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Thursday, 16 February 2012
Page: 1685

Mr CROOK (O'Connor) (16:40): I rise this evening to discuss federal-state relations with respect to native title compensation and the Prime Minister's recent response to this issue. By way of background, for over a decade there has been an arrangement whereby the federal government has compensated the states for the bulk of their native title compensation. This has been evidenced in correspondence between former Prime Minister Paul Keating and the then Western Australian Premier, Richard Court. In this 1994 correspondence Prime Minister Keating discussed the arrangement to fund 75 per cent of the compensation costs arising from native title. In this letter Prime Minister Keating even confirms the Commonwealth's commitment to bear the lion's share of the burden. In 1998, the arrangement was subsequently confirmed in correspondence between former Prime Minister John Howard and then Western Australian Premier Richard Court. In this letter the Prime Minister confirms the offer to pay the government 75 per cent of native title compensation, and it adds:

I think it is fundamental to the Commonwealth's approach to native title issues generally that native title is not an obstacle to economic development.

I seek leave to table copies of the letter from Premier Richard Court, Prime Minister Keating, on 3 February 1994, along with a letter from Premier Richard Court to Prime Minister John Howard, dated 22 August 1998.

The SPEAKER: I do not know whether the honourable member has shown parliamentary secretary Mike Kelly, as a courtesy, what he plans to table. If he has not, could he show it to the parliamentary secretary and, at the conclusion of the honourable member's contribution, the parliamentary secretary will be in a position to advise whether or not leave is granted. The member for O'Connor continues to have the call.

Mr CROOK: From my understanding this bipartisan arrangement continued until 2009 when, according to the Western Australian Attorney-General, during the global financial crisis the Commonwealth Attorney-General advised that this arrangement had been suspended. A reasonable person would presume that the suspension of this important financial arrangement was temporary due to the financial crisis. However, it seems possible that the federal government has reneged on this deal and is avoiding questioning on the matter.

This issue is very important to our Indigenous peoples, our nation and our states. It is of particular financial relevance to a state like Western Australia, which is heavily exposed to native titles and to native title claims. As such, I decided to ask the Prime Minister during question time earlier this week why she was reneging on this deal. In a very brief response the Prime Minister explained that she had learnt about the Premier's concern via the media and that he had never raised this issue with her personally—not once. In my opinion the Prime Minister's response to the question was very peculiar. Firstly, it was peculiar because it avoided the question altogether. Rather than discussing the federal-state native title arrangements, the Prime Minister merely discussed her interactions with the Western Australian Premier. Secondly, it was incorrect. The Prime Minister had indeed been contacted by the Premier about this matter during 2011. In fact the Prime Minister had even responded to his concerns in a signed letter. I also seek leave to table copies of the letters between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett on this issue on various dates through 2011.

The SPEAKER: Again, if you could pass that on to parliamentary secretary Mike Kelly. When the member is finished I will invite the parliamentary secretary to respond.

Mr CROOK: Given these issues, on Monday night I requested that the Prime Minister make a further explanation to the parliament on this matter. On indulgence, the Prime Minister clarified that she had indeed received and sent correspondence to the Premier on this matter but again declined to make any further comment. From reading the correspondence, I am concerned that the Prime Minister may seek to rely on a legal technicality to try and escape a longstanding bipartisan agreement. In my opinion, such an act would be grossly unfair. Such an act would also be fervently opposed by both sides of Western Australian politics. In fact, the Leader of the Labour Party in Western Australia has expressly stated that the Prime Minister is wrong for not honouring the undertaking first pledged by Paul Keating.

Given the large exposure of Western Australia to native title compensation claims, this could be a huge blow to Western Australia's budget, which has already been under siege by the federal government through the mining tax, the carbon tax and the very unfair distribution of GST. The Western Australian government assesses this as a billion dollar issue. The Treasurer has called it the second largest financial issue facing Western Australia after the unfair distribution of GST. This is not a responsibility that can be sidled out of by a federal government, and it is certainly not a decision that can be made without being answerable to this parliament. I now seek leave to table the documents. (Time expired)