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Monday, 22 February 2010
Page: 1401


Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the Opposition) (9:22 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am not accustomed to praising the Rudd government, but let me take this opportunity to say that probably one of the finest moments of the Rudd government so far was that day in February 2008 when it moved the historic apology to Aboriginal people. It was gracious and it was overdue. In his speech making the apology, the Prime Minister said:

…unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong.

That phrase should reverberate through this parliament. I hope the Prime Minister is conscious of that phrase as he listens or his staff listen to this parliament this evening because this bill is an opportunity to provide an even greater substance to the important symbolism of reconciliation. This bill is an opportunity to overturn the Queensland Wild Rivers Act at least in respect of the rivers of Cape York. That Queensland Wild Rivers Act amounts to a smash-and-grab raid on the land rights of the Aboriginal people of Cape York.

The Queensland Wild Rivers Act is the result of a deal between the green activists of Brisbane and the Beattie and the Bligh Labor governments of Queensland. I am in favour of environmental preservation and there is not the slightest suggestion that the Indigenous stewards of the land of Cape York were in any mood to damage the environment of Cape York, an environment which they have magnificently supervised for generations and generations. I suspect that the last thing that the green grassroots of Brisbane would want is to see the rights of Aboriginal people supposedly trumped by green votes in Brisbane, but that is the result of the deal that was done between the Bligh and Beattie Labor governments and the activists in Queensland. This is a shameful deal which this bill seeks to overturn. I do not believe anyone in his or her right mind wanted to see this deal done; nevertheless, it is what happened. I think it is incumbent on this parliament to do its best to overturn something which has had such serious consequences for the economic development of Cape York.

There are two great impediments to true reconciliation. The first is the absence of a decent education, particularly for Aboriginal people living in remote areas. The second, most relevant to tonight’s discussion, is the absence of economic opportunities for Aboriginal people living in remote areas. There are two great problems with the legislation which this bill seeks to overturn. The first problem is that there was not the slightest skerrick of consultation between the Aboriginal people of Cape York and the Queensland government before these wild rivers declarations were made. The second is that these declarations add a heavy burden of additional bureaucracy to any Aboriginal people seeking to turn their land from a spiritual into an economic asset. I think it is marvellous that Aboriginal people should have rights to land, but if those rights do not include the right to use their land for productive purposes it is not a real right; it is not the kind of right that the average Australian would take for granted. I do not expect the government to necessarily embrace my bill in its current form, but I do think something needs to be done about this issue and it will not be ignored in this parliament. (Time expired)