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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3075

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN(9.18) —I rise to speak briefly on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage (Interim Protection) Bill 1984 which is now before the Senate. I do not need to speak at length because Senator Messner spoke very capably for the Opposition when he spoke on the Bill this evening. However, there are several aspects, although certainly not all of them, that I wish to refer to specifically. I preface my contribution to the debate by stating at the outset that I feel the way the Bill has been hastily presented to the Parliament is to be condemned. It certainly has been rushed through the other place and is being rushed through here as well. Such an important and far- reaching piece of legislation needs time to be analysed critically, not just by members and senators but by all Australians-black and white-who, after all, I would say, have some legitimate land rights themselves. I do not believe that the average person has been allowed sufficient time to digest the magnitude of the Bill and I place on record my condemnation of the abuse of individual rights by the Government.

Senator Robert Ray —But you get a lot of time in Queensland to consider Bills.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I have had deputations from some Christian Aboriginals and they have told me that there is a great deal of discontent even amongst some of the Aboriginal people themselves. In fact, they went so far as to tell me that it was splitting the Aboriginal people, favouring the tribal Aboriginals. I was given the figure of 2,000 Aboriginals in the Northern Territory alone being against the Bill.

Senator Robert Ray —Who gave you the figures?

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —What they cannot understand is the inordinate haste--

Senator Reynolds —Joh gave them to you!

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —It certainly was not Joh who told me about the 2,000 people in the Northern Territory. It was the people who came to see me yesterday who live in Canberra. They would like to know--

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator will refer to the person concerned in his official capacity.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Thank you, Mr President. What I would like to know is why there has not been enough time for consultation with these Aboriginal people who came here and told me the facts of the matter as far as they see them. They cannot understand why the Minister and his staff are to make all these decisions without reference to all the people who have been involved. I feel that that is very important indeed. This is a complex Bill; there are no two doubts about that. When it is enacted it will give extraordinary powers. The Bill virtually says that it is up to the Minister alone to decide what areas or objects are significant and what restrictions or conditions will apply. As well as that, the Minister may appoint authorised officers who will have the power to make emergency declarations without prior reference to him. Nobody tells us who the authorised officers are.

The Government is introducing this legislation to give Aboriginals a greater claim to land rights. Any area, not necessarily a sacred site, which the Minister believes is of particular significance to Aborigines in accordance with their tradition, regardless of whether it is on private or public land, could be the subject of a declaration under the Bill. I listened with interest to some of the speeches that have been made here about how all these declarations are to be brought before the Parliament. I read in one paper that was sent to me that 750, 000 sacred sites have been listed in the museum in Perth. Goodness me, if the Parliament is to deal with 750,000 sacred sites we will certainly be here on Saturdays, there are no two doubts about that. We will never be able to get through them all. How would we as members of parliament be able to decide in our own minds about a sacred site somewhere in Western Australia? Perhaps Senator Cook or somebody like that could tell us about it or bring a special report to the Parliament.

Senator Cook —I will be very happy to, Senator. I will take as much time to tell you all about it as possible. Don't worry; you will be safe if you rely on me.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I am not too sure about that after some of the things I have heard the honourable senator say in this Parliament. I believe that the definition of 'area' is totally inadequate. In these circumstances all land owners, including pastoralists, farmers and the urban populations, are at risk. A declaration could be made depriving them of access to or the use of their properties without compensation. I think that all traditional Aboriginal sacred sites should be listed. Queensland has a list of sacred sites. Such sites have been listed in Queensland for many years. That is where we are miles and streets ahead of the other States. This Bill would be better designed to protect only Aboriginal sacred sites, definite sacred sites that are listed. I think we should all accept that there are many sacred sites throughout Australia about which Aboriginals feel very strongly. I instance bora rings, caves that have paintings in them and trees that have been specially marked, such as in the Bunya mountains. One can go up there and see the Bunya pines that the Aboriginals used to climb in the early days. They probably do consider some places to be sacred sites. It seems to me that every time a new project goes ahead in Australia more sacred sites appear. Any area which the Minister believes has particular significance to Aborigines could be the subject of a declaration. I do not agree with that at all.

Senator Jack Evans —Subject to this Parliament.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —As I said earlier, if 750,000 applications will be coming before this Parliament, I am not quite sure how we will get enough time to deal with them all. Furthermore, the Bill has the potential to be retrospective in that existing rights and investments are at risk. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent the Minister from making a declaration over an existing mine, farm, tourist resort or even adjacent waters. That is in the Bill ; honourable senators can read it for themselves. Any Aborigine-honourable senators should note that no specific definition is given of what constitutes an Aborigine-or anyone acting on his behalf, regardless of whether he has any association with the area in question, can apply to the Minister for a declaration. Regrettably, the Minister does not indicate how he will satisfy himself that the area is significant under the provisions of the Bill and he does not require any verification. The Bill implies that prosecutions against ordinary citizens could result from inadvertent breaches which may occur through bushwalking, camping or touring through one of these so-called areas. Even though a person did not know that a declaration had been made, I understand that he may still be convicted and fined up to $10,000 and receive five years in gaol . The Australian Labor Party is always talking about human rights. I do not think this is an example of human rights.

Many representations have been made by various groups that are gravely concerned about the implications of the Bill. I have received and I know that most honourable senators would have received numerous protests from bodies such as the Australian Mining Industry Council-honourable senators opposite probably would not be too interested in that body-the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association, the Queensland Chamber of Mines Ltd and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia Inc., as well as from ordinary Australians who are concerned about their heritage and that of their children. The Aboriginal people who came to see me yesterday are concerned also. There is a lot to be said for the notion that legislation of this kind will stir up more racial hatred. An editorial which appeared in the Australian recently summed up the situation quite succinctly when it stated:

As an exercise in the preservation and protection of sites and objects of significance to Aboriginal and island people, the Bill has been noticeably successful in creating yet more antagonism towards the justifiable needs of Australia's original inhabitants.

Some honourable members in the other place have gone so far as to say that this is really breeding apartheid in reverse. I must admit that I find it difficult to accept that all Australians who have as great a love and respect for this land of ours as Aborigines will not be afforded the same privileges that this Bill gives to our Aborigines. If it had not been for the white and black Australians who fought in the last war with the Americans and saved Australia from invasion, there would not be any rights for anybody. There would not be any sacred sites at all. That is a point that people sometimes forget about. It also seems as though ordinary Australians will be heavily penalised for appreciating God's beauty when they are on a bush walk or a camping trip. This land and all that is in it, under it or above it belongs to God. We are really on this earth for only a little while and should look after it while we are on it.

This Bill is the most authoritarian piece of legislation to be introduced by this Government. It is gravely ill-considered and I believe that the majority of Australians are genuinely concerned about its enormous ramifications. The very disturbing lack of consultation with the mining industry, the State governments and even the Aboriginals themselves has been deplorable. Not one comment by the mining industry on an earlier draft of the Bill has been recognised in the Bill that we have before us now. It is very difficult not to see this Bill as yet another attempt to destroy our democratic free enterprise system and to replace it with a centralised socialist bureaucracy. I fear it is the type of legislation which will cause an unnecessary backlash in the community and ultimately will destroy community goodwill for Aboriginal advancement. In fact I would go so far as to say it could set Australia's race relations back a very long time. I cannot support the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.