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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1388


Senator KILGARIFF(4.34) —In speaking on the matter of urgency that has been introduced by Senator Chaney, I wish to make just one or two remarks before I get to the main part of my speech. Senator Reynolds has said that this is a rerun and a quite unnecessary debate. I remind her that around Australia the topic is now one of considerable moment. In fact, the people of Australia are looking with very deep interest to the actions that may come from the Australian Labor Party and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Holding, in the near future, and the reasons behind those actions. I also notice that the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Ryan , said that in bringing up this debate today we were being racist. Who does not get tired of the term 'racist'? I think that debate on this matter in the Australian scene is very wholesome-that this matter should be aired-but every time Aboriginal land rights are mentioned and there is some discussion on that matter, someone has to say: 'You are a racist'. That is a very unwholesome attitude, if I may say so.

The Labor Government's action in relation to Aboriginal issues, and land rights in particular, has been confusing and misleading and has resulted in uncertainty and fears amongst the Australian public. This is what the discussion today is all about. It was not so long ago that Mr Holding suggested that in the very near future there would be national land rights legislation. He was very bold and strong in his initial attitude towards this legislation, but in the last few weeks he apparently has gone cold on the situation or, if he has not gone cold, he has stepped back several paces. It has been said, and I have seen the reports in the media, that as an election is coming up any legislation or matter that may cause confrontation or is controversial should not be proceeded with but should be put into abeyance. One presumes that, as Senator Messner has said, if the Labor Party wins the coming election we can anticipate this legislation coming forward in the New Year as it is controversial and brings about a degree of confrontation. To the disadvantage of us all, and particularly the Aboriginal people, the Labor Government's actions have resulted in increased fear and conflict rather than promoting racial harmony. The way in which Mr Holding has handled this debate over the last few months, and the way he has continued in public to make the various statements he has made, has certainly been against racial harmony. For instance, the handing over of Ayers Rock was decided upon without proper consultation with the Northern Territory Government and its people, without due regard to the likely public reaction and without first working out the administrative arrangements which would apply after the handing over of the Rock.

What does one see in that situation now? It concerns me tremendously, because the Aboriginal people were given a considerable fillip. These people were promised that Ayers Rock would be handed over to them, but very little has happened since then. There has been no handling over of the title. As I understand it, that in itself is now a matter of controversy between the Government and the Aboriginal people. I believe this is because the Aboriginals have been promised so much. I believe that the Government, as regards the handing over of Ayers Rock, is presently on very dangerous grounds, for Ayers Rock or Uluru, as some may like to call it, has been given international recognition. The naturalists call it a biosphere park. It is said that there should be as little damage to it as possible because it is unique and so is its environment. There should be a halt to deterioration of Uluru. It should be held as a unique place for future generations. One of the world's major ecosystems is in jeopardy.

It was envisaged, I thought, that Ayers Rock would be placed under joint ownership and would be administered jointly by the Aboriginal people and others, as is the case on the Cobourg Peninsula. This has not happened. The surrounds of Ayers Rock have not gone back to bushland, the old motels that were bought by Government have not been destroyed and brought back to bushland and the airstrip as I knew it has not been ploughed up and brought back to bushland, as I hoped would be the case. The same applies to roads and such. What do we see? We see some $50,000 is being spent on the airstrip. Does this show any intention of it being brought back to bushland? It is true that pioneer tourist operators were bought out by the Government to ensure that these motels would be dismantled and the area brought back, once again, to bushland. Despite all this planning and all the promises, Mr Holding is now, as far as I can see, spending money on the place to ensure that the airstrip will remain. A lot of the small motels which were abhorrent to the naturalist, to the people who said it must go back to bushland, will remain and will be used for other purposes. The Aboriginals knew for decades of the plan to return this area to bushland. As far as I am concerned, this is grossly misleading the people of Australia.

The resultant public outcry and concern about continued public access and subsequent banning of people such as Val Doonican from singing at the Rock made a mockery of the Government's decision and its desire to be seen to be doing something for the Aboriginal people. Indeed, we now see the Federal Government coming undone over land rights. Having promised the earth to the Aboriginal people, the Government has been forced to reconsider in the face of opposition from the Western Australian Government. The hypocrisy of the Commonwealth Government in its approach to land rights and other Aboriginal issues shows up quite clearly in the decision of the Government to collaborate with the Government of Western Australia on State land rights legislation when the policy of the Labor Party is for uniform Federal legislation.

If the Government were performing this about face on its land rights policy in recognition of the much more rational and reasonable policy of leaving land rights legislation to the States, the decision might be more readily understood. However, the reasons for the Government's backtracking on the land rights issue are purely and simply selfish ones. It appears that the Government has realised at last that there is great fear in the community, particularly in the mining and agricultural industries, about the implications of overriding uniform land rights legislation. In fact, there is such public opposition to such legislation that the Labor Premier of Western Australia, Mr Burke, has forecast a loss of up to five Federal seats by the Labor Party if such legislation is pursued. That prospect has resulted in an apparent reversal of policy where Western Australia is concerned on the issue of land rights legislation.

The Government is displaying its usual disregard for not only the Aboriginal people but the miners and farmers and all Australians who have a right to know where they stand on Aboriginal land rights legislation. The toing and froing which has gone on since the Labor Government was elected has left Australians completely uninformed as to Mr Hawke's legislative intentions regarding Aboriginal land rights. Perhaps that should not come as such a surprise when one considers that the Government itself does not appear to know where it stands on the issue unless, as I have said before, it is backpeddling and going softly from now until next year.

The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) last week could not even agree with his Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Holding, as to whether there would be any statement on the Government's intentions regarding Aboriginal land rights legislation before the election. The Government must clarify its position with respect to this matter. Soon after the Hawke Government came to power, Mr Holding outlined his proposals to introduce uniform land rights legislation based upon his five principles. Those principles include, as Senator Messner said, the retention of Aboriginal land under inalienable freehold title and Aboriginal control in relation to mining on Aboriginal land. The introduction of the legislation has been delayed because it has become increasingly less politically attractive to pursue it. I submit that the proposed legislation is completely unnecessary in any event.

All mainland States have land rights legislation or are considering proposals for such legislation and all such legislation or proposals are inconsistent with the Minister's five principles. The current South Australian legislation provides for arbitration in the event of a refusal by Aboriginals to allow mining on their land. Under the Minister's proposals there would be no such arbitration. Aboriginal veto will prevail to disallow mining completely. This, of course, brings up a point too that no matter where one looks in Australia one sees that Aboriginal people are, as I see it, in favour of mining. It allows them the ability to have an interest in mining or to mine it themselves, like the Yuendumu Mining Co., which is a small mining company west of Alice Springs. This means that they can stand on their own feet without living on government handouts. As I see it, Aboriginal people are in favour of mining. But the strange thing is that when this comes out in the media and through government statements and what have you, it appears that the Aboriginal people are against mining. I suggest that this attitude comes about by people who speak on the Aboriginals' behalf.

Similarly, as I was talking about the various State legislation, the New South Wales legislation would conflict with the proposed veto provisions. Now we have the proposed Western Australian legislation which is completely at variance with Mr Holding's proposed legislation. The legislation in place in Queensland, and that proposed for Victoria, would conflict with the Government's inalienable freehold and veto provisions. In the case of the Northern Territory, land rights legislation was implemented by the coalition-a fact which seemed to be forgotten by Senator Reynolds-back in 1975. After supporting Senator Neville Bonner's motion the coalition brought land rights in.

We recognise, with the experience of eight years, that there are now some problems with the legislation and have proposed changes to the legislation to take account of the problems which have arisen in the past. I might add, too, that this was anticipated in the early days by Mr Justice Woodward in his report on the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission. He said that the legislation would have to be given some time in order to see the workings of the Act. Clearly, when one sees this immense piece of legislation after eight or nine years it is necessary to have some adjustments made to it.

The delays in granting access for exploration and mining, complex administrative impediments and the payments of appropriate compensation are amongst the problems which need to be addressed. We also propose to amend the Act to ensure that the public has improved access to main roads and that the situation which has arisen where the access road from Nhulunbuy through Arnhem Land has been cut off by the Northern Land Council does not arise again. On that aspect, very many of the judgments that have come out of the High Court of Australia in the last few years have turned Aboriginal land rights into something which was not the intention of the original draftsmen. The coalition has a record to be proud of in the area of Aboriginal affairs, including initiating policies of self-management which gave Aboriginals a new hope of controlling their own future in the same way as other Australians.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.