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Wednesday, 17 November 1976


Mr WALLIS (Grey) - I want to concentrate on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill. Firstly, I would like to support the criticism of some of my colleagues of the fact that, although this Bill was introduced on 4

June of this year, 42 -amendments to it were foreshadowed this morning. Although the Government has said that it will adjourn the committee stage of the debate on this Bill until we come back the week after next after the recess it is a fact that if these amendments had been known to members of the Opposition earlier they could have influenced their attitudes.

I agree with most of the honourable members who have spoken today that this is probably one of the most important Bills to come into this House for quite some time. It is certainly the most important Bill to come into this House concerning the Aboriginal people of Australia. Although the Labor Government introduced last year a Bill along similar lines concerning land rights- I feel it went a lot further- this BUI will have far-reaching effects. All we can hope is that if we are in a position to improve the Bill- we of the Opposition feel that we can make a contribution to improving it- our contributions will be accepted. It will be a big step forward.

We have to go back in time to realise what a debt we owe to the Aboriginal people and what a black past we have given them. All of thentroubles started from the day that Governor Phillip landed at Port Jackson, planted a flag and claimed the country in the name of King George III. The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) said today that he was a radical. I saw an interesting program on This Day Tonight last week in which a couple of Australian Aborigines were shown landing at Dover in the English Channel and planting the Aboriginal flag. Unfortunately their boat was swamped just before they reached shore. Still they managed to get ashore and plant the Aboriginal flag. In doing so they claimed England. In a symbolic gesture they went round handing out beads to the bystanders. I think that is what happened in the first place in Australia. Of course, the position was reversed on this occasion.

From the time of the landing of Europeans in Australia the position of the Aboriginal people has steadily deteriorated. I am sure that we are all in agreement that our past in this respect is not one of which we can be very proud. For many years absolutely nothing was done for the Aborigines. Those people who were showing concern for what was happening to the Aboriginal people were voices m the wilderness. Certainly not a great deal of notice was taken of them. As a race we have not even had the decency to record the history of the Aborigines. If we look at the position of other indigenous people we will find that at least the history of how they have been decimated and so forth has been recorded. But we have not had the decency to do even that. I am sure that those who have read the books written by Professor Rowley will remember that he made mention of how we have taken the Aborigines out of our history books. That is a fact. There was a segment during a news program tonight about what some educationists have had to say about our attitude to Aborigines in our education system.

It has been claimed that if it had not been for the Aborigines during the early days when the white man was hugging the coast of Australia the white man never would have left the coast. They were able to assist the explorers. Many times they did so against their will. The early settlers who broke out from the coast did so mainly with the assistance of Aborigines. Many of them took Aboriginal women as their wives or companions. The early settlers relied upon the Aborigines to find water holes and so forth. Sometimes that was done voluntarily and sometimes it was done involuntarily. The degradation of the Aborigines has continued right through to the present.

As I have said, we have not even recorded some of the things that we have done to them, including the massacres that have taken place. These events have been recorded in other countries, but they have not been recorded in Australia. It has been claimed that in the early days of the settlement of the Eyre Peninsula, which is in my electorate, when the Aboriginal people were defending their rights and standing up to the settlers, the settlers had a big drive on horseback and drove a large group of Aborigines towards the cliffs and forced them over. This is denied by many people in the area, but some of the older people in the area say that it is quite a true story. A few years ago an Aboriginal group in Adealide wished to erect a monument at that place. The local council had reservations about the matter because it had no proof that that had actually taken place. But elderly people have assured me that it did take place.

The Aborigines have been subjected to all the prejudice and hatred that the white man can muster. Of course, it has meant that they have lived in a racist society. I think that many of us are racist. What did we do to their lifestyle? We pushed them into corners to such an extent that in many instances they became people who had had their tribal structures and their culture destroyed. It is only in the last few years that we have started to realise what we have done and tried to make amends for our actions in the past.

Most Australians know more about the American Indian than they do about their own indigenous people. I have always felt that it is interesting to make a comparison between the way the American Indian and the Australian Aboriginal have been treated. They are both indigenous people. Both races became the victims of the white man's expansion and so forth. The American Indian was possibly in a much better position to resist the encroachment of the white man than was the Australian Aboriginal. In the first place, following the landing of the Spaniards in America and the spreading of the horse, the Indian became mounted, which meant that he was more mobile. In most cases the American Indian lived in areas where there were a lot more rivers than there were in Australia. So again he was more mobile and there were more means of communication. The American Indian possibly had access to arms right from the time the Spaniards first landed on the American continent. Apart from that, the weapons they had were at a much more advanced stage than were the weapons of the Australian Aboriginal. The American Indian was to be found in larger tribal groupings and, because of the better communications, whenever his land was being encroached upon he was able to get larger groups together and to put some resistance. Despite that, he went under too.

However, the resistance was such that the United States Government at least recognised the Indians and found that at times it had to draw up treaties with them. Those treaties were wiped aside when it suited the white people of that country. Large reserves were given to the American Indians under treaties, but if gold was found in those areas or if they covered good pastoral land the treaties were tossed to one side and ignored. The American Plains Indians were pushed into a corner over a period of about 30 years. They were pushed into very small reserves which possibly contained the poorest country in the vicinity or were in areas where there was no game and in most cases no water. Although the Indians resisted, they were smashed. At least the Americans recorded their history, whereas we in Australia have not recorded the history of our Aborigines. The American Indians, despite their problems, had a few victories. Some of us know about General Custer and the battle at Little Big Horn.

We know what happened to the American Indians; so what chance did the Australian Aborigines have? The Australian Aborigines were not mounted and the weapons they had were much more primitive than those of the American Indians. The Aborigines' tribal structures were much smaller. They did not have the means of communication and the means of congregation so that they could put up some resistance. They went the same way as the American Indians. We chased them off tribal land and forced them into degradation, and we destroyed some of them. The Aborigines became a completely dispossessed people. The only recorded history we have of many of the things that took place is in their own history, in the stories that they can tell. I have been told that in the northern part of South Australia some of the older Aboriginal people can tell the story of Burke and Wills. That story has been handed down. They can tell about the tribe that looked after King after that tragic expedition. One can hear stories of Lasseter and his lost gold reef and so forth. This is the only history we have of them in many places.

While all this was going on, the concerned voices were in the wilderness. For many years the attitude of the white population was to assimilate the Aborigines into white society or to let them die out peacefully- and sometimes not quite so peacefully. Only in the last 25 years has there been any concern by the white population about what happened to our Aboriginal people. Possibly the watershed of that concern was the 1967 referendum which was carried throughout Australia by an exceptionally large vote and which the honourable member for Wills mentioned earlier- a vote in excess of 90 per cent. The Australian people voted overwhelmingly to allow the Federal Parliament to legislate for our Aboriginal people. From that time on the Federal Government has had much greater involvement. Even our predecessors, the LiberalCountry Party Government, started a scheme to assist Aboriginal people. The result was that more finance was made available to the States and things took a little turn. However, with the dispossession that had taken place, the matter of land rights for Aborigines became of great importance. This was something which had not been considered before. Following that we saw some court cases. There was one in the early 1970s involving land in Arnhem Land. That was the case in which Mr Justice Blackburn was involved, the Yirrkala case. We know of the decision that he handed down. That decision was based on white man's law and in it the traditional rights of the Aboriginal people were completely ignored. It was a decision made within the very limited framework in which he had to work- the European law, the white man's law, under which the rights of the Aborigines were given short shrift. Emphasis was given at that time to the need for a law to cover this aspect of Aboriginal life; that is, a law to establish land rights for these people.

In 1972 the Woodward Commission was established and also in that year the advent of the Labor Government gave a bit of a kick along to the provision of finance, etc., for these people. The fact that the Federal Government moved into this field led to an increase in finance to assist in areas such as health, education and housing, which had been of concern to the Aboriginal people and those concerned about them. That was an effort to bridge the gap that had existed for quite some time. I think everybody recognised the need for this land rights legislation. Following the establishment of the Woodward Commission and the presentation of its report in about 1973, the Labor Government in 1975 introduced its land rights Bill. I know that our Government was criticised for delays and so forth, but there had to be some examination of that Bill to ensure that everything was covered. We introduced that legislation last year and it was before the House until 1 1 November. We all know what happened on that day, when the Labor Government was tossed out of office in such a bad manner by the Governor-General. Now, after another 12 months, the LiberalNational Country Party Government has introduced this Bill.

From our point of view this Bill waters down some of the good provisions contained in the Bill introduced by the Labor Government last year and in many respects it departs from the Woodward report. One wonders whether this Bill would ever have been introduced if the Labor Government had not introduced its Bill last year. I say that because, following the initiatives taken by that Labor Government, this Liberal-National Country Party Government has now taken up a number of those matters and probably is claiming them as its own idea. Some have been altered. This Bill differs from the Labor Government Bill in very many important areas. Perhaps I should mention a few of them. Some of the controls which would have been in this legislation to cover this area have been turned over to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory. We are a little fearful, because that legislative body comes under the influence of mining and pastoral interests.

Let us look at some of the major changes to the Labor Government's Bill. The most wide ranging alteration relates to the transfer of legislative powers from the Commonwealth Parliament to the Northern Territory House of Assembly. This includes, firstly, the control, declaration and protection of sacred sites; secondly, the control of entry to pastoral properties; thirdly, the control of entry to Aboriginal land; and, finally, access to the sea adjoining Aboriginal lands. There are a few other matters in respect of which this Bill differs from the Bill we introduced last year. I understand there are some alterations in respect of royalties. I also understand that under this Bill control over roads through Aboriginal areas will be taken away from the Aborigines. The powers of the land councils also are to be restricted under this Bill. This goes against what Mr Justice Woodward said in his report. The Woodward report recommended that the land rights legislation 'should be protected in such a way that its provisions cannot be eroded by the effect of any Northern Territory legislation'. In the suggested drafting instructions for proposed legislation the relevant clause states: the Ordinances of the Northern Territory shall apply to Aboriginal land . . . provided however that ... no ordinance shall have any effect so as to diminish any benefit conferred upon Aborigines by this Act or to restrict any Land Council, Land Trust or the Commission in the discharge of their respective functions.

That quite clearly is what Mr Justice Woodward recommended and, of course, this Bill departs from that recommendation. There is no guarantee as to what the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly will do in respect of these things. Not so long ago we had the example of what happened at Aurukun on Cape York Peninsula. Despite assurances given by the Queensland Government, that Government rushed through legislation which was an affront to the people who had been fighting for the Aboriginal people and, of course, to the Aboriginal people themselves. We have all received correspondence from various organisations throughout the country which have tried to influence us in relation to this Bill. I have a number of letters here from church organisations. I have a letter from the Quaker Race Relations Committee which, in referring to the Bill, draws attention to the fact that that Committee is a bit concerned about the authority in a number of these matters in the Bill being handed over to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. I turn over a bit further and find that the Committee in the letter states:

The removal of all powers to pass Land Rights Legislation which the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly has been granted . . .

The Committee suggests that that is one of the matters which should be in the Bill. Another matter is:

The control by Aborigines of all roads passing through Aboriginal lands.

I mentioned that matter earlier. It also states:

The restoration of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner's power to hear claims . . .

The restoration of all powers vested in Land Councils and the Land Commissioner in the Labor Land Rights Bill. A provision that any Government decision to over-ride Aboriginal objections to mining on the basis of national interest be itself reviewed by both Houses of Parliament.

I understand that the Minister is introducing an amendment to cover that matter. The Committee also mentions a few other things. I refer now to the Presbyterian Church. It mentions matters in a similar vein to those mentioned by the Quaker Committee. In the first paragraph it mentions its concern at authority being given back to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory. The Australian Council of Churches does exactly the same thing. All these bodies are concerned about this power which was in the Labor Party Bill being given back to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. These are organisations which are supporting us. We have had correspondence from the Central Lands Council and from the Aboriginal legal rights organisation in the Northern Territory. These are all people who have placed the views of Aborigines first- hot the views of the mining interests or of the pastoral interests. We understand that 42 amendments are proposed to the Bill. Possibly there are some which we want to put before the House. We have not had an opportunity to examine those 42 amendments properly. We hope that some of the objections of which we have spoken will be covered by those amendments. We hope also that the amendments to be moved by our Party will be given consideration.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.







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