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Wednesday, 11 March 1998
Page: 953

Mr DONDAS (11:57 AM) —First of all, I am sorry that I was not here earlier this morning to listen to the debate on the Native Title Amendment Bill 1997 [No. 2] . I would like to have heard what the honourable member for Banks (Mr Melham) had to say, but, unfortunately, other parliamentary commitments had me somewhere else.

Mr Melham —Read it in the Hansard .

Mr DONDAS —I will read it in the Hansard . It is probably just as well I was not here because I probably would have come out all guns blazing because, obviously, the member for Banks and I disagree on most of the things that he does.

But I do not need a history lesson from the member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding). Because of the Northern Territory land rights act 1976, I have lived with Aboriginal land rights more than anybody else in this parliament since 1974. Obviously, there was the Woodward report. Mr Viner was the minister in those days. It would have taken him all of 1974 and 1975 to get it into the parliament because it was a very contentious issue in those days. So we are really talking about 25 years of discussion on Northern Territory land rights.

The member for Banks does not say that almost 50 per cent of the Northern Territory today has been granted to Aboriginal communities. I do not have any problem with that because that was a Northern Territory land rights act. He does not say that that 50 per cent was granted even though the Northern Territory government of the day may have thought some areas may have had an impact on the future economic development of the Northern Territory. Land claims still have not been resolved and water rights at Crocker Island still have not been resolved, but the important thing is that the Aboriginal community of Northern Territory have accepted that they have had a good deal these last 25 years. That is something the Labor Party does not acknowledge. Our Aboriginal communities say that they have had a good deal. It is their land and now there is a review of the Northern Territory land rights act—

Mr Melham —Tell us about literacy, health and sewerage.

Mr DONDAS —That was your problem and I will talk about that in a moment. That is why it is lucky I was not here earlier. The important thing is there is a review of the Northern Territory land rights act. I am hoping that the recommendations from that review will give the Aboriginal communities a bit more economic development, because that is what we are all talking about.

The debate on the Native Title Amendment Bill 1997 has been hijacked by the honourable member for Banks, by Senator Bolkus and also by a former member of the House of Representatives, one Warren Snowdon. After the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) made the announcement of the 10-point plan—having consulted with the pastoral industry, with the indigenous communities of Australia, with the mining industry and with other interested groups—that 10-point plan was hijacked by the honourable member for Banks and his cohorts. They were not interested in trying to come to a resolution which would have provided some certainty to the community. All they wanted to do was to cause trouble. They have caused so much trouble in this community on this topic. Their left-wing ideals really have done them no good, especially your former colleague.

Mr Melham —He's inciting me, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr DONDAS —I beg your pardon.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. N.B. Reid) —Order! Ignore the interjections. All interjections are disorderly. Address your remarks through the chair.

Mr DONDAS —The important thing is that the ALP heavies—we will call them heavies; they think they are heavies—are telling Father Frank Brennan to stop trying to broker a compromise. The ALP do not want a compromise. They want an election on native title and they want a double dissolution. The reason they want a double dissolution is that they do not want to sit here for another eight, nine, 10 or 11 months waiting for the Prime Minister to say, `We're going to go to a general election.' They have absolutely nothing to lose by the calling of an early election. But, if there were a double dissolution, I think the coalition government would be returned with increased numbers—that is what the ALP do not realise—because the Australian community is sick and tired of this particular debate going on with no resolution.

Not only that, but the focus should be on the Australian economy and on trying to improve the employment rates in the community and to resolve some of the disasters that we inherited from the former Labor government—the $10 billion black hole, the unemployment rate at over 11 per cent and inflation at its highest for 30 years. What have the opposition done? They have now tried to sidetrack the Prime Minister and the coalition because they have an agenda which is purely a political agenda. The coalition does not want a double dissolution. The coalition wants the Senate to pass this legislation so that we can get on with the job of running the country and so that we can provide certainty to those people in remote areas—to the mining industry and to the pastoral industry. That is what it is all about: certainty.

The 10-point plan was a fair plan. Even when it went to the Senate, the coalition picked up some minor amendments in trying to accommodate some of the amendments put forward by the other interested parties in the Senate. Even ATSIC are now worried about Labor stalling on native title. We heard through something that had fallen off the back of a truck onto a reporter's table—and I have not seen the document—that even ATSIC are now worried about certain provisions of the right to negotiate. Also, during the committee hearings, they were concerned about the threshold test.

But the important thing is that the right to negotiate is not a common law right; it is a product of the 1993 Native Title Act. Let me turn to the 1993 act. In 1993, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Keating, stood up in this parliament and said that they were introducing the legislation because of a previous court decision that pastoral leases extinguished native title. He unequivocally said that this is what was going to happen. But it did not happen. It went on from there and, in 1995-96, the coalition when in opposition made an election promise to fix that legislation.

At the same time the quid pro quo was the Indigenous Land Corporation, the ILC, whereby some like $1 billion was set aside for an indigenous land fund. The honourable member for Banks does not talk about the Indigenous Land Fund by which $1 billion was put in to allow those Aboriginal communities which had missed out on a native title claim or had missed out on land that they may have had some right or title to, to purchase the land that they had missed out on. But you do not hear one word on the Indigenous Land Fund coming through from the member for Banks. I would be very happy to read his speech today to see if he does mention it.

The other comment I wanted to make was that my speech during the second reading debate when this bill was first introduced was of a more technical nature. I do not intend spending my time going over the old legislation which should have been passed by the Senate. However, the mining industry represents 29 per cent of Australia's total export revenue and the mining industry spends $12 billion a year on goods and services in Aus tralia. Around 284,000 jobs in the mining industry are being put at risk by the heavyweights in the left wing of the Labor Party—the member for Banks, Senator Bolkus and the former member of the House of Representatives, Warren Snowdon—because the mining industry is out there making statements on a daily, or at least on a weekly, basis saying that their business is being held up.

In 1993-94, 805 mining leases were granted in Western Australia; in 1996-97, 159 leases were granted. I note that the honourable member for Banks is interjecting by way of a signal which cannot be recorded in Hansard.

Mr Melham —I will send you smoke signals.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Direct your remarks through the chair.

Mr DONDAS —That shows that he is not taking this matter seriously because they have an agenda, which is to disrupt the Australian community, especially in remote parts of Australia, with regard to the pastoral industry and the mining industry. It is all very well for the honourable member for Banks and Senator Bolkus to do that, but it is not good for the Australian community.

The Prime Minister has worked very closely with those communities who have a vested interest in this legislation, to try to accommodate their feelings and desires. We are all aware of the Prime Minister's visit to the Northern Territory a couple of weeks ago when he visited north-east Arnhem Land. He had the opportunity of speaking to people in those communities. As was said earlier in the debate, Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory have land rights, so native title does not really have a great effect on their desire for more land, because they have already had land granted to them under Aboriginal land rights legislation.

During the Prime Minister's visit to the Northern Territory, I believe he was able to gain a better understanding of how the land is a part of the Aboriginal community and their culture. He was able to hear what they had to say. Obviously, he was very impressed with the dialogue and the manner in which these communities told him the history of the land and how it was created in terms of the indigenous Aboriginal culture.

Even after that, the Prime Minister was firm in his resolve, having spent 24 hours in that region and having spoken to senior community elders and traditional owners, that the Wik legislation presented to this parliament was fair. He was not going to change it. There was no need to change it because he realised that the 10-point plan was fair and that it would provide certainty.

I read in a newspaper today that Mr Gatjil Djerrkura, the Chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, thought the Prime Minister may be a bit more flexible on one or two points in this legislation. I am not aware, from any of the comments made by the Prime Minister, that he is likely to change dramatically the government's position on this process. But if it involves a minor matter and it assists the achievement of a compromise, obviously we should examine it.

At the same time, I come back to the fact that left-wing members of the Labor Party have hijacked the debate because they are really not interested. I had the privilege of attending some hearings held in Canberra on the administration of native title and the proposed legislation. At a couple of those hearings, those opposite would have been embarrassed by the attitude of some of their colleagues. There were constant interjections by Senator Bolkus when the chair was trying to question the people giving evidence.

I was of the opinion at that time that the opposition had decided their agenda, their strategy and their tactics, all for the wrong reasons. They were not there to try to learn about what members of the communities were saying when they gave evidence at these hearings. They had already made up their minds when this legislation was introduced in 1995. They had already made up their minds what their view would be. That is a shame, because there are some Aboriginal communities which need this legislation to be resolved.

I can give the chamber examples relating to native title claims. An Aboriginal community in central Australia bought a station called Alcoota Station. They paid cash for it and planned to operate it as a station. But another group of Aboriginals have lodged a land claim over that pastoral property which is owned by an Aboriginal community.

As I say, members opposite are determined not to be sympathetic towards the Prime Minister's 10-point plan. They are determined to derail it. They are determined to have a double dissolution on it. I say to the honourable member for Banks that he should have approached this whole legislative process in terms of amendments to fix the problems introduced by his party in 1993. He should have approached it with a lot more benevolence towards the Australian community.