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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1330

Senator CAMPBELL (5.27 p.m.) —I want to make some comments about the tabling of this declaration under section 9 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act. Unlike Senator Coulter and my friend and colleague Senator Teague, I have not been to Goolwa during daylight hours. Senator Teague has just drawn me a map of where it is, and I do remember sailing past there in December 1975 in about a 30-knot northerly—Adelaide gets those winds at that time of year; it is a terribly disgusting sort of wind—at about three o'clock in the morning with a three-quarter ounce star-cut spinnaker up and having a tremendous sail down through Backstairs Passage. That is my last experience of Goolwa.

Senator Teague —It would have been near the Murray mouth—Goolwa being a little inland.

Senator CAMPBELL —I hope that, some nearly 20 years later, I am able to visit Goolwa on Friday if I can possibly make it there to the public meeting. This is a very important issue that has been raised here. Taking away the local dispute between the people who are fighting about the environment and the people who are fighting about the Aboriginal heritage aspects to it, the real issue of principle, particularly here in the Senate, is the power of this federal Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Mr Tickner) to issue this declaration and the secrecy surrounding a lot of it that Senator Teague has already raised.  What we need to look at here in the short contribution I make is the dangerous parallel with section 40 subsections (2) to (4) of the Native Title Act, where again the minister has a very similar power to overrule state tribunals and also the National Native Title Tribunal.

  Under this Labor government in Australia we are getting to the stage where, if we want to build a thunderbox in the backyard, it is actually more sensible to write to the federal Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs first. In the last few months this minister has issued declarations under section 9 on no less than four occasions. On 12 May he issued the declaration we are debating this afternoon, the one to stop the construction of a multimillion dollar bridge. On 31 March he issued a declaration regarding Boobera Lagoon in New South Wales.

  Those of us from Western Australia know very well about the declaration to stop digging to build some ponds for crocodiles to live in up on Malcolm Douglas's crocodile farm at Broome. The minister issued no less than two declarations there. With the first 30-day application nothing happened, but Malcolm Douglas's operations virtually disintegrated. He then issued another 30-day declaration and finally appointed our former colleague Fred Chaney to mediate. Fred Chaney brought down a private report to the minister—we have yet to see that report—telling the minister that it should not go ahead. The minister then issued a declaration for five years—not a permanent declaration, a declaration for five years to stop development going ahead.

  So Mr Douglas has 40 acres or thereabouts up in Broome with a declaration imposed by a federal minister sitting here in Canberra. I am not sure whether the minister has even been to Broome. Malcolm Douglas is sitting there on the land but he cannot dig it up, he cannot chop down a tree or do anything on the land. I am sure he still has to pay the local rates and taxes; I am sure he has to pay everything else. I am sure he has received no compensation from the federal government following this order from the federal minister supported by the one-man Chaney tribunal that takes evidence in secret, that does not keep transcripts—

Senator Coulter —Don't tell me Fred Chaney was wrong.

Senator CAMPBELL —I cannot tell Senator Coulter whether Mr Chaney is wrong or not. I have not seen the report; I do not know to whom he spoke; it is all a secret. I have to trust the minister of the Crown who made this declaration. But I can tell Senator Coulter what is wrong: it is wrong that there is a minister sitting here in Canberra telling a bloke in Western Australia—or in South Australia or Boobera Lake or up on the Todd River in Senator Collins's electorate—that he cannot do something. It is a one-man tribunal. The decision can be appealed, but it is a one-man tribunal. As I said, if we want to build a thunderbox in the backyard in Australia, it is now better to come to Canberra and put the application to Mr Tickner first.

  A person should get approval from the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs first and then go to his local council and then the state government. A person should not go through all the normal proposals; he should not get an environmental assessment done; and he should not go to the Aboriginal heritage systems in whichever state he is operating. It is when he moves in with his bulldozers that Mr Tickner turns up. It does not matter whether it is at Boobera Lagoon in New South Wales, whether one wants to build a dam on the Todd River, whether one wants to build a bridge down at Goolwa or whether one wants to build a crocodile farm up at Broome: as soon as the bulldozer turns up Mr Tickner will be there a couple of minutes later. After the finance is in place, after the work force is in place, after all the state and local approvals are in place, Mr Tickner turns up. That is the principle that stinks about this.

  The other principle that is very wrong about having a bloke sitting here in Canberra deciding what people will do with their land in the states is the very dangerous parallel we have with the Native Title Act which passed through this chamber back in December last year. Last Friday we heard—and I see the chairman of the joint native title committee, my colleague Senator Chris Evans from Western Australia in the chamber today—that for approvals that are required to go through the National Native Title Tribunal the process can take between one and two years, and sometimes longer. It was not disputed by any of the people who gave evidence last Friday at the private hearings of the joint native title committee of this parliament that it can sometimes take two to three years.

  Having been through that process, having spent who knows how much money getting approvals firstly through the local authority, the state government and then through the National Native Title Tribunal, and any courts one may have to go through in the process, section 42 of the Native Title Act then says that the federal minister can overrule the tribunal. So it can take two or three years of approvals—all the approvals one has to get, all the approvals Malcolm Douglas up in Broome had to get, all the approvals for the bridge at Goolwa, all the approvals in the other two instances where Mr Tickner engaged himself—but under the Native Title Act the minister can do the same thing, and he has absolute discretion to do so within two months of the tribunal making a ruling.

  Regardless of all the decisions that have been made and regardless of the setting up of the tribunal, in the end one man or woman, whoever it happens to be—actually, Gary Johns is the minister responsible for this act—can overrule the National Native Title Tribunal's decision to ensure that that development goes ahead. If the people who are parties to the decision of the National Native Title Tribunal are not happy with the outcome—if it is a developer who happens to be a mate of the Labor Party when the tribunal has ruled in favour of the Aboriginal people in question—the developer who is a mate of the Labor Party can go to Gary Johns and say, `Johnsy, mate, we looked after you in the last election; can you look after us with this decision.' The minister has the power to overrule the National Native Title Tribunal's decision.

  Equally, if an Aboriginal land council or group of Aboriginal activists, party to a decision before the tribunal, goes to the minister after two or three years of the approval process having been followed through, and if that group has the ear of the minister, then that group can get the minister to overturn the decision. Why would people even bother entering the approvals process? Why bother coming up with an idea to develop a piece of Australia if all those convoluted, confusing, expensive, unworkable processes can be gone through but, at the very end of it, it is still in the hands of the federal minister who, in the case of Western Australians, lives 3,000 miles away? In the case of Broome, it is more like 4,000 miles away.

Senator Crane —Worse than that, he hasn't got a clue.

Senator CAMPBELL —As my friend and colleague Senator Crane says, the minister does not have a clue. As Senator Teague and Senator Coulter said, there are some very genuine concerns that all Australians share with regard to protecting Aboriginal heritage. But the reality is that Aboriginal people lived, worshipped and went through all their activities across the whole of Australia. If some of the anti-development Aboriginal activists had their way, nowhere would there be development in Australia. Aborigines, like most of the Australian population, generally lived on the coast because they had access to fresh water, higher rainfall and better vegetation. A hell of a lot of the Aboriginal population lived in coastal regions. They were not silly: just like most Australians they lived on the coast where it is cooler and there are better living conditions.

  Those of us who have taken an interest in Aboriginal affairs, as I have—I am the secretary of the coalition's Aboriginal affairs backbench committee—understand that if one wants to stop development anywhere on the coast it is not hard to find where Aborigines lived. There is a difference between places where Aborigines had living sites, burial sites and places of worship, and it is absolutely crucial that there be a sensible balance between the preservation of Aboriginal heritage, the preservation of environmental values on our coast and the development of our coast. If we are to say that we cannot build a hut, bridge, resort of marina wherever an Aborigine lived at any time in the last 2,000 years, then we will not develop the coast.

  We have to suspect that some people who go off to Mr Tickner every time a bulldozer turns up on the coast and say, `Issue me a section 9 declaration,' really have as their motivation the stopping of all development on the coast of Australia. If that is their motivation, they should stand up and say so. There is evidence of Aboriginal living sites, burial sites and sacred sites right around the coast of Australia—from Cape York, right around the bottom, around Cape Leeuwin, right up the other side to Broome and right across the north. Aborigines have enjoyed living on the coast for thousands of years, and we should respect that. But when we are considering the development of the Australian coast, we have to strike a balance between respect for their heritage, respect for their former living and burial sites and the development of the Australian coastline.

  Mr Acting Deputy President, I have to say that if we continue to pass laws through this parliament such as the Aboriginal heritage act that gives one man the power to stop development in the way that this minister has done on four occasions over the last couple of months—and that is now enshrined in section 42 of the Native Title Act which gives power to the Special Minister of State to do exactly the same thing under the Native Title Act—not only will this nation come to a grinding halt as far as development goes, but we will also create an enormous amount of racial tension between Aboriginal Australians and Australians of European descent.

  If we get resentment building up because we have a government here in Canberra using so-called Aboriginal heritage to stop development and stop jobs around Australia, we will create racial tension in Australia, which nobody wants. There will be radicals on both sides of the political spectrum who will operate to try to create that tension for their own vested political points of view. That is something that none of us wants to see in Australia, and that is the road down which this government is taking us with these sorts of interventions and with its Native Title Act.

  It is a very dangerous course that this government has embarked upon. Not only will it halt development, not only will it create a disintegration of the Australian Federation, but it will also divide Australia on racial grounds. That is something which should be resisted and is something which the minister should think very carefully about before he issues more of these declarations.