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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2435


Mr CONNOLLY(11.58) —I shall be mercifully brief on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Bill. I wish to emphasise, for the benefit of the House, that we believe this legislation is no more relevant to this issue than was the legislation we have already debated. When the legislation in its initial form, that is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage (Interim Protection) Amendment Bill, was originally introduced we were assured by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) and by the Government at the time that it would overcome any problems which may be created in relation to the overlap between Federal and State jurisdictions in relation to the protection of sacred sites and so forth. There is still a considerable degree of argument, as I understand it, in the Victorian Aboriginal community as to what extent these proposals adequately cover that point.

Among the various points Mr Clark raises in the letter which I tabled earlier-and I assure the House that these issues have been brought to my attention by other Aborigines in Victoria-he is concerned about the fact that the legislation requires the compiling of a register of sites in the Framlingham Forest. The Minister would say, as he has said on previous occasions-he made this point in his rather testy address this morning-that we tend to make judgments relating to legal matters which may be appropriate to white Australians but which tend to ignore the realities and traditional interests of Aboriginal Australians. In many respects this is a classic example of that. In terms of white law it is obvious and logical to say that one should always have lists, registers and clearly identified public knowledge of as many things as possible, but in Aboriginal law that is a contradiction, as the Minister is well aware. The very act of having a sacred site does not imply that everybody should know about it. This creates both social and economic problems. For argument's sake, a mining company in the wider context of land rights can rightly say `How are we to determine where to put our access roads if there is not a document, a register, which states explicitly what we should avoid?' But the very fact of an Aboriginal community putting sacred sites on a register open to the gaze of people who are not qualified, in terms of the Aboriginal law of that community, to have access to those sites, or even knowledge of them, creates a fundamental conflict, as I am sure the Minister would accept. It is one of the difficulties in trying to relate Aboriginal customary law to European or British legal systems and concepts. This point has been rightly made by Mr Clark in the letter I tabled earlier. He said:

There is also an additional point the Community is unable to accept. We are in total disagreement of both Federal . . . and State . . . Heritage Legislation. To declare a site is to endanger it. Freedom of choice should be respected.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Ruddock) —Order! I remind the honourable member that this is a cognate debate. Although in a second reading speech matters can be pursued, I intend strictly to require the honourable member's comments to be relevant to the Bill that we are considering and not canvass matters that ordinarily would have been canvassed in the preceding Bill.


Mr CONNOLLY —I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker, but obviously you have just arrived in the chamber and have not had the benefit of having heard the debate to date. What I am saying is absolutely relevant to the current debate, cognate or otherwise. We have dispatched the land rights legislation. We are now talking about the second Bill in this series, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Bill. The remarks I have just made were absolutely on that subject. Mr Clark in his letter is concerned about the implications of proposed changes in the legislation in relation to the protection of sacred and significant sites.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I am examining the Bill. Which part deals with significant sites?


Mr CONNOLLY —That is what the whole Bill is about-the protection of sacred sites.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I will see how the debate proceeds.


Mr CONNOLLY —Mr Deputy Speaker, to avoid embarrassment and long turgid delays in this matter let me say that I have said all I want to say about Mr Clark's views on this subject. I simply point out what I said in my speech on the second reading of the earlier legislation. Whilst the Government may claim that it has gone ahead with an administrative package, which has the endorsement in all respects of the relevant Aboriginal community leaders, I simply say that there is considerable doubt in my mind, on the basis of the information I have, that that is the true story. The amendments in the context of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Bill are related principally to trying to overcome inconsistencies which may appear between Federal legislation and State legislation. Unfortunately, the same problems are being created on this issue as those which were raised in the second reading debate on the Aboriginal Land (Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest) Bill, and we assert that this legislation could have been more appropriately handled at State government level.

The other issue to which I should also refer in relation to this second piece of legislation is the rights which people will have to protect their interests in Aboriginal sacred relics. Because of the effluxion of time and the historical realities of which we are well aware, in parts of Victoria keeping places have now been established in which artefacts of Aboriginal communities that may no longer even exist are being protected. No doubt the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has visited some of these places, as have I. I must say that I am quite impressed with the dedication of the people who are looking after those keeping places and with the manner in which the whole objective of giving the wider Australian community access to, and a greater knowledge of, traditional Aboriginal culture is being preserved. A substantial educative role can be played and it must be encouraged.

However, the problem in the context of these amendments is to what extent Aboriginal communities-no one disputes that they are Aboriginal-in different parts of Victoria should have the right of access to relics kept in keeping places and with which they have no direct social association. I make the point-the Minister is well aware of it-that traditional Aboriginal society in Victoria, as is the case in every other part of Australia, was made up of many variations of different tribes, different languages, and with subtle differences in its style of managing its affairs and so forth. Probably it is no more adequate if one relates the matter to a European environment to say that a German tribe should have access to the sacred sites or sacred relics of a French tribe or Flemish tribe in the context of western Europe. For all intents and purposes, they are different peoples. The one thing they have in common is that they have been classified by white anthropologists as being Aboriginal.

The important point I am making is this: Those communities which are protecting relics today, usually because no antecedents or communities are left which have a direct link with them, surely have the right to continue to protect them because there is a geographical and historical association with that local environment where those sacred objects or community works may have originated. For example, the Loddon Valley had a community and it has a very good keeping place, and it has been suggested that its artefacts should be moved to Bendigo or Melbourne. People in that community quite justifiably ask: `Why? We are protecting these artefacts. This is part of our history'. It is part of not only the local Aboriginal history-and the community may not even exist now-but also the contiguous history of that environment, society or group. They have been told that they have no right to those artefacts and that they should be transferred. Such problems have created considerable concern in parts of Victoria and I simply draw these matters to the attention of the Minister as being examples of where he may try to overcome a set of problems but often by getting Federal jurisdiction involved with State jurisdiction all one ultimately does is create a whole host of new problems.

I will finalise my remarks by simply saying that the Opposition will be voting against this legislation. I do not wish to delay the House any further on this matter. The Opposition will not divide the House, but as was the case with the earlier legislation, the Opposition strongly objects to the legislation on the grounds that it ought not to have been introduced into this Parliament, nor should the issues raised have been handled the way they have been. I reiterate for the benefit of all honourable members that the Opposition has no objection whatsoever to the transfer of title to the Framlingham or Lake Condah communities. It is simply saying that the jurisdiction of that transfer properly lies with the Victorian Government and the Victorian Parliament.