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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1085

Senator KILGARIFF(9.52) —In making my opening remarks on the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General's Speech I take the opportunity to welcome the new senators. We have seen them in operation over the last month and they have made a valuable contribution here.

Honourable senators have over the past few weeks, in making their speeches on the Address-in-Reply, replied to, notionally, the Speech of the Governor-General but, of course, it is the speech of the Labor Government prepared by its draftsmen. It is one of the ironies of the Westminster system of government that it places a person such as the Governor-General, a man who is well respected in Australia, an admired and trusted public figure in the community, in the position of delivering a speech full of the empty rhetoric of the Hawke Labor Government. The Government professes to be a government of consensus. It says that it is bringing Australia together. It says it is a government of economic growth. Rather than those things, we see a government in confusion, a government in disarray, which is fighting within its factions and policies, and decisions changing overnight. Its policies in the Northern Territory, for example, on Aboriginal land rights are those of a government of division, not consensus. Its policies in relation to uranium mining in the Northern Territory are those of a government of economic restriction not economic growth.

Honourable senators have only to look at the operation of the Federal Labor Government's policies in those fields in the Northern Territory to see how short of the mark the rhetoric falls. One of the nation's greatest potential income earners is uranium. Yet the Hawke Government's policies prevent the development of uranium mines within the Northern Territory. Its policies permit the development of the Roxby Downs mine in South Australia and the granting of new export contracts from the two Northern Territory mines at Ranger and Nabarlek. However, the policies also prevent the development of a number of other known deposits, including Jabiluka, which is one of the world's largest low cost uranium deposits with 207,000 tonnes of uranium worth $16 billion and 11 tonnes of gold worth $150m. A further deposit at Koongarra of 13,000 tonnes of yellowcake will also be prevented from being developed as a result of Federal policy. What logical rationale could there be for this discrimination by the Commonwealth against the development of the Northern Territory's uranium? The argument that there is an oversupply of uranium is surely not a reason for disallowing our uranium to compete in the world markets, which should determine the viability of the mines. The development of Australian uranium to a competitive level of production is a matter for the industry and not for the Government.

The only government intervention which should occur is the strict maintenance of international safeguards in the industry. In any event, the belief that there is a world oversupply of uranium cannot go unchallenged. The 1984 report of the Australian Science and Technology Council, ASTEC, stated:

The market--

that is the uranium market--

provides opportunities for Australian uranium producers to gain additional contracts and to increase exports beyond present levels. If Australia were to secure one third of the uncommitted share of the market, a reasonable assumption on the evidence available, that would lead to a doubling of the amount contracted for delivery between 1984 and 1996. Most of the new exports would occur in the 1990s.

In recent years uranium has become a major export item for Australia, with sales comparable in value to some other important minerals and agricultural products. The annual value of uranium exports increased from $70 million in 1978 to over $360 million in 1982.

If sales were to increase in future to the extent suggested . . . and if the price were to remain at $A77 per kilogram of uranium oxide (a reasonable expectation for long term contracts, which generally fluctuate less than the spot price), the annual value of Australian uranium exports would rise to over $1000 million by 1993. The total value of exports in the decade 1984 to 1993 could exceed some $6000m. Australian production of uranium is likely to be determined as much by government policy as by the availability of markets.

That is to the detriment of the Australian people. That is just what we see happening in Australia today. Government policy is denying Australian producers the right to go ahead and develop the vast potential wealth of the Northern Territory. It is allowing the markets of the world to be snapped up by other countries to the detriment of the Australian economy. So much for discussion in Australia today! At a time when the Northern Territory is being attacked by the Labor Government for its level of contribution to national income it is the ultimate hypocrisy for the Commonwealth to say to the Northern Territory: 'We will not let you develop your uranium deposits'.

The Commonwealth is fettering the Territory's ability to develop its most valuable natural resource. It is fettering the Northern Territory's ability to become self-reliant. It is fettering the Northern Territory's ability to increase its population. Of course, the Australian Labor Party's left wing is the thorn in the side of this Government where uranium and related issues are concerned. Its opposition to uranium mining is based upon two basically unfounded assumptions. The first is that the mining of uranium within Australia is in itself unsafe. The second is the assertion that in releasing Australian uranium onto the world market we may be assisting those countries which would use uranium for non-peaceful purposes. The section of the ALP which continues to oppose the mining of uranium on the basis that there are dangers associated with mining ignores the fact that uranium developments in Australia are governed by the most stringent of safety precautions, regardless of the government in power.

There is also the view within the Labor Party that mining of Australian uranium should be prohibited on the basis that to allow it to proceed and to sell uranium on the world markets would be to encourage nuclear proliferation. This ignores the fact that countries such as Argentina, Canada, Spain, South Africa and a host of others are selling their uranium all over the world. If countries want to obtain uranium for non-peaceful purposes they do not have to come to Australia for it; they can go to one of about two dozen countries which are making their uranium available to anyone who has the purchase price. We in Australia could develop our uranium deposits and sell our uranium subject to stringent conditions of supply. In the process we would be providing employment and a boost to the national economy. If this Government is genuinely concerned about unemployment in this country it has the opportunity to do something about it in this industry.

In my opening remarks I referred to the Government being one of divisiveness, not of consensus. Nowhere has it created more division within the Australian community than it has in the Northern Territory with its land rights legislation. However, it may be working on spreading that division to the States with its preferred national land rights model, which would operate in all the States. Little wonder that the Labor Premier of Western Australia, Mr Burke, is at odds with his own Party over the proposed Federal legislation. He has probably had a look at what has happened in the Northern Territory, where since the commencement of the operation of the land rights legislation 33.7 per cent of the land area of the Territory has been granted to the Aboriginal people under inalienable freehold title, with a further 13.2 per cent granted under claim. I suggest that these figures are slightly out of date and that the total now would be closer to 50 per cent. Once these claims are granted, a total of some 453,660 square kilometres will have been alienated-just less than half of the total area of the Territory.

As there is no time limit for the lodging of claims there will probably be more to follow and it is difficult to forecast under the present system what will happen in the Territory in the next few years. The amount of land subject to claims and land handed over under freehold title to the Aboriginal people will have to grow to more than 50 per cent of the land in the Northern Territory-it could climb to 55 per cent or perhaps 60 per cent. The inalienable freehold title which has been granted to the Aboriginal people is a more secure form of title than any other Australian can hope to acquire. It guarantees that the land will remain their property and the property of their descendants regardless of how they choose to utilise or not utilise the land and no matter what debts they incur.

In the Territory there is an increasing awareness of the divisive effect of the present land rights legislation. When one group in the community can lay claim to public reserves, stock routes, coastline and roads and can exclude other members of the same community from those claimed areas, there is the potential for disharmony and tension. That is what is occurring in the Territory now. It also creates a form of apartheid, the likes of which would be condemned if it occurred in another country. In the Northern Territory Aboriginal people may legally enjoy access to public places that are under Aboriginal control-including reserves, roads and beaches-yet other people are required to obtain permits to gain access to those places. This form of apartheid has been a part of our way of life since the introduction of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act and this situation is making it increasingly difficult for the two races to live alongside each other in peaceful co-existence.

I have been working on a private member's Bill, which will involve amendments to the existing legislation, in an effort to overcome the unfortunate situation which has developed in the Northern Territory. This proposed legislation, which has not yet been presented, is based on the package of amendments that were agreed to by the various land councils, the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government some time ago. It is a package of amendments which, while recognising Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory, will remove the tension which exists in the present situation. I believe that the need to rectify the legislation which operates in the Territory cannot be overstated. Not only is the Commonwealth legislation creating tension between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals but also there is ill-feeling within the Aboriginal communities as well. The land rights legislation is effectively setting Aboriginal against Aboriginal, which is odd when one considers that it provides for the granting of land to the traditional owners. Situations have arisen whereby there are disputes at to who are the traditional owners. A recent example is the granting of Uluru-that is Ayers Rock-to the Mutitjulu community at Ayers Rock. That community represents a number of groups which have made claim to the Rock, yet there is some doubt as to whether they represent the true traditional owners of Ayers Rock. Other accounts suggest that the traditional owners of the Rock were the Yunkutjijra tribe, which was possibly wiped out by an epidemic of influenza in the early 1920s.

Doubts as to the ownership of the Rock have been expressed not only by members of the white community but also by a leading Aboriginal spokesman, Alderman Bob Liddle, who has stated that he is not convinced that the Mutitjulu community truly represents the original owners. I add here that Alderman Liddle, in making his comments on the ownership of the Rock, did not claim that the Mutitjulu community was a tribe, as Senator Ryan suggested in the Senate some two or three weeks ago when I attempted to gain some information as to the reliability of the anthropological studies upon which the Government relied in determining the ownership of the Rock. Unfortunately, Senator Ryan did not provide that information but instead proceeded to attack Alderman Liddle and to insinuate that he did not have the best interests of the Aboriginal people at heart. I assure Senator Ryan and other honourable senators that Alderman Liddle, whose family has come from the Ayers Rock area over the decades, is deeply concerned with the problems of the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. As a member of the Aranda tribe, Alderman Liddle has unquestionable ties with the Aboriginal people. Anyone who knows him would be aware that he would never act in a manner which was not in their best interests.

The criticisms which Senator Ryan made of Bob Liddle are, unfortunately, typical of the way in which recognition of responsible Aboriginal people is being abandoned in favour of the recognition of their white spokespersons. If Senator Ryan and the Government of which she is a Minister are truly concerned with the welfare of the Aboriginal people, they would do well to listen to those who have lived with the Aboriginal people as part of the tribe rather than to those opportunists who have set themselves up as Aboriginal authorities. Senator Ryan's source of information on Aboriginal issues is completely unreliable if her recent comments on the Strehlow collection are anything to go by. Honourable senators would be aware of the debate on the Strehlow collection of Aboriginal artefacts. In sending the Strehlow collection out of Australia, Bob Liddle was protecting it from a group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who are not the traditional owners of the stones but who wanted to obtain the collection for their own purposes. Strehlow lived with the tribe for many years and was accepted as one of them. The stones given to him were so sacred to the tribe that for anyone other than a member of the tribe to look at them, let alone handle them, would have meant death not so very long ago. Even today the handing over of the Tjaringa stones to other than the rightful tribunal owners could hold dire consequences for the wrongful recipients. Alderman Bob Liddle, in taking the action he did, should be congratulated, I believe, for preventing a group of people who claim the sacred stones from obtaining custody of them under false pretences. I understand that plans are being made for the return of the stones to the Northern Territory once the trustees can be assured that they will be kept in safety beyond the grasp of those who have no entitlement to them; and we certainly look forward to that day. Senator Ryan's defamatory remarks concerning Alderman Bob Liddle are disgraceful and irresponsible.

This Government's track record on land rights in the Territory also is disgraceful and irresponsible, the most recent example of its mishandling of its responsibilities to Aboriginal people and other Australians being the handing over of Ayers Rock to an Aboriginal association with doubtful credentials. I am talking about traditional ownership. I have also mentioned that there was some controversy as to who represents the traditional owners of the rock. As I said earlier, I tried to obtain enlightenment from Senator Ryan as to how ownership of the rock was determined, but to no avail. The fact that she did not even attempt to answer my question only adds to my concern that, in handing the rock to the Mutitjulu community-not tribe-the Federal Government was playing politics.

In its eagerness to hand over the rock to any group of Aboriginal people, the Government has overlooked the fact that the Mutitjulu community is a creation of white man and, therefore, cannot amount to the traditional owners of the rock. It is an association, a white man's version of what is needed to bring about control of the situation; it is not a tribe made up of traditional owners. One only has to look at the spokesman for the community to see how traditional the community is; its spokesmen are white men. Not only are they not Aboriginal but they have frequently disallowed contact between outsiders, including members of the media, and the Aboriginal members of the community. This is regrettable. I have the honest belief that the Aboriginal people have the ability and the right to speak on their own behalf. I do not think this is happening. I would have thought that any government with any concern for the well-being of the Aboriginal people would be concerned at the potential in this sort of situation for the manipulation of the Aboriginal people by a few white activists who are interested only in building little empires for themselves at the expense of the Aboriginal people.

There is a lot of hypocrisy regarding aspects of aboriginality. Government sets up organisations supposedly to encourage Aboriginals to participate in their own well-being, their self-expression, their future, et cetera. But really I find that on so many occasions it is not the Aboriginal people who are speaking; it is other people. Yet it is the Aboriginal people who wish to be heard. Unfortunately I believe that the Aboriginal people, the true traditional owners, are not being heard. I say this not from my own assumption but from what I am being told by the very many old, traditional owners who still exist in central Australia. They wish to speak to government. They do not have the opportunity.

The Government's approach to land rights in the Territory has seen claims laid to national parks which should be available for the enjoyment of all Australians and indeed the people of the world to come to see our natural wonders. Apart from the social impact of the legislation, it has virtually brought a halt to mineral exploration in the Territory. Since the imposition of the land rights Act only six agreements for the development of projects have been completed and all of those were for projects for which exploration had been completed prior to 1972 and did not therefore require Aboriginal consent. The mining industry has virtually abandoned the Northern Territory as a result of the impossible conditions which have been imposed by the Commonwealth legislation. In the Territory there is uncertainty as to what our position will be once Mr Holding's preferred national land rights model is implemented. Of course, we are not too sure just what the Federal Government is going to implement, whether it will be the Federal version or amendments to the Territory Act.

Some people have expressed the view that almost anything must be an improvement on what we have now, but I am concerned at the reservations which have been expressed from so many quarters about the Holding legislation. Many are unhappy with it-not only the Aboriginal people but also, of course, the various industries. The Federal Government's obvious misunderstanding of the wishes of the Aboriginal people was reflected only last week in the reported signing of an agreement between the developers of the Koongarra uranium development and the traditional Aboriginal owners of Koongarra to proceed with development against the express wishes of the Federal Government. This Government wants the land returned to Kakadu National Park and development of the project halted, despite the fact that the deal between the Aboriginal owners and the developers is reported to be worth as much as $300m in cash, annual rental and royalty payments and royalty equivalents over a 14 year period. That sort of money would mean that the Aboriginal owners would have a real say in determining their future, yet the Federal Government opposes the arrangement.

If the agreement between the Aboriginal owners and the developers, Denison Australia Ltd, does not convey to Messrs Hawke and Holding the clear message of the Aboriginal people that they want to stand on their own feet, nothing will. The outcome of the negotiations between Denison and the Aboriginal people, including the Northern Land Council Chairman, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu, has shown that the Aboriginal people are able to decide independently what is in their best interests. They realise that it is in their best interests to become financially independent. It is common knowledge that Aboriginal people do not want to have to rely on government handouts. They want to contribute to the development of the Northern Territory. The signing of this deal will mean that they are able to assist in the creation of revenue and employment opportunities in the Territory-if the Federal Government so permits by allowing this mine to be developed. It is time that this Government abandoned its pick and choose policy as to which uranium mines should be developed and ceased to play the rich uncle to the Aboriginal people. They have shown that they know the road which they wish to take. It is the road to self-sufficiency and self-respect, not the road to patronising handouts, which is all that is offered by the Government.

While the Labor Government's offering to the Aboriginal people is nothing more than tokenistic, its offerings to the Territory as a whole have been virtually non-existent. The promise made by Mr Hawke prior to the 1983 election that the Alice Springs-Darwin railway would be proceeded with has been abandoned and it now seems that the Territory faces an uphill battle to obtain Commonwealth support for the upgrading of airport facilities at Darwin. There has been an abrogation by the Commonwealth of its responsibility to contribute to the maintenance of Alice Springs Airport. The Commonwealth has seemingly ignored the millions of dollars which have been spent on world class tourist facilities at Yulara in its refusal to provide assistance to upgrade the facilities. Only recently the need for such upgrading was demonstrated by an accident which occurred at Alice Springs Airport when a woman and two children were struck by a baggage truck moving across the tarmac. The limited space in front of the terminal combined with the heavy traffic means that there is just not enough room for passengers and staff to go about their business safely. Similar problems persist at Darwin Airport. We have been promised a new international terminal there, but of course in the last few days the Government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with this much needed international airport, despite the fact that the Public Works Committee has made the recommendations and the Federal Government has already funded some $10m or $15m. Despite the fact that contracts have been let, they have now been halted.

Senator Peter Rae —Devaluation has given a tremendous opportunity for tourism to be boosted.

Senator KILGARIFF —Of course. This is one of the main aspects in the Northern Territory. Millions of private enterprise dollars have now been spent by international and national firms in creating these new hotels and tourist facilities. I find it rather amazing that the Government has cancelled the contracts and the project. Darwin has been left with no real international airport, but with a hangar that was built before the Second World War, a hangar that can withstand winds of only some 75 knots per hour. The Government has been very shortsighted in not going ahead with this new project because it would have brought to its coffers many millions of dollars in taxes and other revenue by the increase in tourism in the Northern Territory. I regret that the Federal Government has not seen fit to go ahead with this project. I believe that not only has it been short-sighted but also it has been very hard on the contractors, the sub-contractors and the workers on this project.

Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.