Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Government says the Opposition's approach to the Mabo legislation puts States' rights above the human rights of Aborigines

PETER THOMPSON: For the Government's response to the Coalition's no on Mabo, we're joined now in our Canberra studio by Robert Tickner, the Federal Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Mr Tickner is talking to Fran Kelly.

FRAN KELLY: Robert Tickner, the Opposition's proposing an alternative to your Bill which is attractive in its simplicity. Are they on a winner with their new policy?

ROBERT TICKNER: Well, it's attractive to Premier Court because what the Federal Coalition have done, have simply abdicate their responsibility to bring about a national approach and have clearly put States' rights above the human rights of Aboriginal people. And I think right across this country Aboriginal people will feel angry, betrayed and let down by the approach the Coalition has taken.

FRAN KELLY: But their proposal does some essential things: It recognises native title, it validates titles like your Bill does, pays compensation and ensures any future dealings are within the Racial Discrimination Act. What's wrong, then, with that package?

ROBERT TICKNER: Well, on the contrary, Fran, what it does is leave it to the States.

FRAN KELLY: But it does say the States must operate within the Racial Discrimination Act.

ROBERT TICKNER: But we see in the case of Western Australia a determination on the part of Premier Court to effectively obliterate native title, to effectively take away the rights that Aboriginal people have won by virtue of that High Court decision. And the Federal Coalition has abdicated its role in asserting Commonwealth primacy, given to the Commonwealth by the 1967 referendum, to defend the human rights of Aboriginal people against the attack waged by Premier Court.

And I challenge Dr Hewson to name one comparable country in the world that has allowed the decisions of courts and the rights of indigenous people to their native title rights to be overturned by State or provincial governments. It wouldn't happen in Canada and of course New Zealand was recognising and dealing with native title last century.

FRAN KELLY: Well, of course, Richard Court says his legislation will fit within the RDA, that it doesn't deny the High Court's decision, it recognises native title. There are many others in the land who agree with him and think if tested in the High Court his Bill will stand up.

ROBERT TICKNER: Well, that's precisely the approach that the Coalition are adopting. They're backing Richard Court right to the hilt. But, of course, it's in the end a cynical and spoiling role that they're playing, as evidenced by their call for a Senate inquiry.

FRAN KELLY: But if it does stand up in the High Court, if it does show to be working within the Racial Discrimination Act, if it does recognise native title, then what is wrong with it? How can it be discriminatory if it stands up with the RDA?

ROBERT TICKNER: Well, of course, I believe that it is contrary to the Racial Discrimination Act and that the High Court will recognise that. But the fact is that what it does is obliterate the rights of Aboriginal people as recognised by the High Court. It substitutes in their place rights that are totally inadequate and that have been brought about or advanced without any consultation with Aboriginal people, and I note yesterday at the National Press Club that Premier Court couldn't put forward the name of one Aboriginal organisation of any note that supported what he was doing.

FRAN KELLY: Well, your Bill has been widely criticised by political opponents and business leaders for being too complicated. John Prescott from BHP said yesterday that it will lead to confusion and uncertainty in development because of its complexity.

ROBERT TICKNER: Well, hang on, Fran, just because BHP puts out a media release doesn't mean that the rest of Australia has got to jump. After all, we've seen across this country the churches come out and strongly support the Commonwealth's proposals, but we've also seen the National Farmers' Federation - hardly, I would have thought, a close ally of the Government - unanimously endorse the Commonwealth's approach. Now, this is a time for national leadership and a time to put in place some principles that will be admired around the world and not take an approach like Dr Hewson and put Australia's international reputation on the line.

FRAN KELLY: Robert Tickner, thank you.

PETER THOMPSON: And Robert Tickner, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, was talking to Fran Kelly in Canberra.