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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 317


Senator TAMBLING (12.48 p.m.) —I am also pleased to support this legislation, but I would like to take the opportunity to address a number of issues that arise from it. The principle of this bill has been agreed upon by all parties, especially the Northern Territory government.

  If we look generally at the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, it is very obvious that this act is now the odd one out in Australia. The rest of the country has the Native Title Act applying, whereas in the Northern Territory there are now two Aboriginal land regimes. Of course, this raises confusion about which law applies. We have heard the rumour that the Commonwealth will legislate to make the Aboriginal land rights act paramount. That may not be what some Aboriginal groups want, of course. It will reinforce the land councils' power base in the Northern Territory, and that raises some very important issues.

  This matter has recently been addressed by a solicitor in the Northern Territory, who has looked at the consistencies and inconsistencies and problems that arise between the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 1994 and the recently passed Native Title Act. I refer very specifically to the paper and the work done by Mr Peter Walker of Ward Keller, solicitors in Darwin. I have passed to the Minister for Family Services (Senator Crowley), who is at the table, a copy of this paper. I seek leave of the Senate to table that document.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Calvert)—Is leave granted?


Senator Crowley —I thank the honourable senator for passing it to me. I seek the tolerance of the Senate until the end of his speech to be able to check that.


Senator TAMBLING —I thank the minister. The Northern Territory government remains concerned at matters that create difficulty with land administration as well as being inconsistent with the Native Title Act, and I would like to refer to a number of matters in this regard. The first relates to the veto on mining exploration, the right of consent. The second relates to the compulsory acquisition powers for essential services—for example, where acquisition is less than freehold, where it could be for named purposes only, where land councils peddle the line that the Northern Territory government would resume large areas for no particular purpose. Thirdly, the application of Northern Territory laws needs clarification—for example, on erosion control, stock diseases and quarantine, bushfire provisions and fencing laws.

  The fourth matter relates to the ability to claim public facilities—for example, research farms and cattle yards, as well as land set aside for public purposes such as quarantine reserves. Fifthly, public rights of access are removed when land is converted—for example, rivers and beaches. The Nhulunbuy residents in the Northern Territory must pay $60 per annum to go to the beach in that area. Finally, there are others matters such as the conversion of pastoral leases. The Aboriginal Benefits Trust Account at its last meeting agreed to seek the consent of the minister to apply the full amount of its reserves, $20 million, to the purchase and conversion of Northern Territory pastoral leases. I will come back to that issue towards the end of my comments.

  I have been pleased to note that the Northern Territory government announced some time ago that it would try to settle outstanding land claims by negotiation. This bill is the result of one such negotiation. It reminds us that the original interpretations of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act did not envisage repeat claims—that is, the refusal to accept the umpire's decision so that large tracts of the Northern Territory are frozen from land administration even after the land commissioner has found that a claim is not supportable. However, repeat claims are now the law and, despite hardship to individuals affected—and there have been a number of them in the Northern Territory—and government difficulty with administration, the Northern Territory government is doing its best to resolve as many as possible. I am pleased to note that in the context of this bill.

  A report on the economic effects of land rights in the Northern Territory was brought down in December 1993 by the Centre for International Economics. That paper addressed a whole range of issues. Perhaps I should summarise the contents of that document in relation to mining and exploration that are crucial to the economy; how Mabo could affect exploration and mining; the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act; the effects of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act with regard to prospectivity and exploration; and an estimate of the effects of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act on the Northern Territory economy. The report set out in detail an economic model of the effect of increased mineral production; the lost income in the past; and the effects that could possibly arise in the future. I commend a study of that report by the Centre for International Economics to anybody vitally interested in this area.

  I should also refer to the expectations and representations of a number of Aboriginal people with regard to any changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. Back in late January of this year, there was a very disconcerting report in the Northern Territory media when Mr Darryl Pearce, the Director of the Northern Land Council, said that Australia may face a situation like Bougainville. He said that Aborigines would use the social justice package negotiations to lobby either for changes to the native title legislation or for the package to somehow address the matter. We all know that the negotiations on the social justice package have been deferred by the government to next year. At that time Mr Pearce also said, `Civil unrest is inevitable if people are denied rights.' I find that totally unacceptable. There is a veiled threat there of a connection with Bougainville. It is totally unacceptable. It was provocative and unnecessary. I hope part of the negotiation on legislation such as this will prove that, by negotiation, issues can be addressed.

  Similarly, the Australian Labor Party in the Northern Territory is taking a very ironic and rather equivocal position at the moment. In today's Northern Territory News an article appeared under the heading `Ede: We'll change Land Rights Act'. Ede is the leader of the opposition in the Northern Territory. The first few paragraphs of that report read:

  Territory Opposition Leader Brian Ede said yesterday a Labor government in the NT would move to change the Land Rights Act.

  He said the changes would `take the prescriptive measures', or excessive red tape, out of the mining provisions in the Act.

  Mr Ede was speaking at yesterday's ALP mines and energy policy launch.

That is a very important statement, and it is rather ironic because several weeks ago the Labor Party in the Northern Territory also released the territory Labor strategy for Aboriginal territorians. Again I seek to table this document. I have passed a copy to the minister; I hope by the end of my speech she will have been able to agree to the incorporation of that document also. Contained in the Northern Territory Labor Party commitment are two very interesting issues. They state:

  Pursue amendments to the Northern Territory Land Rights Act including Part IV (the mining section) that will result in a substantial freeing up of the overly bureaucratic regulations affecting mining.

  Pursue amendments to the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act to allow long-term leasing of land which will allow acquisition of land for public and commercial purposes.

If that is the Labor Party policy and it has been known for quite some time, why is it not incorporated in this bill? Why has the Labor Party not chosen to present as part of this legislation what is obviously the gospel of the Labor Party—good, commonsense provisions, picking up issues for which the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory has been arguing for some time?

  It appears to me that the ALP in the Northern Territory is copycatting—and I am pleased to say it is copycatting—those provisions that are acceptable to the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory. But Mr Ede has not been able to convince his colleagues in this chamber, in this parliament, in the federal Labor Party. Why is Mr Tickner not proposing that as part of the amendments to this legislation?

  This bill passed through the House of Representatives on 3 May, and I wish to refer particularly to the speech in that place by Mr Warren Snowdon, the federal Labor Party member for the Northern Territory. Parts of that speech show the paranoia Mr Snowdon has concerning this issue and the extremism of the agenda of the left wing of the Labor Party when it comes to land rights. A lot of what is reflected in Mr Snowdon's speech is not in the interests of all territorians whom he represents, and certainly is not in the interests of all territorian Aborigines whom he represents; rather, it is in the interests of that clique of Aboriginal powerbrokers who obviously have a lot of sway over Mr Tickner, Mr Snowdon and a number of others. Mr Snowdon was having a shot at me when he said:

In the campaigns which have been waged successfully over the years by the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party, the partners in crime to the National Party of Australia, principally, and to the Liberal Party of Australia—and to the CLP senator from the Northern Territory who sits with the National Party in the Senate—they have consistently waged what often have been overtly racist campaigns against the interests and rights of Aboriginal people as they have been expounded under the Northern Territory land rights act.

I totally reject that statement. It is very interesting to note that Mr Snowdon does not cite any particular example to back up his fundamentally wrong statement. It is always easy to utter throwaway lines, to `presume' and to talk about interests and rights.

  I make no apology whatsoever for exposing those examples of nepotism, corruption and mismanagement in the portfolio of Aboriginal affairs in this Senate, in the Senate estimates committee, in the media or anywhere else. I do that in the interests of my territory Aboriginal constituency, and I will continue to do it. I will say fundamentally that a crook is a crook is a crook, a black crook is no different from a white crook, and it is not racist to expose any crook at any particular time. A lot of those crooks, I have to say, are unfortunately too close to the Labor government in many parts.

  Further in his speech, Mr Snowdon took a swipe at the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory for standing up on many issues. I ask: who should speak out for all territorians, other than the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory? He has an obligation to speak for all territorians, including the 25 per cent of the constituency who happen to be Aboriginals. Because Mr Perron does speak out without fear or favour on issues such as this, he ought not to be castigated or criticised by some left wing member of the Labor Party who has a particular agenda on issues of indigenous rights. There is a very important principle here for all of Australia.

  It is interesting to note, again in today's media in the Northern Territory, that Mr Perron is quoted as raising a number of issues. Under the heading `Perron: Check Black land rush,' there is an article which says:

Chief Minister Marshall Perron urged the Federal Government yesterday to forestall what he called an Aboriginal land rush in the Territory under the proposed Mabo land acquisition fund.

In a letter to Prime Minister Paul Keating, Mr Perron said `an absolute minimum' of NT land should be bought using the fund because millions of dollars already had been spent buying land for NT Aborigines.

Mr Perron also said he was alarmed at information he had received showing NT land councils intended to spend $20 million from another source—mining royalty equivalents—to buy up pastoral properties.

That is the very same issue that I have been talking about in this chamber and in the estimates committee throughout 1993. I refer very specifically to the Aboriginal Benefits Trust account, which accumulates the mining royalty equivalents—the proper property of Aboriginal people. Last year two reports to ATSIC by the professional firm of Walter and Turnbull were tabled in the Senate, and they exposed a great deal of mismanagement of $20 or $30 million of funds. That money was the property of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and was misused under the regime of a couple of people on an advisory committee to the Aboriginal Benefits Trust.

  Those Walter and Turnbull reports very specifically made a number of recommendations with regard to the maintenance of that fund and the important capital component of it. Yet we now get the suggestions coming forward that the remaining $20 million ought to be corrupted further. Obviously one way to do it is to get rid of the fund entirely by purchasing properties. I would find that to be a criminal action, and I say that unequivocally. If the government and the minister accede to that, they will not be looking after the interests of all territory Aborigines.

  This raises very serious issues. Arising from the Walter and Turnbull reports last year was the subsequent report to the parliament by the Auditor-General in December of last year which addressed the administration of the Northern Land Council. That report found it necessary to make some 52 recommendations for change in the land council administration. Yet we see now another backdoor deal being done by the Minister, Mr Tickner. It is not surprising, therefore, that my colleague the shadow minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, Mr Peter Nugent, made a statement earlier this week as to why we in the coalition have taken a principled position on why a land fund is not necessary. It is a very important issue, and it raises very serious matters.

  I stress again that what is being proposed by the government is not in the interests of Aboriginal people throughout Australia. If anyone likes to go back and look very carefully through all the details of the Walter and Turnbull reports and the Auditor-General's report of last year—and I would invite the media to go through them—they would see the potential for problems to arise with the development of a specific land acquisition fund.

  This bill before us today does deserve support and I am pleased to indicate that we are supporting it. It raises a whole range of issues that are very fundamental. I would again refer the Senate to the paper by Peter Walker, which I trust the minister will approve me tabling in this parliament. I would also commend for reference the ALP Northern Territory policy statement on Aborigines. Both of these must be carefully studied in the context of any amendments to the Aboriginal land rights act. This is a welcome amendment, but a lot of others that were promised by Mr Holding, Mr Hand and Mr Tickner have not surfaced. A series of other amendments that have been promised in recent years did not surface with this. The Labor Party has not honoured its commitment in its new platform in the Northern Territory to bring in issues that its members are out touting in the media but do not have the courage to bring in here and add to this legislation. The government should have taken the opportunity to straighten out its own mess.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Calvert)—Senator Tambling, do you intend these two documents to be tabled or incorporated?


Senator TAMBLING —I asked permission earlier for them to be tabled.

  Leave granted.