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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3158


Senator REYNOLDS(4.45) —I am very happy to accept Senator Boswell's challenge. I remind him that in north Queensland 10 per cent of the population is Aboriginal and Islander. I am sure that they will be most interested to hear that Senator Boswell and members of the Opposition are not interested in rights for Aborigines. I am very confused about the way members of the Opposition are handling this debate. I think it is probably because they are confused. Last night we had a concerted attack on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Heritage (Interim Protection) Bill 1984 by Senator Messner who, apparently, is the newest political hatchetman, similar to Michael Hodgman on the immigration issue. Obviously Senator Messner is being used to stir up racial antagonism on this piece of legislation.


Senator Chaney —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. It is thoroughly objectionable to suggest that Senator Messner is stirring up racial antagonism. He made a careful speech; he made a speech which went to the technical aspects of the Bill. That is an offensive statement which should be withdrawn.


Senator Grimes —Mr Acting Deputy President, on the point of order, frequently accusations of that type are thrown around this place in debate.


Senator Chaney —They should not be.


Senator Grimes —Maybe they should not be but plenty of honourable senators on the other side throw that sort of accusation around. I believe it was a reasonable criticism made in the heat of debate. If we take points of order every time anyone makes that sort of criticism in this place we will never get through a debate.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order! The hour is late and the session has been long and I ask speakers on all sides to concentrate on the Bill . At this moment I will leave it at that.


Senator REYNOLDS —Last night Senator Messner mentioned that this was a dangerous Bill, a confrontationist Bill, and that 'it was ludicrous lunacy'. I use those descriptions to back up my previous remarks. Yet earlier this afternoon Senator Chaney acknowledged that this was a significant Bill. Senator Kilgariff also acknowledged that there was need for legislation and that this was well-meaning legislation. Apparently the Opposition is considerably divided as to what its attitude should be to this legislation. The response of critics and some Opposition spokesmen indicates an urgent need for the re-education of some Australians in their own history. Opponents of this legislation fail to acknowledge the reality of the fact that this country built its very foundations by overriding Aboriginal and Islander heritage. Senator Messner, in his enthusiasm to condemn this legislation last night, said that the Government has 'resorted to the shotgun and overkill'. I find it most unfortunate that he opened this debate by saying that. It is tragic irony that the Opposition in opening this debate should condone such an intemperate description on Aboriginal heritage, for it is indeed an historic fact that it is this very same shotgun and overkill mentality which led to more than 20,000 Aborigines being killed defending the heritage that this legislation refers to. Half that number were in Queensland. Now, nearly 200 years later, we sit here debating whether Aboriginal heritage-what remains of it-can be preserved. After 200 years the Liberal and National parties are still not sure whether Aborigines are entitled to some small measure of interim protection.

Senator Bjelke-Petersen and others have said that this legislation is being rushed through the Parliament. However, as several speakers have already pointed out, some 17 years ago the Australian people gave the Federal Parliament power to legislate on behalf of Aborigines and Islanders. After 17 years we finally have a piece of interim legislation. Members of the Opposition in this place and the other place dare to talk about legislation being rushed through. Surely only ill-informed or reactionary interests could deny Aborigines some opportunity to salvage what remains of their ancient culture. Criticism of hastily conceived legislation rushed through Federal Parliament has indeed a hollow ring when it is obvious that Aborigines recognise the Heritage Bill as a promise made by the Australian people in 1967. Surely by 1984 it is not asking too much of affluent Australians, including Senator Boswell's graziers and mining interests, particularly given their past treatment of Aborigines and Islanders, to have a little thought for a dispossessed race which seeks some form of justice before our bicentenary.

I want to speak particularly about the need for heritage legislation in Queensland. We heard today that there is legislation that protects Aboriginal relics and objects. It is totally inadequate legislation. Queensland has an appalling history of government policy which has overridden the Aborigines' and Torres Strait Islanders' tradition for many years. Any student of Queensland history will be aware of the open confrontation between early settlers and Aborigines and that conflict has persisted into race relations today because of the attitudes of the National Party Government in that State.

Last night we heard Senator Bjelke-Petersen talk about consultation. We also heard Senator Kilgariff speak about consultation with Aboriginal people. Particularly in relation to Senator Bjelke-Petersen's reference to this very important consultation, which she apparently supports, I will quote from a document from a group of concerned Palm Island citizens about a visit by the State Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs, Mr Bob Katter Jnr, to Palm Island. It states:

On Friday, 16th March, Mr. Bob Katter, Jnr met with us in the Alf Palmer Memorial Hall. We would like to go over the things Mr Katter told us.

He started off by saying that he can't tell us what is in this new legislation-

that is, the new community services legislation-

It was drawn up before the Minister consulted with us . . .

That is the sort of consultation that takes place in Queensland. As I have said before in this place, I have some sympathy with Mr Katter Jnr because I understand that his intentions were honourable and he wished to consult Aboriginal and Islander people in his State. However, unfortunately, he is blessed-if that is the word for it-with a very paternalistic departmental head, about whom Senator Jones spoke earlier in the debate. Queensland Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders presently dispute the recent community services legislation which perpetuates a number of injustices, discriminating against their people. The Minister proposes certain amendments, but I guess those amendments will be overridden by Mr Killoran, assuming Mr Katter is still Minister when the Parliament resumes in August.

The Queensland Government will not listen to the views of 29 Aboriginal and Islander communities who met on Palm Island recently and totally rejected that legislation. Yet we have Senator Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier's wife, talking to us about consultation. I tabled recently in this place a document setting out the statement of concern of the Aboriginal and Island people from all over Queensland. If the Queensland Government will not take any notice of Aboriginal and Island people in that State, not even the 16 Torres Strait Island chairman, it is obvious that that Government cannot be trusted to implement protective heritage legislation. The Queensland Government has not even got any of its own heritage legislation to protect buildings and sites. It has been promised for years, usually around election time. But still we see buildings bulldozed. It is obvious that the Queensland Government is not interested in heritage of any kind . Aboriginal heritage would have even less chance of recognition by a State government more concerned with tearing down National Trust buildings.

Queensland Aborigines and Islanders therefore need their sacred sites and objects to be protected under Commonwealth legislation because there is no equivalent protection under State law, not is it likely to exist under the present State Government. If Senator Bjelke-Petersen and Senator Boswell are so concerned about this heritage legislation I suggest they go back to Queensland- they obviously both have the ear of the Queensland Premier-and suggest that he draft his own heritage legislation.


Senator Boswell —They have got the legislation.


Senator REYNOLDS —They have not got heritage legislation. The Queensland Premier , Senator Boswell and Senator Bjelke-Petersen are obviously going to perform and posture about States' rights and individual freedoms, ignoring once again the double standards that they support in regard to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. They do not seem to be concerned about individual freedoms when it comes to foreign interests in that State. Whenever the question of legislation affecting Aborigines and Islanders is raised, the Queensland Premier is voluble in his hysterical reactions about apartheid, rights for whites and land grabs.

Senator Boswell talks about rights for graziers and rights for mining companies . I think that the graziers and mining companies are doing very well in Queensland, thank you. I am particularly concerned-obviously unlike Senator Boswell-about Queensland. I will quote some facts that are generally not known by Queenslanders when they are stirred up about land rights and heritage legislation in that State. In Queensland Aboriginal reserve land comprises less than 2 per cent of the State. I repeat that: Less than 2 per cent of the State is Aboriginal reserve land. These reserves date back to the early twentieth century and by and large occupy land which is remote and which was unattractive to early settlers.

While the Queensland Premier strenuously opposes Aboriginal freehold he has enthusiastically welcomed overseas land speculators. Of course, that is different! The 1982 report of the Foreign Investment Review Board indicates that in Queensland 3.2 million hectares, or an area twice the size of Wales in the United Kingdom, has been sold to overseas buyers in just six years. Compare that with Aboriginal land, which totals just 2.4 million hectares. If Senator Boswell can do his sums he will see that Aboriginal land in Queensland is considerably less than the land that has been sold off to foreign investors. In fact one Brazilian investor owns the 'Lawn Hill' station which alone covers one million hectares. The supportive attitude of the Queensland Government to Japanese investors is well known. The Premier's own family benefited by selling bits of Queensland to Japanese speculators, yet he and his Government and National Party of Australia representatives in this place dare to question the rights of Aborigines and Islanders to protect their sites of significance. That attitude indicates that the National Party in Queensland has considerable double standards.

Anybody who has any doubt about the need for heritage legislation in Queensland need only read the series entitled The Mapoon Story according to The Invaders. It should be recommended reading for Senator Boswell and Senator Bjelke-Petersen before they travel around western Queensland during the recess. The Mapoon Story according to The Invaders traces the events of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when mining interests led to the dispossession of Aboriginal reserve land on Cape York. This account clearly indicates just how negligent the Queensland Government was in protecting traditional Aboriginal land. I will summarise some of the points. The Comalco Bill of 1957 gave the company over 2,000 square miles of Aboriginal reserve land on the west coast of Cape York and nearly 2,000 square miles on the west coast. Again the land was owned by Aborigines although not protected as a reserve. Nothing is protected for Aborigines in Queensland. Comalco was also given all cattle, grazing, timber, water and farming rights over the mining lease with a right to perpetual leases over the area used for the requirements of the mining town. Government aid was also given to cover the cost of building the harbour and some mining town facilities. It amounted to #8. 5m. Comalco paid under $5 a week for its 1,370 square mile cattle station. No compensation was paid to the Aboriginal owners of that land.

Let us look at what happened in 1965. Under the Alcan Act the Government gave Alcan a mining lease over 536 square miles of the Mapoon Aborigines land to hold until 2070 with all the same rights and concessions obtained by Comalco. In the debate on the Bill awarding Alcan the Aboriginal reserve land, Aboriginal rights were not so much as mentioned. I suppose, like now, members of the National Party were not aware of what Aboriginal rights meant. Why should they be mentioned? The Mapoon people were evicted from their homes and from tribal land by armed police in 1963-64. I point out to Senator Boswell, whom I note has now left the chamber, that we are not talking about what happened 200 years ago. At that time homes were burnt to the ground. That was sanctioned by the National Party in Queensland.

Finally, the Aurukun Associates Act of 1975 gave away nearly 735 square miles of Aurukun Aboriginal land, again without compensation. The Queensland Government does not believe in compensation for Aborigines. It only believes in assisting overseas investors. The legislation was rushed through the Queensland Parliament despite opposition from the Aurukun people and from church mission authorities. I notice that quite often in debates in this place certain people are very keen to mention their Christian attitudes. Yet it seems that when we discuss important measures affecting Aborigines and Islanders we are not as concerned to mention Christian views.

I am extremely disappointed in the Oppositions' contribution to the debate today and last night. There have been conflicting views, empty arguments, distortions and a total lack of understanding of the Aboriginal experience. Aborigines in this country are essentially displaced persons in their own country. All this legislation attempts to do is to start to right a wrong and to start to recognise Aboriginal and Islander heritage.

In an interjection last night, Senator MacGibbon indicated his attitude to Aboriginal heritage when he said to Senator Coleman:

We have heard a diatribe about Noonkanbah and all sorts of irrelevancies.

I suppose it is not surprising that Senator MacGibbon should regard Aboriginal heritage as irrelevant. After all, it was the Queensland Liberal Party that regarded former Senator Bonner as irrelevant to the Australian Parliament. I would have expected this evening a reasonable, bipartisan approach to this debate. This issue, like immigration, is too important to be politicised by the Opposition in the irresponsible and confused way that we have heard this evening . I know that on the Opposition benches there are some people who have a commendable record and a genuine regard for Aboriginal issues. I know that some members of the Opposition are sensitive, and I am sure that many of them have been highly embarrassed by the comments of their so called colleagues. I hope that, for the good of race relations in this country, those genuine people on the Opposition benches will begin a re-education campaign of their colleagues so that this Parliament can start to see greater unity of purpose in overcoming the effects of 200 years of European dominance and arrogance. I hope we can see some change at least by the bicentenary. I am very pleased to support this historic legislation.