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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2622


Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I ask her whether she is aware of the fact that the policy of the Australian Labor Party in Western Australia states that a Labor government will introduce legislation to apply to Western Australia provisions similar to those of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, initiated by the Federal Labor Party? Does she know whether that is Western Australian ALP policy? If it is, does she agree that legislation on those terms would permit Aboriginal reserves, which comprise 8.7 per cent of the State, and the vacant Crown land, which amounts to 40 per cent of the State, to become Aboriginal land. That would be the upper limit in those categories. Does she also agree that something over 30 per cent of Western Australia is pastoral lease and it would be possible for some or all of that land to become Aboriginal land if that promise were kept?


Senator RYAN —I am not familiar with all the details of the current platform of the Western Australian Labor Party although I understand that like the Federal Labor Party it has a very strong in-principle commitment to land rights. The implementation of that policy in whatever terms it is currently written is the responsibility of the Burke Government in Western Australia. The way in which the Burke Government is implementing that policy has already been set out by me on behalf of the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) in some detail in Question Time today. I do not think that it is useful to traverse that ground again, but there has been the Seaman inquiry and a discussion paper has been released. No particular decisions have been taken by the Burke Government in response to that but it will proceed towards establishing clear land rights legislation and policies for Aboriginal people in Western Australia. The details of Senator Chaney's question would be better referred to the Government of Western Australia but I will refer them to the Federal Minister.


Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the Minister indicating that the Hawke Government is now saying that land rights in Western Australia are not a Federal responsibility but a responsibility solely of the Burke Government? In other words, is she saying that there will be no national land rights legislation put forward by her Government to lay down a regime of land rights in Western Australia?


Senator RYAN —I am sure that Senator Chaney is quite aware that I have said nothing of the kind. It is very interesting that Senator Chaney, who during the Fraser Administration was at one time Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, should now be adopting such a hostile attitude to the development and implementation of land rights in the State which he represents in this Senate. It certainly is a quite remarkable U-turn from the position of a man who at one time claimed to be a friend of the Aboriginal people in this country and a supporter of land justice for the Aboriginals in his own State.


Senator Grimes —Except when they wanted to vote Labor; he didn't like it.


Senator RYAN —Senator Grimes's interjection covers ground with which I am not entirely familiar. I am certainly aware from the question asked of me earlier during Question Time today that the Liberal Party of Western Australia has adopted a most mischievous and dishonest approach to publicising the development of a land rights policy for Western Australia. Clearly, there is both a Federal and a State commitment to land rights covering the rights of Aboriginals in Western Australia. Currently that commitment is being pursued by the Seaman inquiry in the State of Western Australia. It is our wish, as I think the Federal Minister, Mr Holding, has said on a number of occasions, to approach the issue of land rights in co-operation with the States where that is possible and practical. It seems to us that it is possible and practical for us to implement our Federal and State commitment to the land rights of Western Australian Aboriginals, in the first instance by the steps which the Burke Government is undertaking.

As there is as yet no response to the Seaman discussion paper or in fact no specific recommendations for the Western Australian Government to give a position on, clearly it is premature for the Federal Government to give its position too. I conclude my answer to this question by saying that both the State and Federal governments are committed to land rights and we will proceed in the most equitable and practical way to fulfil that commitment not only for the Aboriginals in Western Australia but also for the Aboriginals throughout Australia, which is something the previous Administration was clearly unprepared to do.