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Shadow Minister discusses the Opposition's report on the Government's Wik legislation

PETER THOMPSON: The Opposition has released its minority report into the Wik legislation following a long-running parliamentary inquiry. The report, endorsed by the Democrats, labels the Bill unworkable, unconstitutional and immoral, and recommends reinstating the right to negotiate for native title holders. It also rejects the six-year sunset clause for claims and tries to limit some of the extinguishment detailed in the Bill.

Of course, the Government has rejected the recommendations. It says it will only create further division, inequity and uncertainty. Labor's Shadow Attorney-General, Nick Bolkus, joins us now to talk to Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Senator Bolkus, the elements of concern that you've outlined in the minority report and, as I understand, a reflection of how you'll go on your amendments, aren't really a surprise-the retention of the right to negotiate, the rejection of a sunset clause and few others. The question is: how far will Labor dig in for these?

NICK BOLKUS: Look, we're really concerned about this. As we've looked at the legislation, we've found more and more that although the Government says it's not a blanket extinguishment, when you stitch all the pieces together, there's one enormous quilt of extinguishment involved here, so it's offensive legislation.

The overwhelming body of advice to the committee was that it's discriminatory; it extinguishes gratuitously. It's legislation which really takes away property rights from one race in our community, the Aboriginal race, and does so without just compensation. We need to be concerned about it here and we need to be concerned about the messages it sends about Australia internationally. So we're very serious about needing to change this legislation.

FRAN KELLY: We're really getting to the pointy end of this debate, though. The Government has countered your minority report saying that they won't accept any changes that aren't consistent with the 10-point plan. Is this headed for an early election or a referendum here and would Labor allow it to go that far? That's too politically risky for you, isn't it?

NICK BOLKUS: The Government's got to realise that they're not talking, here, about the Ten Commandments. They're not as etched in stone. The 10-point plan is something that really needs to be adapted, needs to change, needs to pick up the overwhelming concern of people in the community. It's okay for Senator Minchin to be sitting there like a boy standing on the burning deck, but the reality is all the evidence around him leads to one point. The plan is unconstitutional. It will lead to uncertainty.

You can be sure with this 10-point plan that they'll be in the Federal Court within two weeks; they'll be in the High Court for 10 years. Now, that's not the certainty that we want this community to have, industry to have, indigenous Australians to have. So the Government has to get out of its self-denial phase and really needs to confront some of these issues.

FRAN KELLY: Well, it might not be the certainty that you want industry and pastoralists to have, but industry and pastoralists have said on many occasions, including on this program, that they reject most of your proposed changes and they accept most of the Government's 10-point plan, so you're misrepresenting them, aren't you?

NICK BOLKUS: Well, no. What industry's got to work out is what they need most, and what they need most for development is certainty. This 10-point plan doesn't give them certainty. It gives them certainty about one thing. They'll go straight into the court system and they'll have another generation of court cases. And that's what they've got to be concerned about.

FRAN KELLY: Well, they seem prepared to take that risk. I mean, they've come out again today and said they prefer the Government's plan.

NICK BOLKUS: On a level of rhetoric-maybe; on a level of practicality, I think you'll find that they're working in other directions. They're meeting with Aboriginal communities; they're coming to regional agreements; they're coming to site-specific agreements.

FRAN KELLY: Are they telling you something different?

NICK BOLKUS: And in terms of what they are doing, I think they're doing something different. Okay, they will try and get as much as they can out of this process. But if I was a company director in the mining industry and if I signed up to this particular 10-point plan of the Government, then I would be really concerned about the obligations I have to my shareholders because I wouldn't be fulfilling them.

FRAN KELLY: But Senator Bolkus, you're not a director and the people who are directors are saying they prefer the Government plan. How do you ....

NICK BOLKUS: I'm not a director, but also as a Member of Parliament, as a Member of the national Parliament, I've got to be concerned about fairness. And what we said yesterday and what we'll keep on saying is that we give certainty, but you can't have certainty without providing justice. You can't have a process like the one we've just gone through with 15 days of evidence, a thousand pages of transcript, and the government majority saying there's nothing wrong with the Bill when the overwhelming body of evidence highlights a whole plethora of problems with the Bill.

Now, industry may have its wish list but I think, at the end of the day, they also recognise, deep down, that they want certainty and they can't get that without some degree of justice for Aboriginal Australians.

FRAN KELLY: At the end of the day, though, if industry holds out, if the pastoralists hold out, it will hit you hard in regional Australia. Will Labor cave in on this?

NICK BOLKUS: Well, I think what you'll find in regional Australia, also, is a bit of insurrection with industry groups. We've already seen signs, for instance, in the pastoralists, that they-for instance, in Cape York-are keen to do regional agreements, so I don't think it's as clear-cut as that.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. And just finally on another issue, we just heard on television last night a revelation about speech writer in the Prime Minister's office giving some private advice to the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. What's your response to the tactic and the advice given there?

NICK BOLKUS: Look, I think it's offensive, and I do think it does go very much to the Prime Minister's status as well. We're not talking, here, of any public servant. We're talking about one of the inner circle of advisers who is preaching the politics of division, of personal vilification and hatred and, basically, of guilt by association. And he's targeting, what, academics, journalists, people who are thinking, our community policy makers. There's a dirty tricks unit in the Prime Minister's office.

FRAN KELLY: You can't really slate this to the Prime Minister, though.

NICK BOLKUS: Well, it's right within the Prime Minister's office. It's one of his chosen personal advisers. Why can't you take a ... the Prime Minister. There is a dirty tricks unit in the Prime Minister's office, and for so long as it's there, so long as the politics of division is emanating from the Prime Minister's office, then there's a stain on that office. You see, this is un-Australian. Australia is a country of a fair go rather than the unfair smear, and what this is about is an unfair smear.

FRAN KELLY: Senator Bolkus, thank you very much.

NICK BOLKUS: Thanks Fran.

PETER THOMPSON: The Shadow Attorney-General, Nick Bolkus, there with Fran.