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Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee criticises the Prime Minister's 10-point plan to amend the High Court Wik decision

PETER CAVE: Prime Minister John Howard will tell Premiers and Territory leaders in Canberra, today, his response to the High Court's Wik decision is the only fair and practical way to resolve the current dispute. It's not going to be what some of the leaders want to hear, and it appears that it's not what some of Mr Howard's own backbenchers want to hear either.

The chairman of the Government's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee, Wilson Tuckey, doesn't like the Prime Minister's 10-point plan. And as Ross Solley reports, he doesn't like the way his committee is being ignored.

ROSS SOLLEY: It's becoming increasingly difficult to find supporters of John Howard's 10-point plan for solving problems arising from the High Court's Wik decision. Now there's public rumblings on his back bench. The chairman of the Government Members' Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee, Wilson Tuckey, is far from happy that he hasn't even seen the Prime Minister's 10-point plan, let alone have any input.

WILSON TUCKEY: Well, we've expected that the Prime Minister would consult the stakeholders and then discuss their views with us. They, of course, have a fairly narrow representative base. We all have 80,000 voters per electorate and we think 90 per cent of them have got a very substantial interest in this issue.

ROSS SOLLEY: You say you've seen an unofficial version of the 10-point plan. Your committee is quite adamant that you want absolute certainty as a result of all these discussions. What you've seen, does it provide that absolute certainty?

WILSON TUCKEY: The document that I've seen certainly doesn't provide absolute certainty for titleholders throughout Australia.

ROSS SOLLEY: So one would expect, as it stands at the moment, it wouldn't meet your committee's approval. What's the prospect then of the backbench supporting it?

WILSON TUCKEY: Well, I can't comment on how the backbench will react in the eventual outcome, but I can say that the document I've sighted and the reports I've read in the media do not line up with the position paper presented to the Prime Minister by the backbench committee.

ROSS SOLLEY: Mr Tuckey, what's been the feeling among government backbenchers you've been dealing with, just about the whole Howard handling of this matter?

WILSON TUCKEY: Well, I'm not prepared to comment on how the Prime Minister has handled it. All I can say is that backbenchers want this matter resolved once and for all.

ROSS SOLLEY: Is there some disquiet about the way things are going?

WILSON TUCKEY: Well, it's too early to say whether there's disquiet or anything else. The realities are that we have nothing formal from the Prime Minister, and we're not commenting on what he's going to do until it is formal, but we're now of the view that we should state our position. And our position, as presented to the Prime Minister in writing some six weeks ago, required absolute certainty whatever the process needed to achieve it. We find it, in fact, ludicrous that a certain group of people have the right to obstruct other people in their ownership, development, or peaceful occupancy of land, on the grounds that they've made a claim for it.

ROSS SOLLEY: Mr Tuckey's also less than impressed with reported comments that Mr Howard doesn't want to include anything in his legislation that might struggle to pass through the Senate.

WILSON TUCKEY: Well, I'm totally opposed to any downgrading of the correct outcome to meet the lowest common denominator that might be expressed by the Senate. There's absolutely no need for that. It's a false argument because the government of the day has three options: one is to pressure, for instance, the Labor Party and make it stand up in the national interest and get its legislation through the Parliament; or it can have a double dissolution, which is probably a bit late in the electoral cycle; but thirdly, it does not need the approval of the Senate to put a constitutional referendum question to the people of Australia and let them decide.

PETER CAVE: The chairman of the Government's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee, Wilson Tuckey. Our reporter in Canberra was Ross Solley.