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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1664


Senator KILGARIFF(4.27) —The matter of public importance submitted to the Senate for debate by Senator Chaney is:

The confusion and uncertainty of the Government's Aboriginal affairs policy.

I believe that Senator Chaney and Senator Baume, two previous Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs, have put the present situation firmly and fairly. But this is a most unusual debate because we have in the Senate the Acting Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Ryan. Because Mr Holding, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, is in Canada, she is Acting Minister, but she is not participating in the debate despite the fact that two previous Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs have joined in the issue. While Senator Ryan is in the Senate for the debate but not participating, she is advising the various speakers on the Government side. I think this is a most unusual situation and the Opposition has very good reason to ask why Senator Ryan has not joined in the debate to speak on behalf of the Federal Government.


Senator Ryan —You can stop showing off now; the audience has gone.


Senator KILGARIFF —At least she can interject, even if she has not the courage to stand on her feet and join the debate. We are talking of confusion and uncertainty. I put it to the Senate that the speeches of Senators Reynolds and Zakharov excused the action which has been taken against the National Aboriginal Conference. Senator Reynolds talked about keeping the matter in perspective. Senator Zakharov talked about the NAC being restructured. No such thing has happened. The Government has disbanded the NAC. The Opposition, the Aboriginal people and other people of the nation want to know what sort of organisation is going to take its place. It has been disbanded; it is not being restructured. What has Mr Holding in mind for both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people of Australia?

We have indicated our concern by asking questions of the Government-these can be seen in Hansard-about its intentions. We want to know, for instance whether it is the Government's intention to give the traditional owners, the people of the outback, a say in their own affairs. I do not speak on their behalf because they are capable of speaking on their own behalf. They say to me: 'Why is it that we cannot participate in speaking to the Government?' This is one of the things we would like to know. In this make-up of the new organisation, are the old people, the traditional owners whom one finds in the outback, going to be able to participate?

The Government has offered nothing but confusion and a lack of direction to the Aboriginal people. As speculation mounts as to what the Government may decide to do next, the wider community is becoming increasingly anxious about the Government's land rights legislation. What does the Government intend to do? Conflicting Government statements have done nothing to allay the fears of many people that the national land rights legislation which is proposed by the Federal Government may result in the racial tensions and disharmony which are occuring in the Northern Territory as a result of the legislation which is now in place. As I have said on so many occasions, the problem there is that the package of amendments discussed in conferences over many months between the previous Government, Land Councils, the Aboriginal people and the Northern Territory was ready to go but it was white-anted; it was blown up. This package of amendments would have brought about harmony in the Northern Territory, not the disharmony that we see now. So we are asking: What are the Government's intentions?

While the Government has been unable to make clear its intentions on national land rights legislation we have all heard about Clyde Holding's five principles. Senator Ryan has consistently thrown them at me whenever I have asked a question on Aboriginal Affairs in this chamber, whether they answered my question or not. Let us look at the five principles that have been thrust at me: Firstly, Aboriginal land should be held under inalienable freehold title; secondly, sacred sites should be protected; thirdly, Aborigines should control mining on their land; fourthly, Aborigines should have access to mining royalties; and, fifthly, compensation should be paid for lost land. There are certain problems, I would suggest, in debating the merits of these principles, not the least of which is that we do not really know whether they represent the policy of the Government. No doubt they represent the policy intentions of Senator Ryan and Mr Holding, but from all the statements that we have seen in the last few months, I suggest that they are not the policy of the Federal Government.

There is obvious disagreement within the Government as to the direction in which Aboriginal land rights will proceed. Let us look at the contradictions. This statement of the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 October last year:

The general position of the Government is that we don't believe that the right of veto is an integral part of having effective, fair and efficient land rights legislation.

This directly contradicts Mr Holding's plans for right of veto over mining on Aboriginal land. The Government's approach has been full of contradictions. The Prime Minister could not even make up his mind whether to let the Australian public in on what the Government was planning before the election last year. On 3 October last year, at a Press conference, Mr Hawke said in regard to land rights:

We will be making quite clear before the election what the position of the Government is.

Only two weeks later he said, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 17 October 1984:

I don't believe that we're going to be able to clarify the land rights issue before the election.

This is in line with what I am saying regarding the confusion and uncertainty of the Government's action. It is typical of the to-ing and fro-ing which is occurring within the Australian Labor Party and the Government. It is leaving Aboriginal people and for that matter the rest of Australia-the whole 90-odd ethnic groups that make up Australia-wondering exactly where they stand. The Aboriginal people are becoming tired of waiting to see which way the Government will swing. A new element of doubt has now been added by the defeat of the land rights legislation of the Western Australian Premier, Brian Burke. This is another example of confusion. The Government's confusion on Aboriginal affairs was reflected in the fact that the Prime Minister was prepared to wear the Burke Government's legislation even though it would have been at odds with Holding's five principles. That is a strange situation. People are asking: What will happen now that the Western Australian legislation has been defeated? There has been speculation that it will lead to the introduction of tough national land rights laws.

Surely enough time has passed for the Federal Government to indicate now its intentions. The last time a question was asked from this side of the House as to the Government's intentions it was said, if I remember correctly, that Mr Hawke and Mr Burke were to consult about the situation and that the Senate and the people of Australia would be told what would happen. We are waiting and we have been waiting a long time. Land rights in Australia have grown into a very emotive issue. It is up to the Government to cut out this confusion and uncertainty and to bring the whole matter back to taws. As I have said, the Opposition hopes that the tough national land rights laws will not come into effect, that the Federal Government will learn from the experience of the Northern Territory and the legislation which operates there and realise that tough legislation is not the answer.

The Northern Territory legislation was introduced in 1976 by the Liberal-National Government. This was a massive piece of legislation. What has happened over the years, as I see it-I have lived in the Territory throughout the period-is that time and again the High Court of Australia was asked for an opinion on the meaning of the legislation. I believe that the principles relating to the true intent of the original Bill became eroded, the result being that it has been necessary to bring about amendments that would cut out this disharmony and bring the legislation back on track with what the architects of the legislation intended back in the mid-1970s. The matter was discussed by Senator Chaney, Senator Baume and Mr Wilson, who were Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs. The remedies were well on the way but they fell by the wayside when this package of amendments could not be brought in. This has resulted in stunting the Territory's economic development to the detriment of all Territorians, including the Aboriginal people. It has brought problems to the Aboriginal people; it has certainly brought problems to the many other people in the Territory who have had to live under somewhat difficult conditions. As a result of the legislation Aboriginal people have been given the exclusive ownership of Ayers Rock. I think most Australians believe that it should belong to all Australians. Kakadu National Park is another immense problem. The Federal Government should heed the wishes of the people of Australia. Once again, I believe that the wishes of Australians are that such national heritages should belong to all people.

A recent article in the Bulletin described the situation in the Northern Territory as a form of apartheid. It was quite an interesting article. I believe it reflected many of the views of the people who are most interested in land rights these days. Once again, I believe the Federal Government is to blame because it is not moving to do away with a lot of these pressures that are causing this confusion and uncertainty. The Northern Territory legislation has meant that previously public roads and beaches-that is, public lands-have been closed to non-Aboriginal people. Stock routes have also come under claim, which has fragmented pastoral leases. The difficulties cause by Aboriginal veto over mining and the necessity for agreements to be reached by land councils with the traditional owners when exploration or development permits are sought has meant that no projects which were not under way prior to the commencement of the operation of the legislation have been undertaken. Is this what the Government has in store for the rest of Australia?

I say, once again, that the Government must be honest about the whole matter. No one seems to know the answer to that question, not even the Government itself, because there has been no clear statement put forward by the Government on its land rights policy. Its policy is in a state of confusion and disarray. Mr Holding continues to enunciate his five principles which include the right of veto over mining on Aboriginal land. Mr Hawke says that the Government does not believe a right to veto should form part of the land rights package.


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