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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 1713


Senator SCULLION (10:21 AM) —It is rare that you rise in this place to provide support for a piece of legislation that will actually provide clear equity, right a wrong and correct an injustice. I thought I would kick off by dealing with some of the contributions we have had today. I have to commend Senator Macdonald for his excellent contribution. Senator McLucas thinks this is some sort of a political stunt—more people will vote for us because we have gone through this process. She also said the notion of consent, of actually asking someone for written permission, which is in essence all that the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011 does, was all too difficult. The bill says:

The development or use of Aboriginal land in a wild river area cannot be regulated under the relevant Queensland legislation unless the owner agrees in writing.

It is as though consent is something that is such a mystery that we have never sought it out before; it just all too difficult. Of course, we know that is absolute bunkum. We know that the Queensland government that she is so keen to protect actually uses consent provisions in a number of their negotiations. It is our submission that this principle of consent be provided across the board in these negotiations.

I will come back to Senator Siewert’s contribution last. Senator Furner basically believes that somehow supporting my bill is going to stop the protection of rivers. He also went on to embark on this pretty weird story: ‘There are still things you are going to be able to do: catch a barramundi, shoot a pig or go and live in a tent for a couple of days. You know what? You are also going to be allowed to do cultural activities.’ Thanks a lot, Senator; that does not sound at all patronising! Thank you very much for codifying what they can do in their lives on their land. Thanks a lot. You do not have to wonder why they feel patronised when they hear that sort of input.

As for the number of people in Cape York who are against this, I have acknowledged David Claudie and a couple of others who have signified their opposition to this for a variety of reasons. I acknowledge and respect that. But Cape York people are represented by the Cape York Land Council and they had a unanimous vote that said, in effect, you should support this legislation. As for the laughable comments from Senator Furner that you really should go there, get on the ground and sit in the river, I am glad we did not take his advice. It is a very bad time of year to visit because there is lightning.

Senator Crossin now says that the Labor Party are going to honour their environmental and heritage obligations. That is terrific; that is fantastic to hear. Somehow apparently this legislation is going to overturn the rights of people in Cape York. I can tell you I had some difficulty putting that together, given that all it does is demand the right to and the dignity of consent. She went on to say that this is all very confusing and hard. We have got all sorts of different types of land. She went through the eight different types of land and it is almost like she was aghast at actually providing more consent to not only native title holders but the whole lot of Aboriginal people. That is exactly the intent. We should not embargo the provision of the right in this regard to one particular group. We should include all Aboriginal people, not just native title holders. I again indicate to the good senator, who will be pontificating on this in her position as chair of the legal and constitutional committee, that we also support this bill going back to the committee. I know it will be dealt with there and I am looking forward to their deliberations.

I do not think that the Wild Rivers Act 2005 was provided with any mischief. I do not think that the Queensland government said, ‘How can we take rights off people?’ That was not the case at all. In fact, this particular piece of legislation, as sometimes happens in this place, was not actually provided by the Queensland government; it was actually a function of the Wilderness Society. The Wilderness Society have obviously decided that they need this piece of legislation to either sell a brand or do whatever it is. They are pretty keen on this legislation. If you want any detail on this legislation, do not go to the Queensland government because I do not think they will be able to give you direct answers about what the motive was. The Wilderness Society will have every rag and detail of this and I will speak about their full involvement in a moment.

The Queensland legislation seemed pretty harmless on the face of it. It was passed in 2005 and was not completely opposed by those in the opposition. But according to many Aboriginal landowners in the area—they are the people on the ground being impacted and they should know—the wild rivers restrictions provide a huge impediment to sustainable development. Noel Pearson, who has been mentioned a couple of times before both favourably and otherwise, is somebody who I have a great deal of respect for. I respect his intellect and his thoughts on this process. He says that the bill before us today:

… enhances the land rights of the native titleholders of Cape York Peninsula and enables them to negotiate with the Queensland Government so that they provide free and informed consent to arrangements to protect the rivers of Cape York Peninsula …

I will just go back to some comments from Senator Siewert. I have left the best till last because, as I invariably do, I agree with you, Senator. I do not think that there should be any difference between the capacity to provide environmental protection and consent. I think they can coexist and that is why I call on you now to have another think about your position. I thought your contribution was excellent but it left me a bit disappointed at the end that you are not going to support the legislation. Consent is a provision that I am giving to these people. All you have to do is provide them with the option to consent. I think that can sit alongside the environmental protections that we have in the cape and it will re-empower the Cape York Land Council and all the people in the cape to go back to the negotiating table with the Queensland government to continue the good work that they were all doing to provide protection to those rivers.

The processes of the Queensland government are very interesting. They are saying, ‘We do not really want any consent,’ and I guess we understand why that is the case now. But on 6 August 2008 we completed 10 years of negotiations between the Lama Lama people—the mob around the Kulla National Park—and the Queensland state government. What we had at the end of the 10 years was an Indigenous land use agreement that was in effect created for Kulla National Park. That is 160,000 hectares of national park in the magnificent McIlwraith Range—a fantastic area with a great level of protection and access. It was done with the consent of the traditional owners of that land.

Interestingly, a similar area of land directly adjacent to the first—the other half, if you like, of the land that was available—was granted as Aboriginal land under the Queensland Land Act 1991 for Indigenous economic development. That is what it was specifically set aside for. We had just done an ILUA on the land. We had the remaining land set aside for economic development. Suddenly, with the ink hardly dry on the ILUA, they said, ‘By the way, on the remaining land we’re just going to give you a couple of wild rivers declarations, and we’re not even going to talk to you about it—you’re going to be told what’s happening to your land in this regard with this piece of legislation instead of us having to talk and maybe be a bit frustrated for 10 years because you have the right of consent under the other law.’ That was absolutely disgraceful.

I have visited Aurukun and spoken to many of the people in that area about the Aurukun wetlands. The Archer River Basin wild river declaration was gazetted on 3 April 2009. Traditional owners were absolutely astounded to find out after going through some consultation—which was rare on the wild rivers stuff, but actually happened in this case—that the Queensland government declared all of the Aurukun wetlands as part of it. That was not included in the process of consultation. It is a mystery as to why that happened. But the freedom of information material later revealed that the wetlands that were not consulted on or talked about were included on the basis of a submission from our old mates the Wilderness Society. In the same way as the Greens are shackled to this government, with this government being dragged around by the Greens, the Queensland government are in complete thrall in this matter to the Wilderness Society. Outside of the process, with no respect given to Indigenous people, it is: ‘Oh, by the way: can you just stick this in there? I know we haven’t told the owners about it, but we think it’d be a nice colour to have on the map.’ It is an absolute outrage. Support for this legislation today will right that wrong.

Imagine a non-Indigenous land owner in a similar circumstance, and the government says, ‘We’re consulting with you, because we’re going to build something horrible on your land,’ whatever that may be. And then when it is over, when they arrive to do something it is completely different from what was talked about. The world would be outraged. We should not be less outraged today about what has happened to the people of Aurukun under this legislation.

We have spoken today about the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous people. It outlines the right of free, prior and informed consent to policies affecting them. That was mentioned earlier today. It is at the heart of this protection. It was endorsed by the federal government—by this government—on 3 April 2009. Ironically, that was the very same day that the Queensland Premier announced the declaration of the Cape York wild rivers and in so doing contravened those very same principles that her federal counterpart endorsed. So here is an opportunity today to right another wrong and for those on the other side to support this legislation and fix that. Who knows? Anna Bligh might have had another bad hair day. But this is an opportunity to put a wrong right. Do not let this opportunity go.

It would have been a little fairer if the Queensland government had before the election talked about the declarations of the Archer, the Lockhart and the Stewart and told Indigenous voters that that is what they were going to do. But they did not. They were silent. Immediately after the election, declarations rolled out. So they must have known that they would have been greeted glumly.

Let us be very clear about the position of the Queensland government, the Australian Greens—I hope that you change your mind, Senator Siewert—and the Wilderness Society particularly. They all have comments on the record which substantiate what I am about to say. Their position is that somehow, as a part of Aboriginal land conservation, we should not only conserve the land but them, too. Their position is that Aboriginal people should be frozen in time, perhaps standing on one leg, so that when the tourists come and see the wonderful biodiversity the Aboriginal people are part of it. They want to make sure that Aboriginal people do not have the same opportunities as others. The Wilderness Society would say, ‘We have saved this area.’ I am not sure what from, but they say that they have saved this area.

I remind all those in this place that the land is in a pristine condition. And it will remain in that pristine condition, not because of the Wilderness Society or the Labor Party or the Queensland government but because of the fantastic work of Aboriginals in that area since colonisation. They were the ones who kept this land pristine. It is a slap in the face for those people from Cape York to say, ‘Oh, they’re all going to go and build some massive dams,’ or one of these other weird fantasies that have been thrown up.

It is very unfortunate that Anna Bligh has not taken the opportunity to amend her own legislation to protect the rights of her own constituency. I am not sure when they put the legislation through if they countenanced what was going to happen because of it. She has had that opportunity, though. We have called on her to change that legislation. She has not. That disappoints me. But there is still an opportunity. By supporting this legislation in this place, you will be restoring the right that so many of us take for granted: simply, the right to consent to changes being made on your land; to consent to changes about the use of your land.

I believe the Prime Minister when she says that she is very serious about empowering Aboriginal Australians. In the paper today, I note that it says that she is going to Alice Springs. I hope that she takes the opportunity to go with my leader to send a signal to Australia that this is important enough for bipartisanship. I would also like the Prime Minister to understand that supporting this legislation is absolutely essential to ensure that we are sending a signal to all Australians that we are fair dinkum about giving Aboriginal people the same access and equity that non-Aboriginal people enjoy. Throw away the shackles of the green movement ; throw away the shackles of the Wilderness Society and stand up for Australians, and particularly stand up for our First Australians.

As an amendment to the government’s second reading amendment, I move:

After “10 May 2011”, add “and that in conducting its inquiry, the committee should only inquire into those provisions of the bill which have not been previously examined by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee in its inquiry and report into the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 [No.2]”.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Boyce)—The question is that Senator Scullion’s amendment on sheet 9066, amending the government amendment, be agreed to.

Question agreed to.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The question is that the government amendment, as amended, be agreed to.

Question agreed to.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The question now is that the motion for the second reading of the bill, as amended, be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.