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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 15

Senator CAMPBELL (3.06 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans), to a question without notice asked by Senator Campbell this day, relating to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Native Title.

This is only a relatively minor issue, but it really shows the hypocrisy of this government when it was in full flight trying to get the Native Title Bill through this place before Christmas. One part of the strategy was to ensure that the Senate committee system did not properly deal with that legislation.

  We know that the Green senators in particular were very concerned about a number of aspects of that bill and that, right up until the last minute, they were deciding—and I give full faith to their consideration of this—whether or not that bill should have been sent to a committee before it got into this place for that debate. I know that Senator Chamarette wanted the opportunity for the committee to move around and to take evidence from a wide range of Aboriginal organisations. Indeed, Senator Chamarette moved a motion in the Senate long before the Native Title Bill was introduced to allow Aboriginal elders to come before the bar of the Senate. That shows her bona fides in wanting to see proper consultation.

  A way of ensuring that that did not take place and that the government's agenda to get the Native Title Bill through the Senate occurred was, indeed, to set up the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Native Title. It is stated in the bill—I think it is in section 42; my colleague Senator Ellison might remind me whether that is correct or not—that the establishment of that committee was required to be as soon as practicable after the proclamation of the legislation, which I think was on the last day of December.

  I agitated through informal channels to ensure that that native title committee was set up in February. We did it through the whips. We were told that it was on the minister's desk and that it was going to be done. Week after week went by. Finally, on Wednesday, I think, just before Senator Gareth Evans flew overseas, I had to go through the process of basically forcing the issue through giving notice of a motion in this place. Finally the government acted. Senator Evans said that there had been a whole load of technical, administrative and legal reasons—the Sir Humphrey Appleby defence about why things do not get done by government—as to why that committee had not been set up.

Senator Gareth Evans —It wasn't bad, actually.

Senator CAMPBELL —It was a good try. The reality was that the government did not really want this committee set up for as long as possible. In good faith, Senator Evans and the government made sure that they appointed their members to the committee in the Senate. We did the same. We went through a rigorous ballot process. Senator Ellison and I kept out all other opponents and were elected to the committee. The Democrats and the Greens had to work out who was going to go on the committee. I believe Senator Kernot was successful in that negotiation. In the House of Representatives, the coalition appointed Mr Reith and Mr McGauran.

  But, of course, it was in the government's interest not to appoint anyone because then the committee could not be established, it could not set up a secretariat, it could not get on with the job of overseeing the implementation of the Native Title Act and the setting up of the tribunal—which opened in Perth recently—and the very important work of the parliament seeing the implementation of the Native Title Act, which ever way we look at the Native Title Act, could not be achieved. It is a matter that deserves the focus of the people of Australia because it shows the rhetoric of this government, in relation to the commitments it made during the Native Title Bill debate, is not matched with its actions. If the rhetoric on a whole range of other issues—which I know are matters close to the hearts of people like Senator Chamarette and the Democrats—is not carried through, then the situation will become a total farce and the many promises that were made during that debate, and all of the negotiations leading up to the bill coming into this chamber, will show the hypocrisy of the government on this issue.

  It is worth noting, Mr President, that it was very hard for the government to establish a joint committee which, as you know from your own experience, is not a complicated thing. It involves a couple of quite standard notices coming into this place and put through the other place and the establishment of a secretariat. It is something that happens quite regularly, as Senator Evans knows.

  A far more complicated thing, of course, is the establishment of the tribunal itself. The reality is that the government has established the tribunal, it has set up its office in Perth and it has appointed the president, Justice French. It has done all of those things, but it is still not capable of establishing the joint committee. I think the government deserves to be condemned for its failure. It is thumbing its nose at the parliament. If it wants some goodwill for native title, it should not play games like this. But the government is showing that it is prepared to play games with it. The government should get its act in order.