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Wednesday, 11 March 1998
Page: 970


Mr ALLAN MORRIS (1:22 PM) —In November last year, I put a question on notice to the Prime Minister (Mr Howard)—question No. 2569—in which I referred to the claims he made on television, as he was holding up a map, of the power of veto over 79 per cent of Australia. His answer contains about four or five paragraphs of vague comments, and includes the following:

In its practical application, the right to negotiate can amount to a significant constraint, and in some cases an effective veto . . .

That is very different to the situation he put forward previously, where he said that the Aboriginal community would have a right to veto over 79 per cent of Australia. That clearly is not the case. The kind of language he used in that television performance has done a lot of harm.

In response to my question, the Prime Minister also advised that 41 per cent of Australia is held by just under 7,000 leases. We all understand what that means. If those leases were converted to freehold, 41 per cent of Australia would be owned by fewer than 7,000 people. I also asked about whether the ownership was foreign or Australian. The Prime Minister indicated that the records do not show that. In other words, he cannot tell us whether it is the Sultan of Brunei or anyone else. The Prime Minister is proposing a potential power for the states to convert those leases to freehold for 41 per cent of Australia for less than 0.04 per cent. That is a great deal less than the percentage of Aboriginals who could claim native title.

Native title is a shared title. It is not a superior title; it is a shared title. This is all about the fact that 200 years ago a group of people occupied this country. They established legal rights under British law, which they then passed on to their successors. At the same time, they left residual rights for those who were here then. Those residual rights have also been passed on. For 200 years, two sets of rights have been passed on. Both have relevance, both have merit and both are legally valid.

We are arguing that this matter will be resolved only if those two sets of rights can be negotiated and agreed on. If the government wants to insist on an adversarial approach, on having winners and losers, this matter will never end. It will be in the courts for decades. The Senate is the place where this parliament negotiates. I urge the government to look at negotiating a solution in the Senate and accepting an outcome that we can all live with and all agree on.

When I say `all' I mean just that—not just members of parliament but the community at large. The people do not just want us to get it off the agenda; they want us to find an answer that everyone can live with. I urge the government to think again. This is not a black and white issue in a traditional sense; this is an issue that requires a solution, and the solution is available.