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Thursday, 12 August 1999
Page: 8587

Ms HALL (10:19 AM) —This Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1999 disgusts me. When will governments ever learn? When will this government ever learn? Here we are in 1999 still trying to do over Aboriginal Australians. Today we are not offering them beads for land; instead, we legislate to take it from them. Yesterday the government pushed a preamble through this parliament. It was a preamble that they failed to discuss with our indigenous Australians—for that matter, they failed to discuss it with any Australians. That preamble fails to recognise Aboriginal Australians' custodianship of Australia. It was designed by the Prime Minister, a Prime Minister who cannot even bring himself to say sorry.

The legacy the Howard government will leave Aboriginal people will be a sad one. It does not accept that Aboriginal Australians have land rights. It does not accept that native title should be looked at in an equal way. It always tries to get around the issue. It gives only lip service to reconciliation. This legislation demonstrates the contempt John Howard, his ministers and his government have for consultation, Aboriginal Australians, their land rights, their communities, their culture and their wellbeing.

The issues associated with this legislation go to the core of the issues that have impinged on Aboriginal Australians since European settlement. Aboriginal Australians' rights to land, the importance of their land and the importance of land to their health and wellbeing are well-known facts. Yet this government continues to try to move away from its responsibilities and to once again sell out Aboriginal Australians.

If there is to be any meaningful move on the issue of land rights, Aboriginal Australians must be accepted as equal partners at the negotiating table—not thought of as people that can be done over or whose issues we can get around by doing a deal here or doing a deal there. No, we have to enter a partnership with them and accept them as equal partners and accept that they are equal Australians and equal to each and every one of us, including the Prime Minister.

This government does not believe in consultation. At no time does it consult with the Australian people. It does not even consult with the opposition. The only people it consults with in this country are the Democrats. I suggest that it is time it started consulting with Aboriginal people instead of trying to do a deal and get around its responsibilities. It is time for it to attempt to be fair and equitable and to work towards obtaining a fair and equitable outcome for all Australians, particularly Aboriginal Australians.

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1999 seeks to invalidate the deed of grant that was executed under section 12A of the act in favour of the Gurungu Land Trust—known as Elliott stockyards and dips. It is 3.8 hectares of land. It also allows for the disposal of Aboriginal land claims where the Aboriginal Land Commissioner is unable to find the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, where the claims are over stock routes or reserves, or where the claims are made before 5 June 1997—a date set for the expiration of the period for making land claims.

This is the government's second attempt to get the legislation through parliament. It passed through the House of Representatives back in 1997 but it failed to get through the Senate before the last election was called. At that time the opposition requested that it be deferred until after the Reeves review of the land rights act. Now there is a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs conducting a review of the Reeves report.

Once again, the government is failing to wait for the review to be completed. This government does not believe that due process should take place. What it wants to do is bypass the process, cut it short and just ram through what it believes is the right solution. It is not prepared to listen, to consult or to work for a bipartisan solution, for a partnership or for any result with a different outcome to the one it wants. It does not trust the Australian people in any shape or form. It does not trust indigenous Australians. And it does not trust the House of Representatives standing committee that is looking at this issue. It does not trust them to come up with a fair and equitable answer, or maybe it does not want a fair and equitable outcome. Instead, it says, `This is what we want. We want it now and we are going to legislate to make sure that it happens now.' It pushes through legislation before any consultation process is completed.

Elliott stockyards is part of the traditional lands that are next to very important ceremonial grounds. The operation of the stockyards raises serious health and safety issues for the nearby Aboriginal community. As a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs, which is conducting an inquiry into indigenous health, I find that this is quite an important issue. What I have seen and heard as a member of that committee would make any Australian cry. Indigenous Australians are living in Third World conditions. This is not just in rural and remote areas; it is in the city and urban areas. Everywhere you go, you find the same issues facing these communities. There are environmental issues: housing is in unsafe and unhealthy condition and many communities do not even have fresh, clean water or rubbish removal services. The conditions in these communities are appalling, and every day this government closes its eyes to the issues that are confronting these communities. There is poor infrastructure in the community and the Howard government refuses to act to improve it—and all these issues come together to create a major health problem for Aboriginal people.

You only have to look at the very disturbing book review that was in the Australian yesterday. It talks about dying in shame. It is stated that the average household income of indigenous Australians is $540 a week; non-indigenous Australians have an average weekly income of $632. Among indigenous Australians, 15.7 per cent have left school by the age of 14 years, compared to 13.9 per cent of non-indigenous Australians. The unemployment rate—this is a telling figure—for indigenous Australians is 23 per cent. And that does not take into account the number of indigenous Australians on pensions and other Centrelink benefits. This is a disgrace.

Now we come to the issue of life expectancy. Indigenous males have a life expectancy of 56 years and nine months and for non-indigenous males it is 75 years and two months. That is nearly 20 years difference, and that is just a disgrace. It is something that a country like Australia should be ashamed of. Indigenous women live on average for 61 years and seven months, but non-indigenous women have a lifespan of 81 years and one month, which is a 20-year difference. This cannot be allowed to continue. Whilst this government continues to push through legislation that is going to the very heart of the indigenous population's culture and wellbeing, we are going to continue to have statistics like those I have just quoted. Indigenous Australians are sicker and they die younger than non-indigenous Australians. They do not have jobs, they do not have hope and they do not have dignity. The one thing that is of utmost importance to them is their land.

This situation will not improve until the issue of land rights is dealt with. Land rights and native title go to the core of the cultural soul of indigenous Australians. It is their way of being able to reassert who they are. Their land is their life and is important to them in a way that cannot be expressed by a non-indigenous Australian. Elliott stockyards has been owned by Aboriginal people; it has been their freehold land for 7½ years. Under this proposed legislation the government will just resume the land—`Sorry, we're taking it back.' If the government were to go and resume some land that you or I own, we would be offered just terms compensation. But under this legislation the indigenous Australians who own this land will not be offered just terms compensation. Instead, if they want to seek compensation they must go to the Federal Court. They will be paid compensation only if they commence proceedings in the Federal Court. So we have an entirely different situation. With our land, we are offered just terms compensation; with their land, they must seek compensation by going to court, with legal costs and everything that goes along with any sort of court procedure.

I do not think the government really explored all the options that are open to it. A land trust may surrender part or all of its land to the Crown under subsection 19(4) of the act. Did the government consider this or did it just want to finalise it once and for all—`Sorry, we're taking your land back and you do not get any compensation'? The land trust may also grant to an estate or another person a lease, so once again we have got another option. You do not need to take it back; the land trust could lease this portion of land out. But the government did not explore any of these options.

There have been negotiations taking place on this piece of land now since 1995. There have been extensive consultations between the Commonwealth government and the Northern Territory government. There have been promises that the Northern Territory government will look after the Aboriginal communities and give them more resources, that they are going to take action in that area, but nothing has happened. The Northern Territory government even refused to plant trees and screens to provide a barrier to improve things in terms of the health and safety issues that surround their land and to protect the ceremonial lands that are nearby.

This government will not follow through the consultation process. They are not prepared to consider what the communities are saying. They are not prepared to talk to people and they are not prepared to follow any process through and be inclusive. On every issue you look at, no matter how big or how small, they will go for the quick fix solution. They go for taking away the rights of Australians. In this case it is indigenous Australians. In this case they are attacking the land rights for which our indigenous Australians have fought so hard for so many years and on which they were actually starting to make ground. Now this government is gradually eroding all those moves forward, all the ground that has been gained by our indigenous Australians. You just have to look at any area and you will see the same scenario. We have the workplace relations legislation coming before this parliament, I believe, later today. Once again it is this government moving away from consultation and going in and taking away the rights of workers.

I do not think it is good enough, and neither do most Australians. We believe that indigenous Australians have rights. We believe that their land cannot just be taken from them. What is good for all Australians should be good for indigenous Australians. As I mentioned previously, if the government want to take non-indigenous landowner land, they pay them compensation. They have to go through a consultation process. There is a process; they cannot just legislate to take the land. It should be the same for indigenous Australians. It should not matter whether you are an indigenous Australian or a non-indigenous Australian who lives in the middle of Sydney, in Kirribilli House. No matter where you come from, your land and your rights should be respected in the same way as any other Australian.