Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 17 November 1976


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) - I do not want to join issue with the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) on anything that relates to Aborigines. We are 127 people in this House and we all need to be very modest in assuming that any of us are speaking for Aborigines. So what we are putting forward are tentative points of view that we are trying to vindicate. I want to turn to the reference made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory to the timing of the Labor Government's 1975 Bill. He said that we were trying to sneak it through before an election. If the honourable member for the Northern Territory reflects he will recall that the late Labor Government assumed that having been elected in May 1974, the next election would be in May 1977. 1 assure the honourable member for the Northern Territory that when the Aboriginal Land Rights Bill was brought in we did not know that the Senate was going to withhold consent for Supply and that the Governor-General was going to dismiss us. We were very far from the illusion that we could sneak anything unscrutinised through this Parliament because we had more Bills rejected in the Senate in our 3 years of government than had been rejected in the previous 72 years. So we had no illusions about lack of scrutiny. We might agree or disagree with the Senate's actions, but I am merely saying that people who experience those actions do not assume that their legislation is not going to be under parliamentary scrutiny. That is a logical enough point to make.

The other point on which I politically disagree with the honourable member concerns the devolution of the Aboriginal authority to the Legislative Assembly in the Northern Territory. I do not have to argue whether it would be better or not; I merely say that on democratic grounds in May 1967 in the one referendum in the whole history of this country which one could say was really carried, because it was carried in every polling place, the Australian people expressed the opinion that the national Parliament was the proper Parliament to handle Aboriginal affairs. I do not believe that we get from that result an authority to start divesting ourselves of our responsibilities towards Aborigines. However, that is a political point of view.

On the subject of the willingness of other people to speak on behalf of the Aboriginal people, I remember when I was a member of the

Select Committee on Aboriginal Voting Rights, which was set up by a Liberal government, that we were proceeding down the coast of Queensland and representatives of various organisations came before us to give evidence. None of these spokesmen were ever Aborigines. I developed the habit of saying: 'Has your organisation any Aboriginal members?' They would reply: 'Yes'. Then I would ask: 'Why don't you put them in the witness box?' Then there would be consternation. As this question was asked at every place as we came down the coast later some of the organisations were shamed into putting Aborigines in the witness box, and then one realised why they had not done so before. It was because the Aborigines never stuck to anybody's policy line- not the policy line of the Communist Party, the Labor Party or the Liberal Party. They said genuinely and authentically what they believed, and the authentic voice of the Aborigine as I have heard it through interpreters- many Aborigines are magnificent orators in their own languages- never, but never, utters the slogans of New York Black Power, nor the opinions of mining companies, or of any of the other voices that are presented to us here.

The land rights question on the whole brings to us the authentic voice of Aborigines because the people with a claim to land in reality tend to be authentically Aboriginal. The tragedy of valid action on the question of land rights is that the States of Western Australia and Queensland are not taking the fundamental action that they should be taking and action on this question is virtually confined to the Commonwealth. I believe that the clan leaders from Galiwinku in the Northern Territory wrote to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) in that authentic voice when they said things such as:

We commence by saying that it is a sad thing for us that the Balanda- That is, the whites- people are constantly changing laws. We the Aboriginal people have established laws which are permanent and we make our decisions in agreement with our laws. We are fearful that having given our decisions and come to agreement with this Government a succeeding Government may change it all again. We also say that we consider Arnhem land belongs to Yolngu people and we must retain rights to restrict entry and this should be written into this Bill, If it is not and the permit system comes under the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly Legislation then the Administrator of the Permit system must ask the Yolngu (traditional owners) before he says yes. Yolngu must say yes first. If anyone wants anything (re permits) he must ask the Administrator and Adminstrator must ask us. In general matters Administrator or Minister must come back to the Yolngu traditional owners first. If anyone breaks the law that person should be fined S 1 ,000.

I will not read all the letter but the sentiments that are expressed in it are their sentiments. One of the honourable members who has been interjecting asked why matters should not be sent to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory. Both in this letter to the Minister and in the evidence given before the Senate Select Committee on Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders whose chairman is an Aboriginal, Senator Bonner, there seemed to be expressed a distrust of handing things over to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. The Senate Committee made these comments in its recommendations and suggestions:

That the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill 1976, which was introduced on 4 June 1976, be considered for early passage through the Parliament

That the following matters should remain the responsibility of the Australian Parliament and Government-

Many of them do not under this legislation-

1.   Protection of fauna on Aboriginal lands.

2.   Right of entry on Aboriginal lands.

That is what these people have written to the Minister. The list continues:

3.   Protection of sacred sites.

4.   Processing of land claims in towns and other areas where traditional claims cannot be effectively established.

5.   Control of territorial seas adjoining Aboriginal land, within 2 kilometres of the boundary of the Aboriginal land.

6.   Rights of Aborigines to enter on pastoral leases.

7.   The right to rnining on Aboriginal lands.

That funds be provided to enable Aborigines to sustain themselves on any land which they are given.

That the Government accept cash compensation as an alternative to grants of land to Aboriginal people.

The Committee then makes some recommendations about the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. I quite agree with the honourable member for the Northern Territory that it is no use going round inciting hatred of pastoralists or mining companies. It does not follow, however, that we are obliged to agree with everything that they say. Senator Fred Chaney, who is a Liberal Party member of the upper House and the son of a former Liberal Party Administrator of the Northern Territory, was moved to deal with the mining companies because of references that they had made to the folly of suggesting that Aboriginal land owners should have some say over mining of their land and suggestions that they made that this right was not accorded to Europeans. Senator Chaney wrote: -I refer to the statement on mining and Aboriginal land published in your newspaper by the Australian Mining Industry Council.

The statement expresses concern about Aboriginal land owners being empowered to veto mining on their land and having in effect the right to sell rnining permits. It is said that these two powers are not available to Australians generally.

In fact owners of land in Australia are given substantial protection against mining without the land owner's consent. The extent of protection varies from state to state, but in my state of Western Australia all developed and cultivated land is protected. Even pasture, including uncleared pasture, cannot be mined without the consent of the owner and occupier if it is in bona fide and regular use.

In many cases this gives the private land owner the opportunity to bargain with miners about the terms on which consent will be given.

If traditional Aboriginal land owners putting their land to bona fide and regular use in the traditional way are given the same protection, it cannot be said that Aboriginal people are given powers 'discriminately'. Indeed the use of that term is regrettable as it may well cause unnecessary resentment.

As a lawyer I have represented white private land owners against mining companies and mining companies against white private land owners. In all cases I have found the land owners anxious to preserve their property rights and in Western Australia, at least, the law effectively enabled them to do it when the land was in bona fide and regular use as a farm or grazing property.

It must be remembered also that the law must be effective to protect both black and white land owners, not only against the legitimate mining companies but also against fringe operators who appear from time to dme and particularly when the industry is booming.

I think that was an extremely sensible statement by Senator Chaney pointing out that it is not unknown in Australia for land owners to have rights as against mining companies and therefore there was nothing outrageous in the proposal that they should have some authority over the land which will be declared to be theirs when they are confronted by a mining interest.

The alterations to the Australian Labor Party's Bill that I object to strongly, for the reasons that I have already given, relate to the transfer of legislative powers from the Commonwealth Parliament to the control of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. They include the control, declaration and protection of sacred sites, the control of entry to pastoral properties, the control of entry to Aboriginal land and access to the sea adjoining Aboriginal land. It seems to me to be rather tragic that the Senate Committee picked up an opposite opinion on all of those points from the Aboriginal witnesses who apparently came before it. I think that this would justify some hesitation by the Government before going ahead with the changes that are proposed in these respects to what was in the Labor Party 's Bill.

The map which the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) was kind enough to supply to honourable members shows that very large areas of land are acknowledged as being in Aboriginal ownership by this Bill. It is so very important that other criticisms, except for the vulnerability of this matter, as I feel, to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, do not have to be made.

The areas marked blue, which indicate land to which an Aboriginal claim is not as yet established, are, by comparison with the areas marked red, where the claim is acknowledged, comparatively small areas.

The honourable member for the Northern Territory complained about inciting hostility to pastoralists and I think he is right in doing so. But they are not necessarily people who are sensitive to the needs of the Aboriginal community. In this respect I am not trying to depict them as being more villainous than the general run of Australians. Throughout our history we have not proved ourselves to be in any respect particularly sensitive towards the Aborigines. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), who recently cheered us with the statement that he made about the national trachoma and eye health program in relation to Aborigines, supported Fred Hollows, who I understand started his work under the Labor Government in the eye survey of Aboriginal people and others in the Northern Territory.

I think that one of the tactful aspects of the activities of the body conducting that program was that it recognised that all people in the Australian outback and not just Aborigines were in need of attention to their eyes. I believe that the whole of this operation began not particularly with Aborigines in mind but with the situation in mind that there were 280 ophthalmologists in Sydney but not one in Wagga and various other places. First of all, this body began thinking in terms of a country operation and, when it was suggested that the people most in need were Aborigines, there was agreement on that point. The Commonwealth Government backed the action and this body began to develop the tact of not being divisive when it was on a station but of testing mum's eyes, dad's eyes and the children's eyes and providing them with glasses and then having access to the Aborigines.

What depressed me in the accounts I heard of the operations was the number of Aborigines sitting about on stations who had pearly white eyes, which was simply indicative of cataracts. I am only making the point that if one is sensitive and if one has common knowledge one would know that that was a condition of cataract and that the suggestion that there be an operation and the chance to have an operation could be offered. I do not think that it was established by that expedition that all the people in the Northern Territory were particularly sensitive to the health needs of Aborigines, even when they were as completely obvious as that. I think this applies to all the Aboriginal communities.

I am not suggesting that these divisions in the Australian community are unique between colour. I understand that it is not normal for ship owners to have dinner with waterside workers. We have all these sorts of cleavages of social association and normal social association in the Australian community. But there are large numbers of European people who do not have normal social associations with the Aborigines and therefore do not know what they think. They do not have to be remote from Aborigines in cities for that to be the truth. They can be living among them.

I have been thanked for being the founder of the isolated children's grants and then denounced by the same people for extending scholarships to all Aboriginal children in the secondary level. That was descrimination. I say to the honourable member for the Northern Territory that if discrimination is justified I believe in it. Of course I believe in discrimination in a compensatory way. We are always discriminating in our legislation. We discriminate for people who were wounded in war with repatriation grants because they need them. Aborigines at the present time need a great deal of discrimination in their favour, and we did establish a system of compensatory education. I encountered in the Northern Territory the slogan that we were discriminating for Aborigines, and so we were. The only point was whether it was justified. They have b een discriminated against for long enough.


Mr Calder - They used to come home with my kids at the weekends. Is that what you call discrimination?


Mr BEAZLEY - I am speaking of the need for discrimination where people are in need. I am not speaking about adverse determination or accusing anybody of adverse discrimination at the moment. I was making a case for it. I found that many people who attacked me in the Northern Territory- they might have been quite righthad no idea that there was any case for any sort of compensation for Aborigines.

The honourable member for the Northern Territory must know that a Bill such as this, if it is supported widely in the Northern Territory, represents an immense movement of opinion in the Northern Territory compared with what existed in August 1 952 when I made a land rights speech in this House- so far as I know it was the first one- and the whole speech was regarded as rather ridiculous. When we were taking evidence in the Northern Territory many of the officers of the Crown held that we could not work out or devise a tribal title. Apparently we can. I merely say that this is an instance in which opinion has moved. The sad thing about this Bill is the devolution of Commonwealth responsibility back to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. I believe that that is a mistake and I believe that it is against the articulated opinion of the Aboriginal people and against the articulated opinion of the Australian people in a referendum.







Suggest corrections