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Wednesday, 17 November 1976


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles (ANGAS, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -There is no substance in the point of order. I think that that has been already covered.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) does not seem to appreciate the fact that the Opposition is just as entitled to respond to this new package of propositions in the second reading debate as it is at the Committee stage of the debate. The tradition of this Parliament in respect of anything of significance is to give oppositions and the community at large at least a week's notice. That has not occurred in respect of these matters which are to be the subject of 42 amendments. Clearly it ought to be conceded that the Aboriginal people who are hearing this for the first time today, as the Opposition has heard it for the first time today, are entitled to gather together and to organise some response. I am not going to labour this point endlessly but obviously this is a very unsatisfactory way of handling very important legislation. With 42 amendments sprung on the Parliament this day there is not one page of explanatory notes provided. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs would acknowledge that integrating this legislation is a most complex process. One would need a battery of Queen 's Counsel to set about it in an effective way during the course of this day.

At least I am pleased to have the assurance that there will be adequate time to formulate amendments. I certainly hope that the time provided to debate the amendments will also prove to be adequate because many honourable members on this side of the Committee will want to speak about them. The Minister today has drawn attention to very dramatic changes in the legislation, the abrogation by this Parliament in many respects of very important issues and the transfer of responsibility for those issues to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory; matters to which the Aboriginal people, in their organisations around Australia, have already expressed very strong opposition. We have had vague assurances about what the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann) will do to put the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs into the picture about these things. We have been told about how the Legislative Assembly will cooperate and all the rest, but this sounds very vague and unless it is incorporated in this legislation it does not seem very meaningful to me.

I doubt whether I will have time today to talk about the Aboriginal Councils and Associations Bill although I would like to do so because I was the Minister who first introduced such legislation into this Parliament. I doubt whether I will have time to talk about the States Grants (Aboriginal Assistance) Bill and I would like to do so since I was the first Minister to introduce a Bill into the House which contains the concept now contained in that legislation. I will have to content myself with making some remarks about the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill. On 16 October last year on behalf of the Whitlam Government, I introduced into this House a Bill with the same title as that before the House today. On that occasion I said:

In the field of Aboriginal Affairs, this is undoubtedly the most important legislation ever to be introduced into the Australian Parliament.

For most urgent and vastly different reasons this Bill is equally important to the Aboriginal people. In form the Bill introduced by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on 4 June this year loosely follows the Bill I introduced 12 months ago. In substance, however, this Bill radically alters the aims of the 1975 Bill and substantially modifies the recommendations and intentions of Mr Justice Woodward whose reports formed the basis of the Labor Government's Bill.

The establishment of the Woodward Royal Commission and the consequent introduction in 1975 of the Aboriginal Land (Northern Territory) Bill was a direct result of the 1972 commitment by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) that a Labor Government would legislate to give Aboriginals land rights, 'not just because their case is beyond argument, but because all of us as Australians are demeaned while the

Aboriginal people are denied their rightful place in this nation'. Those were the comments of the Leader of the Opposition in 1972. That pledge came after 23 years of neglect of the Aboriginal people by the Liberal-Country Party coalition and in particular their outspoken claims for land rights. A further indication of the morale and standing of the Aboriginal people in Australia was given by the Senate on 20 February last year when it carried a motion moved by Australia's first Aboriginal parliamentary representative, Senator Bonner. That motion was:

That the Senate accepts the fact that the indigenous people of Australia, now known as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, were in possession of this entire nation prior to the 1 788 First Fleet landing at Botany Bay . . .

That motion was accepted by all parties in the Parliament, including the National Country Party, despite the misgivings and disquiet it aroused from the National Country Party's colleagues in the Northern Territory.

The legislation we are debating today represents a cynical sellout to the National Country Party and other vested interests in the Northern Territory. It represents yet another nail in the coffin of Aboriginal self-determination, yet another inspired step back in Aboriginal affairs by the Liberal and National Country parties. This legislation, if passed without substantial amendment, will be a tangible indictment of this Parliament and, in particular, this Government for its failure to respond to the needs and aspirations of the indigenous people of Australia living in the Northern Territory. The Bill before the House has so vastly changed the intentions of the Bill I introduced last year that many Aboriginal organisations have contemplated opposing the Bill in its entirety. The Opposition, however, with the support of large numbers of interested parties, including the Australian Council of Churches, the Northern and Central Land Councils of the Northern Territory and vast numbers of Aboriginal groups and communities will not oppose it. Despite the Government's proposed intention to patch up this legislation at the Committee stage, and that was what the statement by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs today was all about, the Opposition intends to move a substantial number of amendments. It is hoped that the Government will see fit to accept these amendments in the spirit in which they will be movedthat of representing to the people and, in particular, the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory a bipartisan policy on land rights.

The history of Aboriginal, claims for land in this Parliament goes back over a number of years. However, let me take as my starting point the claim made in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory in the case of Millirrpum v. Nabalco and the Commonwealth in 1968, which is known as the Gove land rights case. In that case, Mr Justice Blackburn, speaking on the question of land and in relation to the Aboriginal people, said:

The fundamental truth about the Aboriginals' relationship to the land ... is that whatever else it is . . . it is a religious relationship. There is an unquestioned scheme of things in which the Spirit Ancestors, the people of the clan, particular land, and everything that exists on and in it are organic parts of one indissoluble whole . . .

Mr JusticeBlackburn went on to discuss the doctrine of 'communal native title', the central question in the Gove land case. The basis of the Aboriginal claim was that their predecessors laid claim in 1 788 when the subject land became part of New South Wales to those parts of the subject land then before the court and claimed by Nabalco and the Commonwealth. The court rejected the Aboriginal claim that the Aboriginal social and economic system was such that the territory acquired by the Crown in 1788 was a conquered rather than a settled or occupied territory. From this central point Mr Justice Blackburn held that the Aboriginal parliament, through the Imperial Parliament of Great Britain, could exercise power over the whole of the Commonwealth and in particular that land claimed before the court. In the interim report of the commission established to investigate how land rights could be granted statutorily, Mr Justice Woodward, who was a counsel in the Gove land rights case, pointed out that the Aboriginal concepts related to land owning have no parallel in European law. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard an extract from the first report of Mr Justice Woodward on Aboriginal land rights, entitled Aborigines and Their Land.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - (Mr Giles) - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

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