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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1391


Senator COLEMAN(4.48) —There is an old adage that if a thing is worth saying, it is worth repeating. I think that Opposition senators have not quite got it right yet because they think that anything they say is worth repeating. This is why we are seeing this little exercise here today. We saw it in the other chamber on Wednesday of last week. The Opposition is running these urgency motions backwards and forwards between the chambers like bookmakers' touts because it is totally devoid of any new issues. It is totally devoid of leadership. The latest opinion poll is extremely interesting on where the leadership of the Liberal Party of Australia stands at the moment. The Opposition is endeavouring to divide the community knowing that there will be an election. The community in Western Australia is much more astute than the Opposition gives it credit for. It will not be divided on a racist issue such as Aboriginal land rights.

Senator Kilgariff said that the racist issue that is constantly being raised by the Government in relation to the Opposition's claims was unwholesome. I think that was the word he used. I agree with him. I agree that the actions of the Liberal-National Party are the most unwholesome that we have seen for a long time. One of the things that the Opposition fails to recognise, of course, is that in 1967 the people of Australia spoke in regard to things Aboriginal. That includes land rights. Only this Government is prepared to accept that responsibility because in seven years the former Government did nothing for Aboriginal land rights.


Senator Messner —Well, you are the first person to say so clearly for us today.


Senator COLEMAN —I am very pleased that the honourable senator agrees with me. I am sure that his listeners will be heartened to know that the speech he made as a contribution to this debate is now being debunked. The issue that we have heard about so many times in this chamber is not really one of Aboriginal land rights. It is not really one of heritage legislation. It is delaying tactics on the part of the Opposition to prevent the Government getting on with what it is being paid to do and, that is, to run this country. Senator Messner can sit in this chamber and look for help from above. That is probably the only place from which he will get it. He certainly will not get it from the people outside this chamber.

Let me tell him about the situation in Western Australia. It happens to be my State and I think I am a little closer to the situation there than he is. In a little while I will quote from some of the things that two former-I stress the word 'former'-Ministers have had to say, both from Western Australia, both former Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs, one who is out of the Parliament and one who is sitting on the Opposition benches now. I will repeat some of the statements that they made on things Aboriginal when they were in government in 1980. They brought very interesting issues to light then. Let me just tell honourable senators about what has happened in Western Australia. We have the biggest gerrymander outside Queensland operating in that State that provides for a situation where a government of my colour can never ever control the Legislative Council. All that Premier Burke is doing at the moment is acknowledging the fact that we can never ever control the Legislative Council. Once we get electoral reform through-that is highly unlikely given the situation there at the moment-we will move on a number of areas, but only when we know that legislation which is vital can be passed. There is little value in our putting up legislation at this point knowing that in totality it will be knocked out by the Legislative Council. One does not gain anything that way. All that that means is that one loses the entire legislation, that one gains nothing and that the Aboriginal communities gain nothing.

We have heard a lot in media reports about what has been happening in Western Australia and in other States. All that has happened is that the voters in Western Australia have been subjected to some of the most racist advertising that it has ever been my displeasure to see. In case honourary senators are not aware of what has been happening the Mining Industry Council came out not so long ago with full page advertisements in the daily Press and with television advertisements showing a hand, black of course, building a brick wall around Western Australia. The inference of the voice-over on the commercial was: 'Your quarter acre block in the suburbs is under threat if a Labor government has its way and introduces land rights legislation'. I put it on the record here and now as the convenor of the Caucus Aboriginal affairs committee and as a member of the Australian Labor Party Policy Committee on Aboriginal Affairs that it has never been the intention to grant land rights just for the sake of granting land rights. It has always been the intention that we would grant land rights that were subject to claim by Aboriginal communities which could identify with that land in particular areas.

We saw all these massive television advertisements and full page newspaper advertisements put out by the Mining Industry Council. There was a very good reason why that Council suddenly started this campaign. In conformity with the wishes of the Opposition it wanted to divide the community. But what else had happened was that the pastoralists in Western Australia had suddenly become aware that, for years they had veto rights over mining and they just did not know it. So the Mining Industry Council had to say 'We cannot possibly have something happening for the black people that is not available for the whites', trying to convince the pastoralists that they did not have veto rights. They were just not aware of them. The mining industry had walked all over their land. It had explored wherever it wanted to explore. It had done anything that it wanted to do on their land. It knew that it would now have to sit down and talk and consult with Aboriginal communities if land rights legislation became the order of the day. That concerned the mining industry because in the past it had been able to walk in and do what it liked.

I remind honourable senators about what happened in the former Government's period of office when we had the disgraceful situation where the person who brought forward this matter of urgency today was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and sat on this side of the chamber. I have made mention of this before and I will make mention of it time and time again. Whenever an issue is raised that relates to Aboriginal land rights I will raise the subject of Noonkanbah, because that was the most disgraceful thing that ever occurred. Senator Chaney was the Minister at that time. I intend to quote some of the things that he had to say shortly after that and his acknowledgement of what Noonkambah meant. It was used as a divisive tactic by the former Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court, who wanted to ensure that he was seen as being the white God above those black people.


Senator Chaney —Stephen Hawke felt like that too.


Senator COLEMAN —I will discuss that with the honourable senator another time if he wishes to do so. I would be quite happy for him to bring in an urgency motion on that issue if he would like to. I would be quite happy to debate that with the honourable senator. But at the moment we are debating his matter of urgency. We saw at that time a mining company that did not want to be involved with or forced into a situation but which was forced by a State government to take a drilling rig on to the Aboriginal community site at Noonkanbah, a property that had been purchased by the Government for the community. That company was forced to take that drilling rig on to the site at Noonkanbah, a site where every geologist to whom I spoke knew that there were not remarkable quantities of oil. Nevertheless, it was forced to take that drilling rig on to the site under threat by the former Premier, Sir Charles Court. I keep saying 'former Premier' and 'former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs' because they are all on the Opposition benches now, both in the State and the Federal scene. That mining company was forced by the former Premier to take that drilling rig on site under threat of losing its exploration licences. That was the threat that was made to Amax Exploration (Australia) Inc., the mining company involved. It was told that if it did not take that drilling rig through it would have its exploration licences cancelled and this reference was not only to its licences on Noonkanbah . But, I am sure that Senator Chaney would agree that the interesting thing is-I raised this matter during the heritage legislation debate and I will raise it again now-that since the Noonkanbah situation and given that all that that exercise resulted in was a very fragile community, at the point of collapse, because of consultation, the company is now in Noonkanbah. It is drilling where it wanted to drill. More importantly, it is drilling where the Aboriginal community wanted it to drill. It is all being done with consensus-that overworked word perhaps, 'consensus'-conciliation or consultation. That is exactly the way it should be. There should be consultation.

I will now talk about the consultation that is being undertaken by this Hawke Labor Government and the Burke Labor Government of Western Australia because that is why there is a delay. We are delaying. I am not unhappy about that but Senator Chaney has criticised us for not acting on Western Australian land rights legislation. There is no Western Australian land rights legislation, and those opposite know that. They criticise us here for not acting on something that does not exist. The Western Australian land rights legislation, when enacted, will be enacted in full consultation with the Federal Government, quite distinct from what has happened with other States and governments of the same colour when there has never been consultation between the States and the Federal Government as there has been on this occasion and will be on future occasions. We will not adopt the confrontationist attitude that Liberal-National Party governments tend to adopt. For instance, this morning's Australian contained an article on page 2 headed: 'Libs drop crime for other issues'. Such articles are always put to the front of the newspaper in the hope, I suppose, that the Liberal Party will be given some ideas on what the issues might be. The article states:

The Opposition's most recent opinion polls show that organised crime, while still retaining the electorate's interest-

I interpose here that it is retaining the electorate's interest only because of the way in which it has been treated by the media and the Opposition in this chamber-

was not amongst the major issues.

Of course it is not, and that should have been recognised by the Opposition without having to be told by the media. Amongst those things that the poll showed as of major importance is, of course, Aboriginal land rights and that, I suggest, is the only reason we have this urgency motion before us today. The media put it into the hands of of those opposite that this is an issue and they are determined to make it an issue.


Senator Gietzelt —Tell us what the previous Ministers said.


Senator COLEMAN —Oh yes. I must just read this before I finish, as my time is getting short. This is what was said by two former Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Fred Chaney and his immediate predecessor Mr Ian Viner:

So far these issues-

land rights-

so intense with the kind of emotions which run deep in race relations, have been resolved by long negotiation, with each side giving something but holding firm to what has been vital to their interests.

This was said by the same man who here criticises us for holding firm to what has been vital, recognising that there is going to be lengthy discussion. Talking about the Northern Territory Act, they said:

At the heart of the Act is the special relationship that Aborigines have with their land.

These are the words of two former Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs.

In WA it has become fashionable to ridicule and condemn this spiritual association with the land, to insult Aborigines to whom it is still of great importance and to assert that sacred sites are found only after mineral exploration has uncovered promising finds on Aboriginal lands.

There is a great depth of feeling in those words from Senator Chaney and from Mr Ian Viner, who was also a Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, in which they actually demonstrate that they care about Aboriginal people and that they really have a concern that land rights, the ultimate goal in their opinion, is attainable and can be given to Aborigines without all this falderal that those opposite have been going on with today. If they were being constructive about land rights legislation, this type of matter of urgency might have some bearing. But they are not being constructive; they are endeavouring to be destructive about what the Federal Government and the State governments are doing so far as land rights are concerned. There is no way that I would be prepared to accept that as an urgency motion. I think it needs the strongest condemnation and I urge the Senate to vote accordingly.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Chaney's) be agreed to.