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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1386


Senator REYNOLDS(4.21) —I have in my hand a copy of a headline that reads: 'Land rights are a good idea if we are all sensible about it'. Unfortunately, it seems that the Opposition is incapable of being sensible about land rights or, for that matter, any other policy that faces this country at the moment. The Opposition, the popularity of whose Leader is reported in today's Herald as down to 14 per cent, is incapable of making the sorts of sensible decisions or recommendations one would expect of a responsible Opposition about anything. It seems that the Opposition, once again, is desperately grasping at straws to try to make an impact on the Australian community. We are constantly seeing emotionally charged matters of public importance being put forward by the Opposition in a rather futile attempt to discredit the Hawke Labor Government. Each time a matter of public importance is raised, we see the Opposition benches vacant. This matter, so we are told by the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Chaney, and by Senator Messner, is so vitally important that we should all be addressing it here today. However, there are now only three members present on the Opposition benches.

Each new attack appears to rely on a couple of issues such as immigration and land rights-moral issues which can be so misrepresented and distorted that it is difficult for anyone in the Australian community to understand the Opposition's intentions. Furthermore, the Opposition delights in stirring up those extremists in the community-and there are a few of them in the Parliament-with views so to the right of the political spectrum that the genuine issues are lost in emotive claims and counter-claims. Why is the Opposition in this place unable to bring forward issues that are genuine matters of public importance to be debated rationally, instead of relying on a re-run of a debate that took place in the House of Representatives last week? This issue has already been aired in the Parliament. We are simply hearing the same tired old cliches trotted out in a different form today.

Let us look at the Opposition's claims about the urgency of this matter. Understandably, the Opposition is frustrated by the consensus style of the Government, and certainly in regard to this issue. It is clear from a Press release issued on 5 October by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), Premier Burke and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Holding, that Mr Burke had invited the Federal Government to nominate an officer of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to participate in the drafting of Western Australian land rights legislation. There is no confrontation, no delay. The Federal Government has accepted this offer and an official will work with the Western Australian Government on a full time basis. The Federal Government, in accepting its obligations at a national level for Aboriginal land rights, recognises the interests of Western Australia in addressing its problems. The Federal Government is concerned about States concerned with land rights and has no intention of overriding any State, including Western Australia and Queensland. The Seaman Commission report and recommendations, together with the Western Australian Government's statement of principles, provide a valuable basis on which to address this issue in that State. The Federal and State Governments will work together to ensure that common principles are adopted in the formulation of land rights legislation. The Commonwealth remains committed to its constitutional responsibilities in this area. However, in fulfilling these responsibilities the Government will acknowledge the particular needs of Western Australia. The decision to accept the Premier's offer to become involved in the drafting process acknowledged the particular Western Australian situation and the benefit to be obtained by close Commonwealth-State co-operation in the formulation of these policies.

As I said earlier, the Opposition continually tries to stir up confrontation on the question of land rights. We saw that when this House debated the heritage legislation. Senator Messner himself said that the legislation was dangerous and confrontationist. Yet that legislation has been in place for several months, and I have not seen any particular examples of confrontation; I am not aware of any particular danger out there in Australian society. Again, there has been misrepresentation of the land rights legislation. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has indicated time and again, in the other place and through the media, that he is in close consultation with his colleagues in all the States; he is negotiating with all Ministers. He is even negotiating in Queensland. I have here a Press statement by Mr Bob Katter Junior, who is Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Queensland. The headline reads 'Aboriginals to get land titles by Christmas'. That is a National Party government talking about land titles by Christmas. It states:

Queensland Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are the closest they have ever been to acquiring control of the 3.8 million hectares of reserve land they occupy.

The Queensland Minister announced that the necessary titles should be ready by Christmas. Yet when one listens to a number of National Party and Liberal Party spokespeople one would think that it is only the Hawke Labor Government which would ever contemplate the granting of land rights.

It is ironical that the coalition parties should be seeking a clear statement on land rights when they have made it clear that their State counterparts in Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria are totally opposed to the concept of Aboriginal land rights. If anyone should be doing any clarifying in this place, it should be the Liberal Party because its members appear to be able to put on a different hat depending on the position from which they are speaking . We are all aware of the extreme campaigns that have been conducted in Western Australia and Victoria, and yet the Liberal Party dares to come into this place and say the Labor Party should be the one to clarify its land rights policy. The Labor Party is the one party that is seen by Aboriginal people in this nation as the only party that is genuinely committed to the enactment of legislation that will provide for the granting of land rights to Aboriginal people.

A quick survey of the situation in the various States and the Northern Territory identifies the reality when it comes to land rights. New South Wales has its own legislation providing grants of Aboriginal land, yet the New South Wales Opposition opposes land rights. In Victoria, too, legislation is currently being examined which provides for the granting of Aboriginal land in that State, but again, the Liberal Opposition there totally opposes Aboriginal land rights. In South Australia legislation has been enacted providing for the granting of Aboriginal land rights, most recently at Maralinga, but again, in the face of stiff opposition from the South Australian Liberal opposition. Now we have in this place a debate concerning the situation in Western Australia. We know that in that State it is the Liberal Opposition parties who have totally opposed the concept of land rights. It is in this environment that the Federal Opposition seeks to paint itself as the supporter of Aboriginal land rights and as a party which cares for Aboriginal aspirations.

The Burke Government has, in the face of continued opposition from the Liberal Party in Western Australia and in the face of deliberate scaremongering from the Western Australian Chamber of Mines, moved to commit itself to the granting of Aboriginal land rights. I concede that the position adopted by the Burke Government may well be seen by Aboriginal people as being less than they would have hoped to obtain, but it is equally true that other sections of the Western Australian community held very strong views as to what should be done in relation to the granting of Aboriginal land rights. It was in that knowledge that Opposition parties were totally opposed to the granting of Aboriginal land rights. It is clear that the Burke Government had to resolve the issues having regard to those realities.

In conclusion, I state categorically that the Federal Government continues to stand by its commitment to the introduction of national land rights legislation. It has not moved from its position, announced in 1983, that fundamental to the national approach would be the five principles which have been mentioned on so many occasions. We are still committed to the granting of inalienable freehold title, the protection of sacred sites, Aboriginal control over mining on Aboriginal land, access to mining royalty equivalents for Aboriginals and compensation for lost land to be negotiated. However the details of these principles have yet to be finalised. The Government has no intention of rushing into such vital legislation. One can imagine the hue and cry from the Opposition benches if we were to bring forward such legislation. Honourable members opposite would change their tack completely and say that we were acting hastily, as they did in regard to the heritage legislation.

The Government is also committed to a process of consultation, not only with Aboriginal organisations but also with community groups and State governments. Until those negotiations have been concluded the Government will not be forced by the actions of the Opposition or anyone else to state prematurely its position in regard to those principles. The motion moved by the Opposition has assumed quite incorrectly that national legislation would necessarily override legislation enacted by the States. Given the actions of the Labor States in acting on proposed land rights legislation, it ought not to be concluded that national legislation would have to negate or eliminate State legislation. That is the very reason why the Federal Government is committed to the process of consultation and discussion with the States before it makes its final determinations with regard to the form and detail of national legislation. It is quite clear that the Opposition, once again quite desperate for issues on which to try to make some impact in the Parliament, is simply rerunning a debate that we heard from the House of Representatives last week. The proposal has absolutely no substance.