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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 540

Senator McKIERNAN (8.18 p.m.) —I was a bit surprised when I heard Senator Ellison rise to speak on this question. I did not know it was going to come up. I had not heard it flagged anywhere that we were going to be entering into a debate on this matter.

Senator Campbell —It is on the red.

Senator McKIERNAN —Perhaps Senator Campbell might help me and tell me where it is on the red.

Senator Campbell —Documents tabled by the clerk.

Senator McKIERNAN —Tabling of documents by the clerk is at point 11(c) on page 3 of the red, but it does not tell me what it is, unfortunately.

Senator Campbell —The list was circulated at question time.

Senator McKIERNAN —I did not know. I probably should have known yesterday in order to get the papers that I have collected on this matter brought over from my electorate office in Perth. The matter has been previously raised in the chamber. It is a matter of importance for Western Australia and for the people of Western Australia, irrespective of the colour of their skins. So I would have liked to have been better prepared to take part in the debate.

  Whilst listening to Senator Ellison, my mind went back to some of the more recent events in the matter that is the subject of this debate. Probably one of the reasons why I was not prepared for an ongoing debate on this matter is that my recall—I think it was a front page story in the West Australian newspaper—was that Mr Douglas was featured saying that he was going to close the crocodile farm and was locking the gates. I recall also that on one of the television channels—I cannot remember which one it was—Mr Douglas repeated the same story. I may be corrected on this because I am relying on my memory and I am not as young as I used to be, but I recall that this event happened possibly a day or two before the presentation of the report by Mr Fred Chaney who had been commissioned by the minister to investigate the sacredness of the sites that the Aboriginal people had claimed were in the area and could be infringed upon by the expansion of Mr Douglas's enterprise in Broome. I thought that the timing was somewhat unusual. If I am correct and it was only a matter of 24 hours before the closure and the presentation of Mr Chaney's report, then there is something rather odd about the matter and there was quite a deal of foresight in it.

  I remember part of the content of Mr Chaney's report. As I recall it—and please do forgive me because I am only dealing from memory—Mr Chaney's investigations had recognised that there were some sites that were very significant to the Aboriginal people in the area. If that is the case, the comments that have been made in this debate about the laws of this country applying to each and every one of us apply here.

  If Mr Chaney's report is correct and there are sites of great significance to local Aboriginal people in that area that could be impinged upon by development, I think the courts of Australia, if that is where this matter is going to be finally decided, will have to take that into consideration. I would hope that the Federal Court—

Senator Ellison —Which court?

Senator McKIERNAN —I think Senator Ellison said the Federal Court. It is a very serious issue not only for Mr Douglas, the Aboriginal people in Broome, the other residents of Broome, and the people of Western Australia, but it is a very significant event for all Australian people at this time in our historical development. It is less than six months ago that we passed the native title bill in this place in the early hours of 23 December. In this evening's budget there are some very significant measures that will redress in some way some of the wrongs that have been done to the native people of this land.

  I hope that when the matter reaches the Federal Court it will be widely debated there and the court will give a judgment that will not be influenced by the comments made in this chamber or any other place but on the points of law. I hope that the court will also take into consideration the laws of the Aboriginal people. I apologise to the chamber that I was not better prepared for this debate. As I said, I did not know the debate was coming on. An investigation has shown where it appears on the red, and I thank the Senate Table Office for sending over the document which fully informs the Senate where this matter is being debated. There is no mention of the town of Broome, a crocodile farm or Mr Douglas. One would have to be really looking for it to pick it up. I apologise for the fact that I did not pick it up earlier.