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Wednesday, 17 November 1976


Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) -There are 3 Bills before the House. I shall deal with only one, namely, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill. It is a difficult Bill because it covers a difficult situation. I hope the matter will be approached in a bipartisan spirit. At least, I shall try to do so. Our first objective, surely, is to do what is best for the Aborigines and to look to their real advantage. I do not think their real advantage would be compatible with the maintenance of high tension between them and the Europeans in the Northern Territory. Anything which is in a Bill and which creates and maintains that tension will not be to the ultimate advantage of the Aboriginal people. Nor would it be to their advantage to take a line which was believed to impede entirely the prosperity of the Northern Territory. These circumstances set limits to what we might usefully and properly do for the Aboriginal people. We might ask: What is this land rights Bill? It gives traditional land to traditional people. That is its title. It states:

Providing for the granting of Traditional Aboriginal Land in the Northern Territory for the benefit of Aboriginals, and for other purposes.

That is what the Bill is about. When one looks at it one finds that its main purpose is the allocation of reserves and the giving of title in reserves. That is not its only purpose but that is the main drive and impact of the Bill. In addition to this, it envisages other things. It envisages a continuance of the policy whereby we have purchased pastoral properties in the Northern Territory and elsewhere for the benefit of Aboriginal people, and particularly for the benefit of Aboriginal people who have some traditional link with those properties. One thinks, for example, of Utopia, Wave Hill or any one of those areas which have been purchased. I hope that more of them will be purchased. This policy was started under the previous Liberal-National Country Party Government when I was the Minister. It has been continued under the Australian Labor Party Government and I believe it will be continued now. In addition, the Bill envisages acquisition of proper dwelling areas- sit down places is what the Aborigines call them- for other Aborigines in the Northern Territory.

Although the Bill is concerned mainly with reserves, that is not its only concern. But this Bill is for the traditional Aborigines. I think we have to remember that they are different from the Aborigines most people know. Perhaps 90 per cent or 95 per cent of the Australian people come into contact with Aborigines in Redfern or Moree or perhaps as tourists in Alice Springs. But they do not see the real, traditional Aboriginal. It is mainly towards his benefit that this Bui is directed. I am not saying for one moment that Aborigines, other than the traditional Aborigines, do not have needs and do not need, require and deserve benefits and help. I am talking about what this Bill does. It is about traditional Aborigines and about maintaining their rights over traditional land. I ask: What is best for these Aborigines? What is needed for them is change, but gradual change. The fault of which we have been guilty in the past is that we have put upon these traditional people pressures of change which were too vast and too urgent for them to assimilate. They have broken in the process. This is what we must avoid. Sure, we must bring change; we must help these people into a new way of life. But let the change be only as fast as they can assimilate without breaking.

If we go to the Northern Territory today we will see terrible evidences of this break where the traditional Aboriginal is not getting something better but something much worse. For these people there has been a deterioration in their real way of life even when their material standards have risen. I am not for one moment saying that we should not help them to raise their material standards. We should help them to raise thenstandards as fast as they are capable of assimilating change. But we do them no kindness when perhaps to salve our own guilty consciences in the matter we try to impose upon them burdens which they are not capable of bearing. Now, let me come to the reserves. We should be maintaining for the Aborigines the integrity of their traditional reserves. As honourable members will know, there are two or three big reserves about which we are talking. They are not just little island reserves but real areas which are capable of maintaining the integrity which the Aboriginals desire so that they can have time to assimilate the change. There is Arnhem Land, with its adjacent islands; there is the big central reserve; and there is the Daly River reserve. These are big areas. They are not just little islands in a sea of European development, but something which can be traditionally Aboriginal until the Aborigines are ready to take the change.

I am worried to some extent that some features of this Bill, and equally of the Labor Bill which was its predecessor, do not sufficiently maintain the integrity of those big reserves. That integrity cannot be maintained if there is an incursion of intense economic activity into the reserves. No big mining venture in a reserve can be conducted without destroying the traditional Aboriginal society and the traditional Aborigines who are associated with it. That is true even though the people who are conducting that intensive mining have the very best will in the world and do everything that is possible. Let us take Groote Eylandt, for example, where the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd has leaned over backwards to do everything it can. I could not criticise one thing that the company has done, and yet its impact upon the community has not been at all favourable. Indeed, I hope that things will improve, but on the last occasion I was at Groote Eylandt there was starvation among the Aborigines, for the first time in memory- starvation at a time when there was a flood of unaccustomed money coming in, but gambling and other things had taken away its impact for good.

If one goes to Yirrkala or Gove or Nhulunbuy, call it what you will, one will find that the only refuge for the traditional Aboriginal is to leave the centre and go down to Caledon Bay or Blue Mud Bay or down to the centre of Arnhem Land and live away. He is not living entirely in traditional fashion. He has some kind of elementary schooling, he has his land rover, perhaps, or an outboard motor on his boat. He has some medical services. He probably has access to an aerodrome where emergency supplies or visitors can come in. But he has separated himself from the activity which was destroying him. I believe that this outstation movement which the Aborigines have chosen for themselves in these reserves illustrates the only real hope they have of coming successfully through the transition from thenway of life to our way of life. I am not saying for one moment that they can always remain in their traditional way. I think that is something which they would not desire, and whether they or we desire it, it would not be possible.

Although there is some protection in the Bill against mining incursion, I am not certain how great that protection will be in practice. It is a very difficult problem. We say that we must give to the Aborigines control over their own property and their own destiny, but if that means permission to barter it away then it will be bartered away. We know the manipulations that go on. Anybody who has been to Arnhem Land knows about them. Aborigines, in good faith perhaps, make bargains whose impact they do not understand, and we in good faith sometimes believe that they understand what they are doing. I remember an Administrator talking to me about how he went across to Yirrkala and told the Aboriginal people there everything about what was going to happen when the bauxite plant moved in. He was completely honest. He told them everything. I do not think he concealed anything, and they gave their consent. But when they saw what happened they were appalled because they had not envisaged it or realised it. Even today there is circulating among honourable members a statement about an Aboriginal on a land councilthere is no need to mention his name; honourable members will know to whom I am referring- who has been signing things of consequence without knowing what he has signed, not because he was deceived but because that is the kind of thing that happens. Under this Bill there is not enough protection for the Aborigines, almost against themselves in a way. There will be manipulation. I would Uke to have seen the Aborigines in the reserves having full mining rights, but I would not Uke to have seen them with the ability to barter those rights away in such a fashion as to bring in intensive industries and destroy their communities.

The Northern Territory has got to develop. There has to be mining there. For example, it will be almost impossible and a crime against Australia to hold back development on some parts of the Alligator River. But to breach the integrity of Arnhem Land, to allow mineral exploration up from Roper River through Blue Mud Bay and the Parsons Range would destroy the refuge. Even the Labor Government was giving concessions or making arrangements for prospecting in the Ngalia Basin adjacent to and to some extent in the Yuendumu Reserve. Do not let us think of this as being something which comes from one side of the House. I think perhaps both sides of the House might do a little bit of thinking about this problem. Then there is the question of roads. Sooner or later the Arnhem Highway will be constructed from the East Alligator River across over the Liverpool River and into Nhulunbuy. Sooner or later it will go through, but I had rather it be later than sooner because as that highway goes through, and it can go through under this Bill, it will destroy the Aboriginal life in the country through which it passes. Later- in 10 years time. 20 years time, I do not know how long- it will be safe and desirable to build that highway. I fear it should be built now. I fear the pressure that will come from other Aborigines, the people who come up into the Northern Territory from the south. They are better educated than the traditional Aboriginals. Perhaps they do not know as much about their own law but they do know a lot about the white man's law and the white man's way and they tend to control and manipulate Aboriginal organisations with which they are associated. One cannot blame them. After aU, it is an opportunity for them. But I wonder whether perhaps they realise the extent to which they, who are not traditional, are destroying the way of life of the traditional people whom they seek to dominate and control.

I think that this Bill is defective and I hope that the House will accept an amendment to the definition of 'Aboriginal'. In clause 3 'Aboriginal' is defined as a person who is a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia. That is fine if one is not dealing with traditional land. A man who has one sixty-fourth part of Aboriginal blood would still be a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia and would still qualify under this definition. Some of these people will be able to dominate and control the areas into which they come. It was Professor Rowley, I think, who brought forward the first definition of Aboriginal that was used in the Department of Aboriginal

Affairs. I amended it a little when I was the Minister responsible for that Department and it has been used in the Department ever since. An Aboriginal, under that definition, is somebody of Aboriginal descent who claims to be an Aboriginal and is accepted as such by the community with which he is associated. Even that small protection, which is not sufficient in relation to this traditional situation, has been removed from the Bill.

The Bill deals with traditional land and the rights of traditional Aboriginals are worth protecting. If we have any decency we will look to these people about whose land we are talking in this Bill. An Aboriginal is perhaps in some ways less ready to trust another Aboriginal -

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







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