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Wednesday, 11 March 1998
Page: 960

Ms JEANES (12:33 PM) —There is no direct electoral benefit for me in speaking on the Native Title Amendment Bill 1997 [No. 2] —0.7 per cent of Kingston's population identify themselves as Aboriginal. Throughout my life I have had little to do with Aboriginal people. In my primary school years, my parents used to invite Norman, a young Aboriginal boy from a mission near Batlow, to spend holidays with us. What I remember most about Norman is that he played cricket much better than I did. At university I was bored with Australian history until we were introduced to the historical relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. The relationship often was a brutal one. The fact is the land was claimed by European settlers at the expense of Aboriginal people who lived off its resources and built their religion and traditions around it.

Now, as a legislator, I have to face the fact that today we have a problem in many parts of the country: we have more than one group of people with interests in the same areas of land. It is sad that this is seen as being a problem rather than being seen as an opportunity; and we the government must deal with it. Like the member for Aston (Mr Nugent), I would have preferred to have seen more of an emphasis on regional agreements right from the start of the native title debate.

I do not really need to buy into this debate, but on behalf of my 890 Aboriginal constituents and because I know that it is a debate of national significance—indeed, it is a debate about the nation's soul—I have. Sadly, the debate has been corrupted by partisan politics. The government's attempts to address the problems in native title that the previous government left behind have been constantly thwarted by this disingenuous opposition. They are supposedly supportive of Aboriginal people, but their higher priority is to capitalise politically—whatever it takes.

In December 1996, the High Court decided that native title could survive the granting of pastoral leases. The Wik people took their case to the court because there was a belief that this was so. This belief was expressed both before and after the Native Title Act was passed by this parliament in 1993. When the previous government was framing the act, the question of the extinguishment of native title over pastoral leases was the subject of considerable concern amongst the then opposition and the pastoral community. Coalition members, of course, represented many of the electorates likely to be affected by any conflict between native title holders and pastoral leaseholders. Now we represent even more.

It is instructive to revisit some of the responses of the previous Prime Minister to those concerns. In this House on 18 October 1993, in response to a question from the now Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Tim Fischer) about the certainty of pastoral leases, Mr Keating said:

A valid lease is a valid lease, not subject to claim. Any person can litigate on any matter in the country. But what in my view is the chance of any success of any litigant on a valid claim? That is zero; they have no chance.

I hope the previous Prime Minister did not place any money on his prediction. The next day in the House he again stated his belief that the granting of pastoral leases extinguished native title. He said:

After having made an agreement with the Aboriginal community, we will now be extinguishing any native title on pastoral leases because the Aborigines see that the benefits and balance of advantages are in the proposals outlined by the government to them.

This government is now delivering those advantages through the social justice package and the Indigenous Land Fund.

So the previous government thought that they were making bucket loads of extinguishment over all land alienated from the Crown, over freehold and leasehold land. Despite all the warnings that the Keating government had and the reassurances it made, later the following year the Wik people laid claim to 35,000 square kilometres of land in Cape York incorporating pastoral leases. Once again, we were reassured by the then government that this claim could never be successful. In November 1994, then Minister Tickner told us:

It was the Government's clear advice from all the quarters that it sought legal advice, that the effect of the grant of a pastoral lease was to extinguish native title. This is still the Government's view.

When pressed by Helen Dalley as to whether he would concede that the government could not guarantee pastoral leases extinguished native title, he said, `I wouldn't concede that.' It is, of course, a matter of historical fact that the previous Prime Minister, his Aboriginal affairs minister and his entire cabinet were wrong. The High Court found that native title could survive the granting of pastoral leases. I support that decision. The court also considered that, where any inconsistencies were found between the rights of the native title holders and the pastoralists, the rights of the pastoralists would prevail.

So this government has to deal with the reality that the previous government refused to face. It has been a very difficult task for the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) to satisfy the interests and uphold the rights of the pastoralists and the mining industry, represented in this place by coalition members, and the Aboriginal people, also largely represented by coalition members.

It is imperative to remember that the previous government promised again and again that Aboriginal people had no right to native title over the leases occupied by the pastoralists. This government's 10-point plan, whose ultimate legislative expression is found in the Native Title Amendment Bill 1997 [No. 2] , has been as widely criticised as it has been misunderstood. It is no wonder it has been misunderstood when the Leader of the Labor Party stands up in this House and guarantees the Australian people again and again that his government has gained the support of the Aboriginal people and extinguished native title over pastoral leases and then gets it so wrong. And then that very same party, after its leader's convincing demise, does a 180-degree turnaround. It is convenient for the Labor Party to evade its responsibilities in government and then refuse to deal with the mess it left behind when in opposition.

The member for Banks (Mr Melham) told this House in September last year that the Native Title Act 1993 had set down a process for the expeditious and cost-effective handling of native title claims. I wonder which native title act he was talking about. It certainly was not the act that, after four years of operation, has seen over 718 claims lodged, over $210 million expended and only two claims determined. If that is the Labor Party's definition of expeditious and cost effective, then pity help the people of this country if they ever get their hands on the Treasury again.

The member for Banks offered again this morning a cross-party approach, but what he really means is, `Accept the Labor Party's approach in opposition that is 180-degrees entirely different from when we were in government or we will go to war on race.'

The four main sticking points between the government and the opponents of the 10-point plan centre on the registration test, the right to negotiate, the sunset clause and the subjection of the bill to the RDA. It is somewhat ironic that we have sticking points with the opposition that actually offer Aboriginal people a lot more than the bucket loads of extinguishment they offered them in government.

One of the things that I do know about Aboriginal people is that many of them are hurting. The majority do not get to put their views to people like us very often, because they do not get to meet us, so their spokespeople do it for them. And some of their spokespeople have caused them great harm.

It is interesting to note that one of the so-called A-team, Tracker Tilmouth from the Northern Territory, is now seeking endorsement to stand for the Labor Party. Another A-team member I referred to previously in this House, Noel Pearson, made the infamous `racist scum' remark. I cannot imagine a more effective way of ensuring that you do not have a good relationship with someone, short of causing them considerable physical harm. Mr Pearson is supposed to represent the interests of Aboriginal people, and I know that, as a representative of others, the last thing I want to do is insult the very people that I want to get something from for those I represent.

The events leading up to the need for the Native Title Amendment Bill, the release of the report on the stolen generation and the problems with the Reconciliation Council have caused me a considerable amount of pain. They are issues that directly affect the health of the nation's soul and, as a member of the Australian government, I have been directly involved in them and thus have contributed to a legacy that will affect the culture of the country that my children will inherit.

The government has had to negotiate these issues in an environment that has been hostile to it gaining any agreed outcome. The ignition of racist sentiments across the country by the One Nation Party, the downright indecent hypocrisy of the Labor Party and the self-aggrandisement of some Aboriginal leaders have ensured that the Australian people are left confused and perplexed over the native title issue.

If this bill is to be rejected by the Senate again and if we are to go to an election where the central issue is race, I want to place on record my disappointment with the environment within which the government has had to operate. I also want to place on record my personal hope that these issues will be resolved in a manner that accords Aboriginal Australians the physical and spiritual resources that they need to live with dignity and pride, something so often denied them over the past 200 years.

I support the government's bill, because it is an honest attempt to walk a very difficult line between the very important rights of Aboriginal Australians and other users of land. The rights of other users cannot be disregarded. The mining industry—and I am hardly the first to jump when the mining industry wants something—comprises 8.5 per cent of GDP, 34 per cent of total exports to the value of $36 billion last financial year, and indirectly employs five per cent of the Australian work force.

The other major group is of course the pastoralists. As a vegetarian, I am not a consumer of their product, but the fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of Australians are. They are consumers of the pastoral industry's products to the tune of around $20 billion per year.

All rights and interests have been taken into account, and there are winners and losers across all areas of the 10-point plan and the legislation implementing it. But, despite the fact that the Aboriginal people may not fully realise the High Court's decision, they will be justly compensated and it does represent an honest attempt to balance these rights and interests—something the Labor Party avoided doing in government.