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Opposition spokesperson discusses the Government's Mabo legislation

PETER THOMPSON: The Federal Government's Mabo Bill has finally seen the light of day, so at last the Opposition will now decide how to deal with the native title legislation. Today Western Australia's Premier, Richard Court, will brief Coalition MPs on why they should oppose the Federal Bill. After Mr Court, Aboriginal leaders will put their case to the joint Liberal-National party room meeting on why the Coalition should support the legislation. The Aboriginal leaders aren't holding out much hope.

The Opposition spokesman on Mabo, Peter Reith, says the Government's Bill acknowledges that the West Australian legislation is valid. Peter Reith is talking to John Shovelan.

PETER REITH: Certainly three very interesting developments in it which have popped into this legislation since the draft. The first one is a recognition that Western Australia can act legally to convert the common law title to a statutory version - and that's contained in section 208 of the Bill. The second very interesting thing is that, confronted with this fait accompli, Mr Keating's Bill introduces a retrospective law basically to get Western Australia. And then the third and interesting revelation in this Bill - and understand that Mr Keating has had this drafted by his independent legal advisers, and this is section 195 which anticipates that Mr Keating's legislation, or large chunks of it, is going to get knocked off in the High Court because they anticipate the invalidity of parts of Mr Keating's legislation, and that confirms exactly what we have said.

JOHN SHOVELAN: So is that its major fault, that it's going to be fought out in the High Court?

PETER REITH: Oh no, I'm just giving you some preliminary assessments. We obviously need to talk amongst ourselves about the totality of the Bill, the Government's design of it, various aspects of it. But I think those are very interesting admissions in the Bill because Mr Keating's been saying one thing but when you look at what the parliamentary counsel have crafted, you have a statement that the Richard Court legislation is in fact basically a fait accompli. They tried to retrospectively knock it off in section 11, and then in section 195 they basically throw their hands up in the air and say: Oh, it's all going to end up in the High Court anyway.

JOHN SHOVELAN: But the Prime Minister, in introducing the legislation, said that the West Australian path was not the way to go and clearly indicated that the Commonwealth would overrule the West Australian legislation. Are you suggesting that they're not going to be able to do that?

PETER REITH: Look, what I'm telling you is that his own legal advisers in parliamentary counsel are telling him that that's a load of bulldust.

JOHN SHOVELAN: What, they can't overrule Western Australia?

PETER REITH: The fact is that they've got a recognition in here, in section 208, and you can read it, that in fact what the Commonwealth may well be facing is a fait accompli. And the simple answer to that is that the Constitution in this country leaves the management of land systems in the hands of the States. And the reason this Bill is very complicated is because Mr Keating wants to basically take over the management of the land systems in the States and in particular a big chunk of Western Australia.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Mr Keating's response, though, to the Mabo decision is far more just to Aborigines than the West Australian Government's decision though, isn't it?

PETER REITH: Well, that's entirely your interpretation of it.

JOHN SHOVELAN: What's your view on that?

PETER REITH: Well, my view of it is reinforced by Mr Keating's legal advisers who are basically saying, and perhaps let me use my own words, what they are really saying is that the rights that you had before Richard Court's legislation are the rights that you have after his legislation and Richard Court has changed the name of those rights. That's it.

PETER THOMPSON: Peter Reith, the Opposition spokesman on Mabo.