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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2187


Senator REYNOLDS(7.04) —I rise tonight to speak on a matter of grave concern. It is related to the treatment of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland. Tonight at midnight the Queensland community services legislation, which affects Torres Strait Islanders and Aborigines in that State, will come into effect. Today there was a major confrontation with Queensland Police. That confrontation, which resulted in several arrests, occurred because the Aboriginal and Islander people of Queensland have totally rejected the legislation that was introduced and passed by the Queensland Government. It may be recalled that the legislation was rushed through the Queensland Parliament in the dying hours of that Parliament. In fact, it gained its passage during an all -night sitting. I think that gives some indication of the regard with which Aborigines and Islanders are held in that State.

This evening I do not wish to talk about my views or the views of other white Australians on the community services legislation; I wish to talk about the reaction of Aborigines and Islanders to that legislation. I know full well that tomorrow's Press will carry headlines such as 'Demonstrations', 'Aborigines take to the streets over land rights', and 'Steve Mam and Anne Warner arrested'. I know also that the Queensland Premier will do his utmost to attempt to discredit the Aboriginal and Islander people of Queensland and indeed of Australia, because that is the kind of approach that the Queensland Premier uses consistently in trying to justify the backward legislation in that State and in trying to discredit the very genuine and responsible attitudes that Aborigines, Islanders and their supporters in Queensland have taken over many years.

This evening I wish to put on the public record an example of just how responsible Queensland Aborigines and Islanders have been in regard to this legislation which vitally affects them. In doing so I shall quote from a document, which I shall table subsequently, entitled 'Statement of concern from delegates from Palm Island Workshop May 1984'. As you can see, Mr President, it is a document of considerable length and obviously I will not have time to quote its complete contents. However, I think it is important to place on the public record that Aborigines and Islanders have met on this issue. Some 29 communities were represented at the Palm Island workshop. Those communities have met with legal advisers to consider in a responsible fashion the legislation that was passed by the Queensland Parliament. This is the response of that workshop:

On Friday, 11th May, 1984, the participants of the Palm Island Workshop unanimously passed the following resolutions:

1. That the Community Services (Aborigines/Torres Strait) Bills be rejected.

I emphasise that these resolutions came out of an Aboriginal and Islander workshop representative of 29 communities. It goes completely against what the Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs in that State, Mr Katter, is claiming as he tours around Queensland. He claims that he has the support of Aborigines and Islanders. That is not what came out of the workshop. The resolutions continue:

2. That we ask NAC to organise Court challenges to the validity of these Bills as soon as possible.

3. That we ask the Federal Government to pass over-riding legislation granting land rights and self determination to the Queensland Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

If the Queensland Government chooses to ignore the above resolutions and proceeds with the Act as is-

4. That we ask the State government that before regulations are made law they be shown to communities and time be allowed for communities to make an input.

Under the heading 'Call for Action' the document recommended as follows:

That because of the grave concerns and fears held about the Bills, a statement of concern be prepared for widespread circulation by Queensland Branch of the National Aboriginal Conference. That a statement of concern be circulated to

all conference delegates

all major Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island organisations and communities

Government Ministers and politicians

relevant Minister and politicians

relevant Government Departments

Church Heads and Commissions

any other interested parties and friends.

The statement of concern indicates quite clearly that the workshop unanimously rejected the legislation that comes into effect at midnight tonight. It did so on the following eight grounds:

I. Consultation prior to the passing of the legislation and where it existed was ineffective and misleading.

II. Consultation did not take place with respect to a wide range of other important issues.

III. The two Bills frustrate the policies of self-management in a number of significant areas.

IV. The two Bills perpetuate a number of injustices in which Aborigines and Islanders, living on communities, are to be treated in a discriminatory manner compared to that of other Australians.

V. The two Bills endorse discriminatory practices that are not deemed necessary for any other State of the Commonwealth.

VI. There is ambiguity or a serious lack of clarity in a number of key areas so that the real intention of the legislation is still unknown.

VII. The Bills make no reference to a number of matters of very special concern to Aborigines and Islanders.

VIII. The Bills contain a number of obvious errors.

It has been claimed that the consultation was ineffective or at best misleading. Here, somewhat surprisingly, I should like to pay some tribute to Mr Bob Katter, Jnr, the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs. I believe he made a genuine attempt to consult Aborigines and Islanders in that State. In fact, it has been claimed that he is the best Aboriginal and Island Affairs Minister that Queensland has ever had. Of course, that is possibly a backhanded compliment, given the quality of Ministers handling Aboriginal affairs in that State.

However, I give Mr Katter due respect; I think he is, and was, genuine in his desire to consult the Aboriginal people. He even consulted Steve Mam, which is totally against the philosophy of the Queensland Premier who does not recognise Steve Mam's position or the National Aboriginal Conference. To his credit, Bob Katter, Jnr, stood up to his Premier and Mr Killoran, the head of the Department , and intimated that he was going to consult as widely as possible. However, it appears that while the Minister had made every effort to consult and to try to implement the wishes of the Aboriginal and Islander people with whom he had consulted, Mr Killoran went over the head of the Minister in negotiations with the Queensland Premier. So, in actual fact, the Minister has not been given due regard in consultation on this matter. Delegates to the Palm Island workshop voiced serious concern at the nature of the consultation that had taken place. A number of the delegates were insistent that:

What Mr Katter discussed with us about the new legislation was only a few things-not everything and now we find that even with those things we discussed, the Act is different from what he told us.

Why is the Act different from what Mr Katter told the Aboriginal and Islander people? The reason is that Mr Killoran, the head of the Department, has had his way with this legislation, so it is the same old paternalistic policy that Queensland has had for many, many years. Frank Brennan provided the workshop with a brief history of the consultation process and various undertakings of the Queensland Government. In this statement he highlighted broken promises and the total absence of consultation with the Aboriginal Advisory Council. He said:

In October 1980 the Premier announced that the Aborigines Act and the Torres Strait Islanders Act would be repealed.

On 18 March 1981, he told Parliament, 'It will be done in the near future; during the year; perhaps not this session but next session. I can promise that . . . '

The consultation process that has continued since that time obviously indicates that Mr Killoran has had his way in determining the direction of the new legislation rather than the more enlightened young Minister, Bob Katter.

Because of what has happened in Queensland, Aborigines and Islanders and their supporters have taken to the streets today in protest. That indicates the level of their frustration in regard to policies of self-management. Apparently both State and Federal governments are committed to the policy of self-management for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander reserves. However, the legislation in its present form denies reserves a number of customary rights, expected by Australians, to manage their own economic, political and social affairs. For example, the Aboriginal Industries Board, chaired by the Under-Secretary of the Department of Community Services, can run all sorts of businesses on behalf of communities and, together with the Minister, has the power to make decisions about the handing over of business to local control. However, profit from the Board's activities in the community does not necessarily go to the community itself; rather it goes to the general welfare of Aborigines as the Board determines. In those areas of control the Board or the Minister, or both, have the authority to set back dramatically the process of self-management should they so desire.

In regard to local government, each local community council will be required to submit its annual budget to the Under-Secretary for approval by the Minister. Furthermore, the council's chairman must send to the Minister a monthly statement as well as an annual financial statement, and the council's accounts are to be audited as if the council were a department of the Queensland Government. The demands placed on a community council will therefore be far more excessive than those required of ordinary local government bodies in that State.

Other injustices demonstrated in the Bills have led to street protests today. They contain a number of elements where the situation for the residents of reserves is more limiting and less advantageous than that for the general Australian population. I shall list a few of the more obvious examples. The first is timber and quarry rights. Councils do not have rights over the timber and quarry products on reserves. In Australia land ownership usually guarantees this. Another is mineral rights. Councils will not have the rights to any mineral or to any share in profits or royalties from mining on their reserves. A further example is leases. Community councils will be able to recommend the leasing of land to community residents. However, each lease will have to be approved by the Minister for Lands. The Minister will have the power to terminate leases and also reverse a council's decision to terminate a lease. Apparently the Minister will exercise those rights if people are not acting in accordance with Government policy. Those powers are regarded as very discriminatory and scarcely indicate self-management.

I should like to conclude by highlighting some differences between Queensland and other States. During the past decade there has been a steady move towards removing discriminatory laws from State and Commonwealth statutes. However, these two Bills, which will come into effect as of midnight tonight, will perpetuate several discriminatory practices that are not found in any other State. Those practices relate to financial controls of community councils; controls by the Under-Secretary of the Department of Community Services over community councils; and administration of Aborigines' estates by the Under- Secretary where an Aborigine has died without appointing an executor; also, regulations made by the Governor-in-Council will effectively be a statute as so much is left to that. This legislation is basically a sketchy outline. Rights and interests will not be known until the regulations are seen. A further discriminatory practice relates to the fact that the Minister may make regulations with respect to assimilation and integration. Even further discriminatory practices relate to visiting justice systems known only in prisons and the fact that the Department of Community Services administers estates, not the Public Trustee.

I think it would be agreed from that very brief outline of community services under the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders legislation that what will be law tomorrow is certainly unacceptable to the majority of Australians. I hope that when the media reports the demonstrations in Brisbane today there will be a real understanding of the genuine frustration of Aboriginal and Islander people who really believed that this time, with Bob Katter Jnr, they would receive self -management. It is that frustration that led to the demonstrations today. Frankly, I believe there will be on-going demonstrations in Queensland. The Aboriginal and Islander people have taken so much for so many years in that State that they will not stand by without reacting when they see that their hopes and dreams will not come to fruition.

In conclusion, I believe there are serious divisions in the minority Queensland Government in regard to its management of Aboriginal and Islander issues because it is quite apparent that the Queensland Premier and the Minister for Northern Development and Aboriginal and Island Affairs have very different views. It is certainly evident within the Department itself that younger and more progressive members of the Department have very different views from the paternalistic views held by Mr Killoran. I only hope that in the near future Mr Killoran will step down so that the younger and more progressive views of departmental officers in that State can come to the fore and Mr Katter can work with more appropriate people. Furthermore, hopefully we may also see a time in the near future when the Queensland Premier will also step down as his views are totally out of step with modern thinking in regard to Aboriginal self-management and land rights.