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Wednesday, 11 March 1998
Page: 941

Mr COBB (11:01 AM) —Listening to the last speaker, the member for Banks (Mr Melham), one can only despair that he will put some time in in the real world. It is very disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley) cannot pull the left wing into line. The Leader of the Opposition realises, I feel sure, that the 10-point plan is a very fair and sensible balance and that it should be allowed to go through the parlia ment. It is disappointing that the left wing seems to be dictating what he should do. I do not believe that the Leader of the Opposition's heart is in the stance that the Labor Party is taking on this.

The fact of the matter is that the Native Title Act now is over four years old. There have been, by my last count, 773 claims in this country, taking in something like 50 per cent of the landmass of Australia, $210 million in legal fees has been wasted pursing native title and two claims have been resolved: one at Crescent Head—the ink was not dry before it was sold back—and the other one at Hope Vale, near Cairns in Far North Queensland. The Aboriginal people already resided on the land at Hope Vale and had control of it. The cost of project hold-ups in Australia is now running at hundreds of millions of dollars a year and several thousand jobs have been lost.

Aboriginal children out there are going blind because of eye diseases and going deaf because of middle ear diseases; yet we have wasted $210 million chasing rainbows on native title claims. The whole thing is a criminal waste of money and is totally ridiculous. The present Native Title Act is totally unworkable. Just in the Western Division of New South Wales, which takes in my electorate, I know of 50 to 60 projects that are now held up. They involve many millions of dollars and several hundred jobs, many of which could be Aboriginal jobs.

It is not just commercial projects; the most ridiculous things are being held up. A film company wanted to employ from 50 to 60 local people and film on a regular basis near Broken Hill, but it has been prevented by the state government which says that this involves a change of purpose of a grazing lease and that cannot be done. So what probably would have been $150,000 injected into the city of Broken Hill has been lost. That film company has walked away. It has had enough. This is crazy. It means, in effect, that a tourist cannot take a photograph in the Western Division of New South Wales because, if they have a grazing lease in the background, that would involve a change of purpose of a grazing lease. This is how stupid the present act has become.

As if that is not bad enough, I have other examples which are even worse. The Field and Game Shooting Club at Broken Hill will have to give up its lease. They cannot renew their lease because it involves a change of purpose of a grazing lease. Cobar is a town that is going through some pain because an overseas mining company has walked away from it. The archery club have been on a grazing lease there for the last 14 years. Recently they went to renew it. What happened? Suddenly, the Native Title Act came into play. Not only were they told they could not renew their lease—and the landowner is perfectly happy for them to do so—they were also told that they would have to pack up all their belongings and get off. That means they will have to tear down sheds, many of which have steel poles going into concrete blocks in the ground. There are about 40 members of the archery club, most of them in the age group from eight to 16 years. The club keep kids in Cobar off the street, but they are being told that they cannot renew their lease and that they have to get off. This is how stupid the Native Title Act is.

Commercial projects are also affected. Producers in Cobar want to build an emu abattoir next to the biggest emu farm in the world. They are not allowed to do so because that would involve a change of purpose of a grazing lease, perhaps exposing the state government to future compensation claims if a native title claim was put on, even though Aborigines were not in that area in the first place.

The 10-point plan overcomes all this. It is an excellent compromise. We have had literally thousands of hours of negotiation with all the players: the miners, the Aborigines, the pastoralists, the residents of the towns—anybody who is interested in the Native Title Act and what native title is supposed to be about. We have come down with what we believe is a fair and balanced plan, but it is being knocked back for what I believe are base political reasons.

One of the sticking points is the registration of claims. One of the things that we require is that claimants have to pass a few fair, prima facie tests, one of which is that at least one member of the claimant group must have some present or past physical connection with at least a portion of the land that is under claim. I would have thought that was a perfectly reasonable request but, no, the Labor Party is opposing that.

As I say, they are blocking this for base political reasons only. Commonsense says that you have to have some sort of fair dinkum registration test and some fair dinkum right to negotiate tests which are no greater than are given to anyone else. Under the present system we have a ridiculous, chaotic situation in this country. An article on the front page of the Sunday Times of 22 February begins:

A prominent Aborigine and self-confessed opportunist admits using native title to make "a quid" from mining companies.

He aims to become a millionaire from four land claims and get a better life for himself and his extended family.

"Let's not beat about the bush. I am here to make a quid, he said. "I don't want one 4WD, I want a fleet of the bastards for all of us.

But I am not a rip-off merchant, I am an opportunist.

It goes on to say:

His claims, lodged by himself but involving other extended family members, cover more than 200,000 sq km and affect more than 100 leases or tenements.

That is the sort of thing that is going on in this country that no reasonable person on either side of the debate would want to put up with. That is what the 10-point plan can overcome. A briefing note arrived on my desk only this morning from the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, AMEC. In the introduction it says:

. . . the Act frustrates development by providing native title claimants with an ability, or more specifically, the leverage to extract considerable sums of money from developers as `compensation' for native title which, in every case presented in this briefing note, has not been determined by an Australian court of law and which may in fact never be awarded to the native title claimant seeking such payments.

A number of cases are listed where people have been frustrated. Probably the most ridiculous is the most inconsequential of all. Case study No. 5 is an 83-year-old prospector who resides in Kalgoorlie, has been a prospector all his life and has worked a single prospecting licence in the Eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia. Between 1990 and 1994 he had cleaned out his shaft to a depth of 55 feet. He applied for a mining lease, which took in nine hectares of land—that is about 20 acres. He was going to undertake all his mining by hand.

Suddenly he got two native title claims over the area and to date—to cut a long story short—he has had 500 pages of legal correspondence on this. He has been unemployed for the last three years trying to resolve this. The last document he got was a draft 88-page agreement. God knows what this is costing the taxpayer. The claim that is holding it all up, one of the native title claims over the area, covers an area of 2,108,200 hectares. That is in excess of five million acres of land, and he wants to put a hole in the ground 10 metres by 10 metres square and mine it by hand. His area represents 0.0000005 per cent of the native title claim. He wants to mine one-hundredth of one hectare out of a native title claim in excess of two million hectares, but he is not allowed to do so. I could quote more serious cases of much larger companies where in the order of 50 and 60 jobs are being lost in each area. But this is what we have to put up with.

I have no joy from what I hear from the clerics of this country too. In my own electorate, the Anglican Bishop put out a press release the other day headed up:

"Blood on the streets" Media Conference. 1300 February 19th 1998.

Seventh Floor, Adelaide International Hotel . . . North Adelaide.

This was where the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia was meeting. In the first sentence of the press release, Bishop Bruce Wilson, a bishop whom I highly respect and know fairly well, said:

There will be "blood on the streets"—

not `there could be blood on the streets', `there will be blood on the streets'—

if there is a federal election based on race, a western New South Wales Anglican bishop said today.

Then he goes on to describe rural New South Wales as being `under siege'. He has apparently driven his car around Bourke or Brewarrina or Wilcannia at night time and seen the shutters down and the steel bars everywhere. It has nothing to do with the land tenure debate on native title; it is all to do with law and order problems and vandalism—mainly by young teenagers—and substance abuse and alcoholism. That is what that is about. In the third sentence he goes further:

. . . there is no doubt there will be blood on the streets of NSW.

Really. What a pretentious, inflammatory comment. We could do without this sort of language from the bishops of this country. I doubt that he has ever read the legislation on what is proposed under the 10-point plan, and I am very disappointed indeed that Bruce Wilson has stooped to this.

The 10-point plan expands in round figures the amount of land that is claimable under native title in Australia from something like 40 per cent under Keating's Native Title Act to almost 80 per cent under our act. How can you say it is taking away Aboriginal rights under native title? We are doubling the amount of land under claim.

Mr Melham —You will let them keep.

Mr COBB —And if that is not enough, because native title is a common-law right, you can still take a claim to the Federal Court anyhow. But all we are wanting to do is cut out these multiple overlapping claims, which are not only turning black against white but Aboriginal family against Aboriginal family in many areas of Australia. I hear the Labor Party interjecting here, but the Labor Party today federally in Australia represents only the city areas of Australia—one per cent of the landmass of Australia. That is all they represent. It is very easy for them to pontificate on what they think should be going on out in the bush areas of Australia.

The 10-point plan, at the end of the day, reflects very closely, if not exactly, what the High Court decisions in Mabo and Wik said. It is not racist at all. The registration tests and the right to negotiate are very fair and very commonsensical. To apply the Racial Discrimination Act would be unworkable. That is what the previous government decided when they brought down the previous act. They even had to go to the extent of gagging Father Frank Brennan. They deny it, but then it was revealed that they had. Sensible people not on our side of politics can see why that would be unworkable.

I say to the Labor Party that we do not want a double dissolution on this, but we have compromised and put down a fair plan, something that reflects the High Court decisions. We have drawn a line in the sand. We have said that we have gone far enough. We are not going to go any further—except there may be some marginal decision on the edge—we will turn it over to the Australian people and let them decide. If the Labor Party want a double dissolution on this, we will have to accommodate them. It is not something that we will want, but, regrettably, it is something that we will have to do if it is again blocked in the Senate. It is only being blocked for the basest political reasons of all, and that is a great shame.