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Thursday, 9 December 1976

Mr BRYANT (Wills) -These amendments simply confirm what we said here the other day, that this piece of legislation ought to be renamed the Miners Rights (Aboriginal Lands) Bill. One may ask: When is an agreement not an agreement? The answer is: When it is made for or with Aborigines. As long as it is not put on the dotted line the Government does not need to observe it. I think that the Committee should reject these amendments as the Opposition recommended that it reject some of the features of the Bill in the first instance. For years now the Aboriginal people of Australia have been demanding an absolute land rights situation. It has been an accepted principle of law almost since the first colonial settlements by the British and by the Spanish that no government has ever taken land rights seriously. The issue has always been pushed into a pigeon hole when the government was confronted with some material advantage such as from mining. This legislation is simply a sop to the system.

There is no doubt that in the last few weeks the mining interests of Australia have brought pressure to bear upon the Government and upon the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner). We are now protecting the interests of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd- one of the real suffering groups in the community! That is bad enough, but the whole principle behind this issue is offensive. The agreements were made with BHP back in 1969, 1 think. They were made for a term of 2 1 years, with a right of renewal for another 21 years, which will take us through to the year 2011. So the dead hand of history is going to he upon Groote Eylandt for another 40 years or more. I do not think this House or the Government ought to permit that. I think the time has come when we should not surrender basic human rights to such things as mining for material advantage and to what is apparently the even more sacred right- State rights- which is implicit in attitudes towards the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. I appeal to the House to take a good hard look at this legislation and to reject it. However, I have no doubt that it will not do so.

We might ask why legal rights transcend moral rights. We heard this afternoon my colleague the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) saying a few words about the hypocrisy of the people at the Interparliamentary Union Meeting in Madrid. They spoke about democracy, human rights and all the rest, yet they represented some of the most repressive governments in history. We are being repressive this afternoon. We are confirming the rights of the possessors of power in the form of wealth and the mining companies over the rights of the Aboriginal people. Let us consider Arnhem Land. It was proclaimed an Aboriginal Reserve back in 1931, 1 think it was. To those of us who were concerned with Aboriginal affairs over the years before 1963, or thereabouts, Arnhem Land was believed to be inviolate. It was very difficult to visit the area. People had to have special permits to do so. But as soon as minerals were discovered there in substantial quantities in the early 1960s an invasion began at Yirrkala. Subsequently the same thing happened at Groote Eylandt and it will happen at other places also if this Bill comes into force. I appeal to the Parliament to take a second look at its moral obligation and to place moral obligations before legal obligations.

This piece of legislation comes at the endperhaps it is only the beginning- of a long series of negotiations and campaigns for Aboriginal land rights. I suppose that in another sense it is the beginning because this might be the point from which we advance the cause further. I should like to say something about some of those people, humble in the world at large as they are, but on occasions exalted as one became recently, in their campaign. I suppose the campaign about land rights was generated in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Land rights became an issue to Aboriginal people of Australia. Some of the people who were active in the campaign then are still around. His Excellency Sir Douglas Nicholls, the Governor of South Australia, was one of those active people who kept the spirit of Aboriginal progress and advancement alive and was active in such causes. Mr Joe McGinness, who now works with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Cairns, is another, and Mrs Faith Bandler, who lives in Sydney, was another. They are Aboriginal and Island people who sowed the seed of understanding among the rest of the community. The campaign for land rights flowed from there. People such as ourselves, the Woodwards, the Viners and the departmental officers, are the heirs to that campaign.

In this debate I suppose one should pay some tribute to the Gurindji people, who some years back walked off the Wave Hill property to indicate that they intended to have land for themselves. From such humble beginnings the great movement for Aboriginal land rights has grown. We recognise the serious challenge that land rights makes to our whole legal system and our whole land property system. Generally speaking, we are inclined to think that we own the land but we do not own the minerals. It is the Oppostion's view that the Aboriginal domain should include the right to the minerals for and on behalf of the Aboriginal people. We have to consider also what we should do about providing land for Aborigines beyond providing such places as the existing Aboriginal reserves. That will create great difficulties, as it has done in Canada and in the United States of America. The Opposition rejects these amendments. We feel that they represent a continuation of the surrender of the interests of the Aboriginal people to the mining companies of Australia.

On a matter that concerns the parliamentary system, I think it would have been helpful if, instead of having just this jargon- as it might be called- which describes the land in question, we had had a map circulated with the explanatory memorandum. I requested a map of the Northern Territory from the Library so that I could locate the land exactly, but unfortunately the only map I could get rapidly was an atlas which does not define the land. I am not blaming anybody in particular for this, but this land could have been more adequately defined for my benefit, if not for the benefit of the rest of my colleagues, whose understanding of geography would be so precise that they would be able to tell me exactly where the spot is. The land is defined as:

Commencing at the intersection of latitude 14 degrees 01 minutes with longitude 136 degrees 30 minutes 30 seconds thence proceeding to the intersection of latitude 14 degrees 01 minutes with longitude 136 degrees . . .

It goes on further. No doubt, that is precision carried to the ultimate, but it is not very helpful to understanding. So, in presenting documents to this Parliament for consideration of such matters, I think it would be a simple courtesy to give us every explanation that is necessary. When we are dealing with matters relating to land, I think a map might even be included.

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