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Wednesday, 11 March 1998
Page: 935

Mr ENTSCH (10:29 AM) —I have to start by saying that I almost choked on some of the words of the honourable member for Holt (Mr Gareth Evans) when he suggested that the Labor Party is in no way involved in politicising this issue. He is a plausible gentleman and the commitments that he made sounded all very soft and fluffy and, of course, very reconciliatory. It is a pity that his actions and those of some of his colleagues did not reflect the same views. As I say, it is almost laughable.

Since the introduction and rejection in the other place last December, I have had plenty of time to re-evaluate our position on this legislation and, quite frankly, I have found absolutely nothing to change my point of view. I took the opportunity to travel to a number of Cape York communities in my electorate, communities in the heart of Wik land. The current debate was hardly raised in these communities. In fact, it was not mentioned in most of them unless I raised it myself. When it was discussed, the focus of these communities was the real concerns of the impact on the communities, the divisiveness within those communities caused by the inequities and the ambiguousness of the current legislation, and all they wanted to do was to get us to fix the problem.

The other very prominent concern was the criticism by all of the communities of some of the more prominent Aboriginal leaders. That criticism was the same in every community. There is a real concern in the communities that I visited that the views and aspirations of those communities and their leadership—I am talking about their elders, their traditional leadership—are being totally ignored. This comes as no revelation to me. It is something that is very well known to other members of this House, including the member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), the member for Northern Territory (Mr Dondas), the member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) and the member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey)—all of whom represent very large grassroots Aboriginal populations.

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald only confirms what many of us already know and hopefully will help to highlight the depths to which the Labor Party will go to further their own political agendas. To hell with the Aboriginal people of this nation and to hell with Australia—let us only look after Labor's interests and maintain Labor's policy of `whatever it takes'. The article makes interesting reading and relates to the efforts of Labor Party henchmen and their Aboriginal supporters to gag the Jesuit activist priest Father Brennan because of his change of attitude towards one of the fundamentals of this whole legislation.

The article on 28 February makes very interesting reading. I will just read an extract. After reference was made to a letter that was written by one Peter Yu from the National Indigenous Working Group to Father Brennan asking him to butt out, this comment was made:

. . . and what do these Einsteins in Labor do? They get Peter Yu to tell him to shut up!"

So who are "these Einsteins"? They include a small cross-factional group of the Left's Nick Bolkus, Daryl Melham, Warren Snowdon and Martin Ferguson, and the Right's Simon Crean and Laurie Brereton. This is the group which has largely orchestrated Labor's Wik policy from day one. It is the same group, in harness with what is known as the "A Team" in the NWIG, among them Yu, David Ross, "Tracker" Tilmouth, Mick Dodson and Noel Pearson, who insist Labor must die in a ditch for a policy which is doomed if Labor cannot win the next election.

Their agenda has nothing to do with their resolution of the Wik impasse. It is about an agenda that ensures Labor maintains the one true faith, determined by them, and exploits what they believe is an electoral climate favourable to Labor to win an election . . .

The Aboriginal leaders mentioned in this article are recognised as national leaders, but in reality they are more interested in pleasing their Labor puppeteers. As we are well aware, Tracker Tilmouth has been put up by the Einsteins as a Labor hopeful for a Senate seat in the Northern Territory; Noel Pearson has recently expressed interest in standing for a possible Labor seat in Melbourne. At the time I challenged him to stand in his home electorate of Leichhardt and be judged by his peers but, quite frankly, he is too smart for that. Warren Snowdon, as we all know, was the previous member for the Northern Territory. He is now trying to win back that seat.

Mr Slipper —Not a very good member.

Mr ENTSCH —Not a very good one at all, but, surprise, surprise, he is also employed by the National Indigenous Working Group. The list goes on and on. It is little wonder that the Aboriginal people feel betrayed by sections of their own leadership. It is an absolute disgrace. If you wanted to dig a bit further, you only have to go into the dominant land councils that were established by the Labor Party to just see what influence the Labor Party has on those councils to the detriment of grassroots Aboriginal people. It is not hard to get the real picture of Aboriginal Australia.

Our government is being continually accused of being inflexible on this issue, but in December the government, along with the opposition and Senator Harradine, was prepared to accept 217 amendments to the legislation—hardly what I would call inflexible. But there are some areas where we cannot move without destroying the whole integrity of the bill. These include that this bill should not be subject to the Racial Discrimination Act, and this is now even confirmed by one of our more vocal critics, Father Brennan.

The existing Native Title Act includes a provision, section 7, which was accepted in 1993 as setting out the relationship between the Native Title Act and the Racial Discrimination Act. Before the passage of the act in 1993, there was a possibility that a provision might be included which subjected the Native Title Act to the Racial Discrimination Act. But, interestingly enough, the then Labor government's majority on the 1993 Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee recommended that the Native Title Act should not be subjected to the RDA because of the uncertainty that would be created. Father Brennan supports that view; so does this government. In sheer hypocrisy Labor now wants to overturn their own legislation—`whatever it takes'.

The right to negotiate is also very fundamental to this whole bill. The existing Native Title Act and its right to negotiate reflect the assumption that the only interests involved would be the Crown and the native title holders. The act does not provide for coexisting non-government interests in the same land. The act simply has not worked.

Far from delivering positive outcomes, particularly for indigenous people, the practical operation of the right to negotiate has meant confusion; lost or delayed jobs, investment and export income for Australia; unnecessary strain on community relations across the country; and, more importantly, very stretched and strained community relations within the Aboriginal communities themselves as they are trying to get a handle on something that they have great difficulty understanding. The conflict within those communities is very serious.

The bill's changes to the right to negotiate make it fairer and more equitable in light of Wik, streamline its operation and relate it more closely to state and territory land management. The bill retains the right to negotiate over land where native title rights could be equivalent to full ownership, but where native title can only coexist with other interests—for example, with a pastoral lease, bearing in mind that the High Court has said that pastoralists' rights will prevail—we do not see it as fair or reasonable for native title claim ants to have greater rights than the leaseholder. The bill's provisions in this area are about equality. State based regimes can replace the right to negotiate over pastoral lease land and land subject to reservation, but only if native title holders have the same procedural rights as pastoral leaseholders, where relevant, or if they have at least the procedural rights set out in the bill. But as far as Labor is concerned, again, it is a matter of `whatever it takes'.

Another very important component is the registration test. Many Aboriginal leaders—and even the opposition, heaven forbid—have conceded the need for changes in this area. In fact, ATSIC's Deputy Chairman, Ray Robinson, says it is fundamental to prevent frivolous and ambit claims.

The existing Native Title Act, when passed in 1993, provided a screening test to be met by claimants seeking to gain the very significant procedural rights of registered claimants under the Native Title Act, including the right to negotiate. Successive court decisions have eroded this test to a point where it is no longer effective—in fact, it is absolutely and totally unworkable. So a claim can now be registered as soon as it is accepted, with no real test to establish that it is substantial and is likely to succeed.

It is not surprising, Mr Deputy Speaker, that we now have substantial problems with overlapping and multiple claims. In some areas, we understand that there are dozens of overlapping claims on the one piece of land. While the land-holder is sitting there scratching his head, trying to find out where he has to go next, family groups of Aboriginal people are attempting to tear each other's throats out, trying to find some resolution. That has got nothing to do with trying to resolve the issues involved with the legislation that is before us. We must fix this problem. There are Aboriginal families that have vowed never to talk to each other again in their entire lives. This is the type of divisiveness to which we are subjecting people—both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people—at the moment.

A fair and effective registration test must balance the rights of bona fide native title claimants to have a say in future dealings that affect them with the need for governments, the mining industry and developers to be sure that they are dealing with authorised, legitimate claimants.

A good example of that was raised by the member for O'Connor. Those of us who represent electorates with large Aboriginal populations see it time and time again—people pop up, put their hand out and then walk away, or hold up the proceedings, while genuine, legitimate, traditional people are pushed to the back of the queue because of lack of representation by their leadership, so they miss out completely or are ostracised by the broader community as just being greedy Aboriginal people. It is a disgrace, and it is about time that we started to put those who have a legitimate right and entitlement to the front of the queue.

The bill proposes a strengthening of the registration test so that only legitimate, bona fide claimants gain access to the right to negotiate over mining and other major developments involving compulsory acquisition. A fair and effective registration test must balance the rights of bona fide native title claimants to have a say in future dealings that affect them with the need for governments, the mining industry and developers to be sure that they are dealing with authorised, legitimate claimants. This is the approach taken by the government's Native Title Amendment Bill. It deserves support, and it will certainly get support from the legitimate native title claimants in my electorate, that is for sure. With regard to any losses suffered by Aboriginal people, at long last there will be the opportunity for compensation. As with the rest of this bill, Labor's attitude, as expected, is `whatever it takes'.

We hear a lot about the sunset clause, but currently there is no limit on when a claim can be made under the Native Title Act. The government's proposed limit is not unreasonable or inequitable. It falls into line with the statutes of limitation laws with which all Australians are compelled to comply. It is intended to encourage claims to be brought forward for resolution in the interests of clear and stable national land management. Native title has already been claimed over 50 per cent of Australia's land area. Under the bill, any claims lodged within the six-year limit would continue in the Federal Court until they are resolved. Claims would not have to be resolved within six years. Common law native title claims dealt with in the courts after the six- year period has expired would be unaffected. They could still be brought by indigenous people forever and ever; no problems. But, of course, the Labor Party's policy is: `whatever it takes'.

The Native Title Amendment Bill 1997 is about addressing the unworkabilities of the 1993 legislation. It is about introducing into legislation the outcomes of Wik. It is about fairness to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. It is about what is in the best interests of our nation. I believe the legislation addresses all of these issues. There are those who suggest that we should sit down and talk further. Unfortunately, the uncertainty created by the 1993 legislation and the current debate are putting enormous financial stress on farms and businesses. Time is very much of the essence. If it is not resolved quickly, many more Australians will be put off their land; many more Australians will face the prospect of bankruptcy and financial ruin. In the real world—and that is what we are dealing with here—banks and lending institutions will not tolerate continued delays and indecision when dealing with mortgages.

The bill needs to be passed by this place now so that ordinary Australians can get on with their lives and, equally importantly, so that legitimate native title holders can access their native title rights. I commend the bill to the House and urge its very speedy and successful passage through the Senate.