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President of Cattlemen's Union says direct negotiation over native title and pastoral leases is preferable to High Court decisions

ELLEN FANNING: Well, not everyone is at loggerheads over native title. The Australian Cattlemen's Union President, John Purcell, has called for cool heads and common sense. He'll address the Wik summit in Cairns today, and Mr Purcell says the call for legislation to extinguish native title is misguided and is creating unnecessary fear among graziers.

JOHN PURCELL: I don't think that the sky has fallen in. I think that we're talking about Australian citizens who have got the same rights as you and I. There is a problem and there's a difficulty out there, but I think with goodwill and common sense we can resolve it, but the last thing that I want to see happen, of course, is that conflict builds up, mistrust, misunderstanding, and racial disharmony.

GERALD TOOTH: Do you think that there is any chance of the extinguishment of native title becoming a reality, given the hostility of Aboriginal people to that position?

JOHN PURCELL: Yes. I think that it would be very difficult if the Prime Minister decides to extinguish native title. Firstly, in the political arena, of course, he doesn't control the Senate. The Opposition, the Democrats, the Greens, Independents, have certainly said that they are not prepared to go down that line. Even if the Prime Minister is able to convince them that that's the way to go, and it does go through the Senate, you can bet your boots it'll be challenged to get in the High Court. We're back on the merry-go-round again; we waste another two or three years waiting for the High Court to make up its mind. I think we should forget about all that, we should approach it in a sense of consideration for other people's rights, consideration for the fact that Aboriginals are Australian citizens and that they've got rights, and we should be consulting with them, we should be consulting with governments, both State and Federal, and obviously involve the pastoral industry and the mining industry. And I would say that the Cattlemen's Union has a role to play, simply because we've got runs on the board where we've proved that we are able to negotiate with Aboriginals and we have their respect.

GERALD TOOTH: Given that the last five times that Aboriginal groups have gone to the High Court in relation to native title they've come away winners, are they sitting in the driving seat in this instance?

JOHN PURCELL: The results speak for themselves. The Aboriginals certainly are the winners and the rest of the community at this stage are not, and I think that again that would suggest to me that it's time to negotiate and consult instead of saying, 'Let the judge decide for us.' I think that if you and I were to have an argument every time we did that, we rush to the lawyers and to the courts for a decision, we'd get nowhere, but if you and I had an argument and we sat down as adults, mature people, and talked it through, that we could probably find common ground that would be much more lasting than having someone on high hand down a decision, for instance from the High Court.

ELLEN FANNING: The President of the Australian Cattlemen's Union, John Purcell, speaking to reporter, Gerald Tooth, in Cairns.