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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2424

Mr HOLDING (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)(10.56) —in reply-As in most debates on Aboriginal affairs and when dealing with the rights of Aboriginal people, the contributions which have come from members of Her Majesty's Opposition are disappointing in terms of an evaluation of the issues, trite in the level of understanding and hypocritical in the way the argument is put. As we approach our bicentennial I would like to read an extract from a letter that appeared in the Standard on 1 January 1889. It says:

We have been thinking that the Government ought to give us some land on these stations. They could give it to us this way, that we could never sell it to anyone, but it would be a home to us always . . . . .

Yours, et cetera, F. Clarke, F. Murray, H. Nelson, H. Albert, H. Saunders, half-castes.

Perhaps it is time to ponder in this House the agony, indeed the tragedy and extent of the deprivation involved. A group of half-castes almost 100 years ago made a plea to a dominant white society-a less caring and less compassionate society-in respect of the very areas of land we are now discussing. I again refer the House to the words they used. They asked for a piece of land. They said: `They could give it to us this way, that we could never sell it to anyone, but it would be a home to us always'. That is what this debate is about; that is what this legislation is about. The Aboriginal people of Framlingham and Lake Condah, almost 100 years later, after four years of negotiation with the State Government of Victoria, have made it perfectly clear that what they want in respect of these areas of land is exactly the same as they were asking for almost 100 years ago; that is, they want an area of land. The definition of that land is not a matter of argument. The identification of the Aboriginal groups who have lived there, died there and endured there is not a matter of argument.

What is the issue that brings this legislation before this Parliament? I remind the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), of his own policy statement. When releasing that policy statement he said:

. . . the Liberal and National Parties rejected proposals for National Land Rights, but support the provision of land to Aboriginal communities by State Governments.

He did not say by State parliaments, but by State governments. The State Government in Victoria has had four years of negotiation with the respective Aboriginal communities. No one from the Opposition side of the House says that Aboriginal people are asking for anything more or less than inalienable freehold title. That means very simply that they want the land in terms which, as a matter of philosophy and policy, were part of the policy of the Opposition when it was in government. The present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) has voted for the concept of inalienable freehold title, as has the Leader of the National Party (Mr Sinclair). This was an inherent part of Opposition policy for years-to its credit.

Mr Connolly —It still is.

Mr HOLDING —The honourable gentleman says that it still is. If so, why does the Opposition not support this legislation? There is a difference between the attitude the Aboriginal people of Framlingham and Lake Condah have and that of the political colleagues of the honourable gentleman opposite in the Parliament of Victoria. The Aboriginal people said, as they have said for more than 100 years: `We do not want to own this land as some kind of commercial property. We do not want to own it so that we can sell it or dispose of it or divide it into suburban building blocks and become real estate developers'. They said, as they have been saying for 100 years, that they belong to that land and they want it in the terms of the letter which I read out to the House and which is almost 100 years old-so that they can never sell it and it can never be taken away. Is that unreasonable? Is it beyond the comprehension or compassion of the honourable gentlemen opposite?

The Aboriginals want the land in terms such that none of them at any stage will have to face the responsibility of saying: `We think we will put a luxury tourist motel here. We can run a slide rule over the land and dispose of it to the first white fella who comes along and jingles a handful of dollars before us'. It is all right for the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker) to blanch. Well he may, because what has occurred in the party of which he is a member is that the policy and philosophies of the New Right are becoming entrenched on the benches opposite. I will say this for the Leader of the Opposition: In the history of the Commonwealth he is a truly unique Leader of the Opposition; he has more talent on his back bench than on his front bench. In the course of that happening there have been movements away from attitudes which were prevalent among and were the policy of members of the Opposition less than five or six years ago.

The Bolte Liberal Government in Victoria, when it gave title to Lake Tyers, virtually gave inalienable freehold title. What has been the cause of the change of mind whereby that action, taken almost 20 years ago, suddenly freaks out members of the Liberal Party and the National Party in Victoria? The pious arguments to which I listened in the Victorian Legislative Council are reflected and reproduced in this Parliament to the disgrace of this Parliament and the honourable members opposite.

What is the issue? It is the old assertion of cultural arrogance. Opposition members are not saying that these Aborigines should not have the land; not at all. They are saying: `You can have this land but you must stop thinking like an Aborigine-if only you would think like we do, if only you would tell us that the land belongs to you and you want to flog it off, sell it or redevelop it because you want to think like white fellas.' Then they would have the moral approval of Mr Kennett and his bunch of political no-hopers who pass for politicians on the Opposition benches in the State of Victoria.

It is all very well for the honourable member for Wannon to stand up and say `Oh! People should go to Lake Condah and see the achievements there. It is a matter of pride'. How did these achievements come about? It was through the support of the Victorian Government and the imagination and capacity of the Aboriginal people. Some of those people are here in this Parliament today and they will say to any member: `We do not want this land given to us so that we can treat it or dispose of it in the same way as white people. We belong to that land; our ancestors are buried there; we have lived on it, suffered on it, endured on it and we want to have it as an inalienable freehold title.' Shock, horror! What an awful concept!

If only the Aborigines would think like the Kennetts of this world and like honourable members opposite, if only black fellas would think like white fellas and take the same moral position in their attitudes to land, if only they would think like us, then they could have it. What a paltry, miserable and disgraceful attitude to have at this time as we approach our Bicentenary. That sort of attitude has coloured the history of those settlements at Lake Condah and Framlingham virtually since they were created as reserves. One only has to look at their history. Their history was one of telling Aboriginal people all the way through, a consistent policy of saying: `If you are a half-caste'-as defined by the rulers of the day-`we will move you off the land.' What was a half-caste? A full-blooded Aboriginal woman could be married to a white fellow yet she was a half-caste and she had to move on.

There were two views governing the thinking of those days. One was that Aboriginal people would die out and the second was that they would be assimilated. One of the great and historic achievements of Aboriginal people in my State is that they have survived. They have survived as Aboriginal Australians and they confidently assert both their culture and their tradition. They say: `We have not been assimilated and we will not go away. We want this Government, the State Government of Victoria, to recognise our perceptions as Aboriginal Australians and to make this land available to us.' That seems to me to be a fairly simple proposition. It was a proposition which the Victorian Government accepted yet the Liberal and National Parties in the upper House made it perfectly clear that they would not accept it. Not only would they not accept it, but they would also reject the legislation.

Mr Hawker —That is not true.

Mr HOLDING —Does the honourable member want me to quote from the debate? I actually sat there in the Parliament. If the Liberal and National parties did not want to reject the legislation, why did they vote against the second reading? If one is supporting the basic concept of legislation one does not divide the House; one does not divide on the second reading motion and the honourable member knows that. Let us be perfectly candid: The problem that exists in the Opposition at the moment is their confusion and division on these sorts of issues. For Aboriginal people that is a tragedy because I agree that this matter should never have come to this Parliament.

When I was approached by the Victorian Attorney-General, he said that he could not get the legislation through the upper House but that his Government did not intend to retract from its commitments to Aboriginal people. He then asked the Commonwealth to take up the legislation and put it through Federal Parliament. I told him that I would only do that if I could not persuade the Victorian Leader of the Opposition to look at the matter again. I made no secret of that. I made it clear to the Press that I would contact Mr Kennett and urge him to reconsider his position because we were really talking about a question of time. I rang Jeff Kennett-I have known him since he first went into the Victorian Parliament-and I had a short, friendly conversation with him. He was gracious enough to tell me immediately that there was no way that the Opposition would reconsider its position. Indeed, before I rang him he held a Press conference at which he said there would be no change of attitude or position.

I actually went in and listened to the debates in the Victorian Parliament; it was the first time I had been there since I left that Parliament. I sat there and it was perfectly clear to me and to anyone who listened to that debate that there had been no consultation at all with the Aboriginal people whose lives would be affected by the legislation. Had there been any consultation, the Aboriginal people would have told members of the Parliament that they wanted the same sort of title as members of the Liberal and National Parties voted into the national lands rights legislation and the same sort of title as that given by the Bolte Government to the Aboriginal people at Lake Tyers. What is wrong with that? What is so horrific, so terrible about that?

We are told by honourable members opposite that they think they support land rights but one only has to look at the record. When this Government made the important and historic decision to give title to Uluru to the Aboriginal people, the reaction was shock and horror. The Opposition supported land rights but it did not think that the Government should do anything as dramatic or radical as that. So Opposition members voted against that decision. We were dealing with land that was the property of the Commonwealth. Oh yes, the Opposition has great compassion for Aborigines, but it never wants to give them a title. If one re-read those earlier debates one would think that by now Uluru should have disappeared. One would have thought that it would be moved. The fact is that that decision has been an historic success and everyone knows it. When, after 10 years of negotiation, we decided to give the Aboriginal people at Wreck Bay an inalienable freehold title, the Opposition said it supported those people. Yet it voted to a man against the handing over of that title as an inalienable freehold title.

Mr Connolly —You would not give them a lease to their own houses.

Mr HOLDING —Oh, listen to that! The shadow Minister is not a bad fellow but his real problem is that the New Right has a grip on him and he does not have quite the same intestinal fortitude of Senator Peter Baume. He is not willing to stand up and have John Howard sack him. What he does is sit there mouthing platitudes of support for Aboriginal people, but time and time again when he has to put his hand up he votes against any concept of giving Aboriginal people a title in the terms that they ask. That is what this argument is all about.

I agree that this legislation should never have come to this Parliament. It is not here because anyone is interested in grandstanding; it is here because we indicated that we would support State governments in the pursuit of the question of giving Aboriginal people a title to their land. The Liberal Party policy states that that Party supports State governments doing that. We have been asked by a State government to assist in this way to overcome a political obstruction. Honourable members opposite and I know that many of their State leaders-they are on record-do not and will never support land rights. Therefore, it will be necessary for the Commonwealth, in pursuit of its policies, to pursue that matter vigorously through this Parliament, and that is what we will do.

I commend the legislation to the House, just as I condemn again the disappointing, mealy-mouthed approach of the Opposition which will go on mouthing platitudes about how it wants to help Aboriginal people but when it comes to the crunch it never has the capacity, the willingness or, more importantly, the compassion to see that they receive land on their terms. It wants them to live and think like the Jeff Kennetts of the world. Most of them have too much integrity and too much honour to do that.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.