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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1657


Senator MACKLIN(3.41) — After listening to speakers so far in the debate today, it is no wonder that Aboriginal people say that while Aboriginal law goes straight white law moves like a snake. Undoubtedly the Australian Labor Party Government is proposing to sell out the Aboriginal people on national land rights. On 8 December 1983, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Holding, moved a motion in the House of Representatives and said:

The motion before the House identifies the major areas of policy we have pursued and will pursue. The first is land rights. The motion sets down five principles which will guide us in this important matter. I repeat them here as they appear in the motion before the House:

(i) Aboriginal land to be held under inalienable freehold title;

(ii) protection of Aboriginal sites;

(iii) Aboriginal control in relation to mining on Aboriginal land;

(iv) access to mining royalty equivalents;

(v) compensation for lost land to be negotiated.

That was on 8 December 1983. On 19 October 1984 a Press release from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said in crowing terms that the Australian Labor Party Government would certainly not permit any veto over mining or exploration. This is the exact opposite of what it said the year before when it went to the people. The Press release also said that there was no intention to introduce Federal legislation that would over-ride Western Australia's decision 'to ensure that any mechanism to resolve access disputes would not constitute a de facto veto'.

What do we find on 20 February 1985? We find in the preferred national land rights model released then that the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, which was upheld for so long during the time the Government was in opposition, is to be amended, consistent with the Commonwealth preferred model. What do we find in the Commonwealth preferred model? At paragraph 9.2, we find: 'There is to be no veto over exploration or mining on Aboriginal land'. It is no wonder that the Aboriginal people have produced an advertisement, authorised by both the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council, which reads as follows:

In 1985, Aboriginal Land Rights in Australia are under threat from the Hawke Labor Government. The Aboriginal Affairs Minister Clyde Holding, says he will introduce uniform national land rights legislation this year. In its present form this model has been rejected by Aboriginal people.

It might be interesting to hear what other speakers have to say on this issue. The advertisement continues:

He has failed to consult Aboriginal people--

This is the Aboriginal people speaking, not me--

and the new law would destroy the very basis of the original Commonwealth Land Rights Act.

Where Land Rights exist in Australia a new wave of cultural re-generation has been made possible.

If the proposals become law, Aboriginal life and existence throughout Australia will come under increasing attack.

Aboriginal people from all over Australia will be in Canberra on May 13 to protest.

Join them and speak up for Land Rights!

Yet Government speakers have stood up and said that they have the support of Aboriginal people and that the Labor Party has not changed its policy. Perhaps they should try telling the Aboriginal people that.

The advertisement raises two issues which I think are central to the case we are talking about. The first is that Aboriginal land rights do not and will not threaten one centimetre of privately owned land anywhere in Australia. This is contrary to the type of proposition which is spread about by so many people, including politicians in the National Party, the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party. The second issue is this:

Where Aboriginal people have won back land through existing laws; there is more opportunity to enter or travel through this land than any other privately owned land . . .

The point must always be that we are talking about Aboriginal land rights in terms of justice, not in terms of charity and hand outs; we are talking about the moral basis by which all land is held in this country. The basis of any free enterprise society is private property. All the major religions base the moral claim and right to property on prior ownership and first occupancy. If anybody would like me to quote what all the major religions in Australia have to say about this subject I would be happy to do so, and I am able to give up to date quotes at that.

It is interesting to establish where the moral claim for land actually come from. I am able to quote, for example, from a recent papal document which points out that the moral basis for claim has rested on the argument of first occupancy or prior ownership. We are not talking about charity; we are in fact talking about who actually owns the land. At some stage or another perhaps some politicians in this place will have the guts to stand by what they actually believe and not by what their parties are preaching. To identify the moral basis for just land rights in Australia is to identify the moral claim which is the basis of our society as well; that is, if the land is held by a citizen of this country and that citizen has title to that land, the land cannot be taken from him.

Unlike what we have heard in the unscrupulous, muck-raking campaign of the mining companies in Western Australia, all Australians have equal rights to land. The central underpinning of any society such as our's must be the moral ownership of and claim to land. Yet, plenty of people are quite happy to go around and argue that the traditional tribal owners of land in this country-the people who have continued to reside in their traditional lands, who have discharged their spiritual obligations to those lands and who have never moved from those lands-do not to own it and do not to have any claim or right to it. We are told that if they dare to assert that they have a right they will be disturbing matters and may raise racial problems in this country. If that is the way in which racial problems are going to be raised in this country, so be it. If we do not assert, and assert strongly, that moral claim of Aboriginals we may as well give away the rest of the type of moral humbug that seems to go on so much in this area.

We are not facing a new problem. Recently I came across a letter which was written by a group of Catholic bishops in Australia in 1869 which said:

We have dispossessed the aboriginals of the soil . . . In natural justice, then, we are held to compensation . . .

It is shocking to think of what has, in fact been done. With very little, with short-lived exception, injustice, neglect, cruelty, and, a million times worse, the actual teaching of vice, have branded the annals of white men. The stain of blood is upon us-blood has been shed for otherwise than in self-defence-blood in needless and wanton cruelty. It is said, even now, that as Europeans progress northwards, blood is so shed.

We all know that. In fact, last week I had the honour to meet one of the traditional owners of Uluru and I discussed with him the murder of his uncle on the rock. Deeply embedded in many Aboriginals is not a story about cruelty but actual experiences of cruelty and murder. Yet it is expected that such people should listen to the slithering of the snakes in terms of white law as the Australian Labor Party moves again from its base. That is what the Aboriginals say. They sit on their soil and say yet again: 'These people came to us and said something, and now what do they do? They change it. Why should we trust any of them?' What is one expected to say to that? It was said to me last week and I had no answer because there is no answer. Why should they trust anyone and, particularly, why should they trust a group of people who held out so much and who dashed the hopes of Aboriginals so wantonly?

When one looks at what is going on now and at what has occurred in the past, one wonders whether justice will ever be achieved in this area in this country because we have already moving in political parties-in the Liberal Party of Australia, the National Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party-groups which will deny that very basis, that very item which we must uphold.

In many ways it is difficult to speak on behalf of other groups of people. I certainly do not seek to do so and I think it would be presumptuous of me to do so. But when we compare our attachment to this country and how dearly we hold it and then actually try to respect and understand the way in which Aboriginal people also think about this country and how they hold it, we ought to be able to recognise in some way why the Aboriginal people are so attached to this land. Their attachment goes beyond that mere national attachment of drawing artifical boundaries in the European style. They have a sacred responsibility to the land, not an ownership in the sense that we have ownership, but a sense of ownership which has responsibility.

When I was at Uluru last week I did not meet with the people who owned the rock, but the people who have the responsibility for the rock. I wish we could actually get through our heads the extraordinary responsibility that they felt as they sat there with tears in their eyes pouring the dust through their hands and saying: 'Our law is growing weaker and weaker'. For held out to them by the Labor Party was hope, and the Labor Party now presumes, in its wisdom, to dash the hope that was held out. I finish by quoting something that Clyde Holding quoted. I hope he remembers it. It is from a white author, Xavier Herbert, who said:

Until we give back to the black man just a bit of the land that was his and give it back without provisos, without strings to snatch it back, without anything but complete generosity of spirit in concession for the evil we have done him-until we do that, we shall remain what we have always been so far, a people without integrity; not a nation but a community of thieves.

(Quorum formed)