell-out to an unknown private hotel developer, a proposal already rejected by the Committee. The other motion ordered the Shire Secretary not to meet with the group implementing the consultative committee's own proposals. The deceit is doubled when it is learnt that one of those Liberal councillors was a member of the consultative committee he now pretends to support.

The Liberals' call for a public meeting over the Government's decision is nothing short of a put-up job. Any pretence that these actions by the Liberal Party are in the interests of the ratepayers is shot away when one realises that the call for a public meeting to discuss the Government's decision was published in a local paper before the Council met later in the day. Its concern for the public is questioned when we learn that a document about the Government's decision had two pages removed from it before being allegedly leaked to the media. The full document clearly indicated that the land would be returned to the Aborigines only after the consultative committee's proposals were implemented to the satisfaction of the Victorian and Federal governments.

The people have a right to ask what good can come out of a stacked meeting orchestrated by the Liberal Party from go to whoa and designed to divide a community along racist lines. It is unlikely that the Liberal councillors will tell the ratepayers that the land will become ratable and return the community thousands of dollars. It is unlikely that the Liberal councillors will tell the ratepayers that their proposal to purchase the property could well cost each man, woman and child in Healesville up to $200-an amount that must be added to their rates. In any case, decisions made at a single public meeting which were designed to frustrate decision making cannot be compared with the six-months long arduous and responsible task carried out by the consultative committee which, in a calm atmosphere, involving the public, made recommendations strongly backed by the general community.

Things have been going pretty badly lately for the Liberal Party. It has been forced to manufacture issues to mask its divisions and inadequacies. In Healesville, as at Framlingham and Lake Condah, although the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker) did not put it this way, the Liberal Party is attempting to create a land rights controversy where none exists. It would be a tragic outcome for Healesville residents if the Liberals were successful and robbed the community of the educational, social and economic benefits flowing from the Government's proposals to develop the Army School of Health property, held in trust by the Aboriginal people. At the local level and in this Parliament, on matters involving former Aboriginal land reserves, the Opposition has shown itself to be completely out of touch with the people and the Aborigines. It knows only division and deception. I congratulate the Minister and I commend the Bill to the House.