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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 6129

Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (16:41): It is always good to listen to the contributions of other senators. Half the time I do not think we pay enough attention to each other—we are too busy running political arguments—but I have listened very carefully to the contributions by previous speakers. I acknowledge the fine contributions from Senator Crossin and Senator Scullion, from both sides of the political fence. I could not argue with anything they said, and it was comforting to hear truths come out. I spend an inordinate amount of time in Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley—no-one would spend as much time in Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley as me. I have seen the despair and the disadvantage firsthand, and it sickens me. But I do take heart when I hear Senator Scullion say that we need to take the politics out of it.

I do not think any senator since 1901—111 years—could put their hand on their heart and say that we have had a fantastic record, that we have done a fantastic job, in eliminating Aboriginal disadvantage. I will acknowledge that each term of government brings new challenges and I acknowledge the fine work that is being been done by the Gillard Labor government. I know, because I drive Minister Macklin mad, every time I come back from the Kimberley, with more and more problems, more and more requests, because I go out there and I consult. More importantly, I do not tell my blackfella mates what I think is good for them—I want them to tell me what they want me to hear and what they want me to bring back to Canberra.

Senator Siewert's matter of public importance refers to the inadequacy of government policies such as Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory and support for homelands. I am very familiar with the homelands. I think I have visited at least 40 of them; there are probably about 60. I do not doubt Senator Siewert's commitment to Aboriginal Australia; I do not doubt for one minute that she has a good heart when it comes to trying to deliver the best outcomes for Aboriginal people most times. But it is very important to get some facts out on the table. I find it very disingenuous when senators say one thing in their home state and then say another thing when they are here in Canberra. That goes for the mob in the other house, too.

I want to talk about Aboriginal disadvantage particularly in the Kimberley, and I want to talk about a couple of recent visits to the Kimberley not only by myself but also by Senator Siewert and Senator Milne—and the bastion of the green movement, Dr Brown, on the Sea Shepherd. There has been a very topical gas project proposed for the Kimberley region north of Broome.

I, for one, do not care if there is a gas hub there or not. If there is going to be a gas hub, as long as all environmental approvals are ticked, as long as Aboriginal people are employed and as long as the traditional owners gain benefits, I am very happy. That is not inconsistent with what I have always said, whether it be on the public record or spoken to oil and gas companies or to my blackfella mates up in the peninsula and around Broome and the wider Kimberley.

But I get a little bit annoyed when Colin Barnett, the Premier of Western Australia, decided he was going to compulsorily acquire the land of the traditional owners, the Jabirr Jabirr and the Goolarabooloo—which I do not agree with. When they initiated the native title talks through the KLC—at the time, Mr Wayne Bergmann was the chair of the KLC—

Senator Siewert interjecting

Senator STERLE: I hear Senator Siewert is going to chuck some barbs, and I do hope I hear them. But I get really annoyed when the Greens, including Senator Siewert and Senator Milne—if I am wrong, they will have the opportunity to correct me—go visit Broome, go up and meet with Waardi and then sit there with one of the most senior TOs, Rita Augustine, to tell her, in her words to me, that they were there to save the blackfellas from the mistake they may have made because it is wrong having a gas plant. That really annoys me. You see, as part of the negotiations with the Kimberley Land Council and the traditional owners—the Jabirr Jabirr and Goolarabooloo—the Goolarabooloo do not agree but the Jabirr Jabirr do, whether we like it or not. The problem with democracy is that it is great if you can control it; as we know, that does not always happen. The vote has been taken, and they have decided that they were happy to go along with the agreement to have an Indigenous land use agreement.

Senator Siewert interjecting

Senator STERLE: Senator Siewert, for your information, you should spend more time talking to the traditional owners. They decided that over the life of the gas plant—some 30 years—there would be a return in benefits of some $1½ billion to the Aboriginal traditional owners across the Kimberley, not just on the peninsula. That will deliver benefits in housing, in education and training, in roads, in all sorts of stuff. Under Wayne Bergmann's great leadership he has also started up KRED—Kimberley Regional Economic Development—where all Aboriginals will gain.

But I think it is really disingenuous when you go there, Senator Siewert, and lecture our traditional owners on how wrong they are and distance yourself from the environmental movements. They asked you to come out and visit the area or come out and talk to the Jabirr Jabirr, and you did not want to do it. The Leader of the Greens, Senator Milne, did not want to do it. You wanted to have a lovely photo taken of a flag welcoming the Sea Shepherd to Broome to make sure that whales were not being harpooned by gas plants—

Senator Siewert: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. He is making comments about things he knows nothing about. He is, in fact, misleading the Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Cameron ): That is not a point of order. Resume your seat.

Senator STERLE: I am echoing the words of the senior traditional owners that I met with. If that is not the case, you will have the opportunity to defend that, but that is clearly what they told me. You cannot come in here and bag the government. You say one thing in Canberra when it suits you. Why don't you stick up for the blackfellas in Western Australia? Why don't you stick up for the people I talk to? Why don't you go up there and do something different that may hurt the Greens? Why don't you do what I do: why don't you sit with them and ask what they may want, not what you think is best for them?

Senator Siewert: How do you know I haven't?

Senator STERLE: Then that is what you do as the Greens.

But I will share some other words. I will quote from a speech by Mr Bergmann to the National Press Club on 27 June 2012. I know I do not have much time, but I need to get these words out. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Wayne's speech. He talked about having a gas hub in the Kimberley and the tough times that the traditional owners went through. He also said:

These were some of the darkest and toughest days, trying to place traditional owners in the strongest position.

At the time I was proud to have stood with the environmental alliance.

The Kimberley Land Council and TOs negotiated an Act of Parliament to stop any further LNG development on the Kimberley Coast and to limit industrial activity associated with gas processing.

He then went on to say:


the traditional owners and the Kimberley Land Council as well—

negotiated a regional benefits package for the benefit of all Kimberley Aboriginal people, and compensation for traditional owners.

We supported National Heritage Listing over a large part of the Kimberley.

Yet most of the environmental groups turned against us.

These groups could have assisted us in enforcing the highest environmental standards in order to minimize the impact of the development.

But they turned their backs on us.

They have deliberately ignored the way in which Kimberley Traditional owners have worked to protect the Kimberley Coast.

He also said:

We have stood side-by-side with environmental groups to minimize the impact of gas development in the Kimberley. But what have they delivered in return? Nothing.

They have no interest in the need of Kimberley Aboriginal people to build a strong culture and a strong economic future.

In fact in some cases they have involved themselves in the politics between indigenous groups and families, and encouraged and promoted division, disempowering traditional owners.

I would love to read more of Mr Bergmann's speech.

I hear from Senator Siewert words about empowering people. I agree wholeheartedly. I also heard Senator Siewert use terms such as 'strong community'—agree. 'Leadership'—absolutely side-by-side with you on that one. 'Cultural strength'—who am I to argue? And guess what else I heard. 'Consultation'. So I say on that: unfortunately, the politics come into play here. But I would strongly suggest that, when we get lectured to by the Greens about the benefits of Closing the Gap, we could do a lot more but we do not need to be misled. We do not need this misinformation. This is politics in its purest form. Talking about purity: the Greens' purity sometimes just leaves me absolutely gobsmacked. (Time expired)