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National Farmers' Federation accuses Aboriginal negotiators of posturing over the withdrawal from talks with the NFF; says that comments made by Noel Pearson could be acted on by the NFF

PETER CAVE: The National Farmers' Federation President, Don McGauchie, has accused Aboriginal negotiators of posturing over their withdrawal from talks with the NFF. Black leaders say they won't talk to the farmers as long as a controversial TV ad campaign on the High Court Wik decision stays on the air.

The week-long campaign by the NFF includes TV ads featuring a black and a while child competing on a twister board game, and another where a blindfolded farmer tries in vain to drop a fence post into a hole.

Yesterday, indigenous negotiator, Noel Pearson, called the ads a 'putrid, public campaign' and accused the NFF of pillorying as a traitor and a nigger-lover any farmer who supports the non-extinguishment of native title.

But the NFF's Don McGauchie says those comments are probably actionable, and he told Catherine Job that far from being counterproductive, the ads had achieved their aim.

DON MCGAUCHIE: It's done precisely what we wanted it to do, that is, to raise awareness so that people could see that there was a real problem out there that needed to be fixed, and that public awareness will, I think, help us get a decision quickly.

CATHERINE JOB: Did doing precisely what you wanted to do include having Aboriginal negotiators withdraw from sitting at the same table as the NFF?

DON MCGAUCHIE: Oh, look, I am disappointed that they've overreacted to the extent that they have. But we have seen Mr Pearson, particularly, react with personal abuse in the past and he's done it again. I don't think he's done their cause any good whatsoever and, of course, we're more than prepared to keep talking to them and I am sure we will.

CATHERINE JOB: Well, they say they won't talk to you while this - as Noel Pearson puts it - 'putrid, public campaign stays on the air'. Will it come off?

DON MCGAUCHIE: Well, the campaign was designed as a one-week campaign as far the television ads are concerned, and, running for one day, a full-page advertisement in the major newspapers so that people could read the detail of our proposal. Of course it was designed to run in the week leading up to Easter and, in fact, the campaign finishes tomorrow night.

CATHERINE JOB: Well, some senior government figures are said to be very unhappy about the ads being played at such a crucial time in trying to arrive at a solution. Has that been expressed to you that this was not helpful to Mr Howard's attempts?

DON MCGAUCHIE: No, not at all. In fact the messages we've had from all around the place are that the ads have achieved exactly what we wanted them to achieve.

CATHERINE JOB: Have you had many complaints about their racism?

DON MCGAUCHIE: No. There's been some from a few sources. In fact, interestingly, there was a reference to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commissioner, Sir Ronald Wilson, and he has rejected the concept of them being racist.

CATHERINE JOB: So you've got no concessions to make to any offence that they have caused within the indigenous community and amongst the negotiators from the indigenous community?

DON MCGAUCHIE: I think what we have seen from some people in the indigenous community is hyperbole. And there is nothing from our point of view, that indicates that those ads are racist and I think it's an unfortunate reflection on some people's capacity to try to deny the concept of free speech.

CATHERINE JOB: So you're saying that Noel Pearson's objections to this .. the objections yesterday by Gatjil Djerrkura in Darwin are what, just rhetoric?

DON MCGAUCHIE: Yes.

CATHERINE JOB: Not emotional, heartfelt, genuine hurt at all?

DON MCGAUCHIE: No, no, they're putting on a performance.

CATHERINE JOB: Noel Pearson also said yesterday that any farmer who supports non-extinguishment is being pilloried by you and your colleagues as a traitor and a nigger-lover. Are you aware of any of that?

DON MCGAUCHIE: Absolutely not. And in fact I think those words are probably actionable on our part. I think that's the most outrageous thing that I've heard said. There is no evidence to support that. It has not happened.

I think it's rather interesting that the only people who have been actually talking about racism are the Aboriginal community, or at least some of their leaders have been making this allegation about racism. We haven't talked about race in this issue one iota. But the idea that I or any of my people have said those things is in fact a lie.

CATHERINE JOB: When you say you're not talking about race, you are talking about extinguishing legal common law rights held by one race of people, though, aren't you?

DON MCGAUCHIE: We're talking about an issue over land, and the ownership of that land. It has nothing to do with race. It's an issue .. if we had to defend our right to our land, from anybody, we would be defending it in exactly the same way. It has nothing to do with race whatsoever.

PETER CAVE: Donald McGauchie, President of the National Farmers' Federation.