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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 6558

Mr McLACHLAN (Minister for Defence)(9.40 p.m.) —I watched with great interest the Labor Party squirm over this Hindmarsh Island Bridge Bill 1996. I watched with even greater interest the day after the bill was announced that there was great consternation amongst the Labor Party, so much so that the shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs, the member for Banks (Mr Melham), did not even turn up in the House. I noticed in the press that the shadow minister, who has just been speaking, said that this bill would not be supported by Labor. On the other hand, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley) said:

I want to take a close look at that. It would be a good thing to finalise the issue one way or another.

I listened with some care to the shadow minister and I did not hear whether he said he was going to support this bill or not. I heard the amendments that he said he was going to move—amendments, I have to say, that will not help the cause.

Mr Melham —Why not?

Mr McLACHLAN —I will come to that in a second. I have listened very carefully to those nonsensical amendments and I have to say that I have not heard whether the Labor Party is going to oppose this bill or not. You might well smile because the fact of the matter is that you do not know yet. You have not made up your mind whether you are going to oppose the bill or not.

At the outset, I would like to say that I hope the opposition votes against the bill because if consistency means anything in this place there is no other position the Labor Party can take. I think I heard the shadow minister give some credence—not in so many words—to the idea that the secret women's business might have had some merit. I hope not, but I think I heard that.

If the Labor Party votes for the bill, it will put itself in a dilemma. It will thereby admit that for two years, at unbelievable cost and unbelievable anguish, it supported the wrong cause. Alternatively, it will show that it always knew it was supporting the wrong cause and now it knows the political game is up. Make no mistake: the political game is up. In my state, everybody knows that the secret women's business was not true. You never mentioned it, except to give some slight credence to the fact that you might believe some of it had some merit. But it is up—

Mr Melham —Read Mathews's report.

Mr McLACHLAN —It is up because the truth is out. We gave you a go. You just quieten down. I listened to you belt the what-have-you out of those people who stood for the truth in this matter when you sat up the back there shouting out for months on end, so you can just quieten down while we have our say. The political game is up for you because the truth is out and everybody knows it. In my state the people know the truth and they are sick to death of your support for those who peddle the fabrications.

As I say, if it were the second course you took, then that prosecution of the wrong cause was not only the support of a grand set of deceptions but deception in itself. The Labor party, from early 1994, consistently worked to have the Hindmarsh Island Bridge banned. I suspect that they thought it would look good to a certain constituency—not necessarily an Aboriginal constituency, although some Aboriginals took a ride on the coach, but really to appeal to that soft centre of political thought which will take on causes which sound as though they accord with some sympathetic or concerned view.

It does not matter—and it did not matter, did it?—that the damage that was wrought, financial and emotional, was sometimes incalculable. In this case it was incalculable, even to those they purported to support. It mattered little that the truth lay somewhere else.

The Labor Party did not oppose this bridge because it was going to harm the environment, although that argument had some merit—not overwhelming, but some merit. It did not oppose the bridge because of federal government expenditure, because there was to be none. It sought to interfere in the affairs of the state. Remember, the state government builds the bridge. The state of South Australia builds the bridge. The federal government does not build the bridge.

It sought to interfere in the affairs of the state of South Australia after exhaustive reports and reviews which concluded that that bridge, for one reason or another, had to go ahead. It was contractual as much as anything. But the federal Labor government knew better and it sought to interfere for its own political purposes—and I have to say, `You got it right royally wrong.'

I would have been prepared to forgive the former federal government after the first delvings into this matter because of the less than satisfactory report by Professor Cheryl Saunders. That report was requested by the minister in April 1994 and provided in July of that year. But by the end of 1994 it was crystal clear that the elastic believability was near breaking point. You plunged on.

We became aware, when we were on the other side of the House, by mid-1994 that the matter was open to very great doubt. So on 9 November 1994 we moved a motion to disallow former Minister Tickner's 25-year ban on the building of that bridge. The overriding ingredient from that moment on was that the truth of the matter seemed to be irrelevant—irrelevant not only to the federal Labor government but to the media at large, I have to say.

We pointed out in that November that Professor Saunders had not been near the South Australian Museum, a reasonable repository of anthropological knowledge, one would have thought. We pointed out that the main proponent of the secret women's business, Doreen Kartinyeri, had previously written that she did not know much about the culture, customs and language of her people. She was talking about the Ngarrindjeri culture, customs and language.

We pointed out that the place that Doreen Kartinyeri described as secret women's business was supposed to be an exact place, yet Professor Cheryl Saunders said in the report that it comprised 100 square kilometres. We pointed out that no-one but Kartinyeri seemed to have this knowledge. We pointed out that Saunders's report was categorically wrong on one fundamental point to do with Mr Justice Sam Jacobs's report. He described her view of his report on that matter as `outrageous'. We pointed out that this matter of secret women's business had never been raised, even indirectly, by anyone ever before in the context of the Ngarrindjeri people. We pointed out that the matter of secret women's business had never been raised by any of the anthropologists in respect of that much researched area and that much researched people.

Very importantly, I pointed out that the parliament was about to vote—you all voted—on the disallowance motion on evidence that you were not allowed to see. You refused yourselves the luxury of seeing the evidence upon which you were about to vote. It was locked up in some envelopes that no-one was allowed to see or look at. At the end of that debate you voted to support the declaration to ban the bridge, fundamentally on the secret women's business. It was locked up in the envelopes. You voted for it.

At that moment all the people in the Labor Party, including your colleagues in the Senate, voted for a conspiracy of fabrications, concoctions, inventions, lies and deceit the like of which this country has hardly ever seen in its history. That is what you voted for, and you stuck to it for the next year and a half. What is more, you did it on the basis of evidence that you held to be sacred. You were not allowed to look at it, but you held it to be sacred.

Later, when the former government and large elements of the media said that I had affronted the whole race by placing copies of the so-called secret women's business on the table of this House, the government reviled me and anybody—I repeat: anybody—who supported the view that this secret women's business was open to doubt.

Let me remind you of the accusations that were variously made in this chamber. They included `exploiting Aboriginals for political purposes', `deceivers who are inept', and `the untruths and the lies that the member for Barker had himself perpetrated'. And all of this time you were supporting a proposition inside some envelopes which you had never seen, which a judge could not see, which counsel was not allowed to argue and which led everybody to the eventual grand fabrication. And you were, in fact, the catalyst for that fabrication.

Last week the Leader of the Opposition said in this House, on what was called the race debate, `Messages must always contain what we actually believe'—that is, messages out there. What did you actually believe about the secret women's business? Did you believe it? Or are you just fools? Or didn't you care? What did the Leader of the Opposition believe when he was sitting over here? Did he believe it or did he just castigate us and call us liars all the time in this House on this subject? I will tell you what I think he believed: he did not believe any of it. He just followed the party line—go down the soft centre and see if you can make sure that your political opposition gets a bath. The problem was that it all went wrong.

The Labor Party knew that it was nigh on impossible for anyone to challenge the idea publicly that something called `secret women's business' could be bunkum. You sat behind that knowledge and you used the Ngarrindjeri people to give support to a conspiracy of fraud with no regard to the truth. What else is that if it is not racism? Not the racism of the ignorant bigot—but, much worse, the racism of the half-intelligent calculator.

What you had not reckoned with was that the impossible would happen: that some other Ngarrindjeri women—for who else could actually overthrow the political correctness of the day, as no-one else could do it?—would display enormous courage and overthrow the lies of the fabricators of Hindmarsh Island.

Mr Latham interjecting

Mr McLACHLAN —Why don't you just sit down because you were not around the place then. Just sit down and quieten down. Who was in this conspiracy? Lawyers, new wave anthropologists, feminists, some Ngarrindjeri women and the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement of South Australia. Who was the cheer squad? The cheer squad was certain Aboriginal leaders. Where are those Aboriginal leaders who were so public about it? They are very quiet on the subject now.

Mr Latham —Who stole the mail? You stole Tickner's mail.

Mr McLACHLAN —The member for Hotham (Mr Crean) has some papers belonging to the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Tim Fischer). I don't think he has given them back. I might be wrong about that, but I have got this sneaking suspicion that he has still got them locked up somewhere. Nevertheless, you will talk to him about it tomorrow, won't you—the stuff he took out of the Leader of the Opposition's room? Would you like to check on that?

Mr Latham interjecting

Mr McLACHLAN —No, it didn't belong to the Leader of the Opposition? Why don't you keep him quiet? Everybody else respected what you had to say until he came into this chamber. It is time you kept him quiet.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. G.H. Adams) —Order! I ask the minister to return to the debate.

Mr McLACHLAN —Who else was in the cheer squad? The journalists who simply followed the Labor government line and the independent Australian Broadcasting Corporation. They were as independent on this as they are on the subject of `save our funding'. Some of those people followed the Australian Labor Party to the hilt.

How did the truth force its way out of your watertight bottle? The only way it could really—because three or four very courageous Njarrindjeri women finally found their consciences. Not that there was any guilt, but the conscience of further silence was too much for them. They were joined by more and the number became 13 women—an unlucky number for the Labor Party and for the conspirators.

Three of those women are up there in the gallery. You ought to have a look at those people because they had the courage to stand up to the nonsense that you people supported. They are right up there in the front and second rows of that gallery. They are not the cheer squad, they are the people—

Mr Melham —I don't sit in judgment on anyone.

Mr McLACHLAN —They passed judgment on you as being part of the conspiracy. Dorothy Wilson is up there. Dorothy Wilson saw the whole conspiracy from start to finish, supported by your people.

Mr Melham —Mathews blew you out of the water.

Mr McLACHLAN —Forget about Mathews. She was your reporter in the High Court. Six to seven said that she was wrongly appointed.

Dorothy Wilson knew most of the story. After a heart-rending deliberation, she decided that the truth needed to come out. You should talk to her. You should talk to those people. You are the shadow minister. It would do you good. You should talk to them because none of your people ever spoke to them. They didn't speak to them, and you should.

Mrs Dulci Wilson is up there too. She went off to represent the Salvation Army in London in 1957 to speak for the Aboriginal people.

Mr Latham —It's not our role to speak to the Aboriginal people.

Mr McLACHLAN —It is not in your role to speak to the Aboriginal people? It is time you took a new view because you should do that. There were others. Later, you and large elements of the media said that I affronted the whole of the Aboriginal race—`exploiting Aboriginals for political purposes', `deceivers who are inept'—all those things—`opposition members routinely lie', `untruths' and so on. But I knew that I could not prove those things were fakes.

Mr Melham —I didn't utter a word on this.

Mr McLACHLAN —No, of course you didn't. Why would you? Why would you utter a word? You should be ashamed of everything that you did.

All of these people voted against that disallowance motion. They voted, having seen none of the evidence at all. They were the judges that day. You were the judges in the Senate as well. An invention you supported set to deceive the nation and the courts, a fraudulent forgery which you gave succour to. You gave succour to that invention in cash through ATSIC to the ALRMSA.

In the parliament you voted for the liars and in the press with rampant criticism of anyone who had any doubt on this matter. That is the fact. You rampantly castigated anyone who put any doubt on this matter. You ignored those people who stood up and, finally, in the South Australian royal commission, after 16 weeks, were proven to be right. The truth either disappeared into a morass of your obsequious sanctioning. Alternatively, your behaviour was worse than that.

Mr Melham interjecting

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member for Banks!

Mr McLACHLAN —You know, I kept reasonably quiet when you were speaking, but you do not pass the same obligation back. Your friend has got you out of control, I fear.

Your Labor Party declared the development of this bridge banned without seeing the evidence. Do you know what happened? When you were challenged in the various cases that surrounded this matter, 19 out of 20 judges who were involved in this and allied matters deliberated against your view. The High Court decision on the validity of Justice Mathews was six to seven against; Tickner v. W. in Western Australia, four out of four against; Tickner v. Chapman in South Australia, four out of four against; Tickner v. Bropho—you used the case—four out of four against.

Do you know what you argued in the Bropho case? You argued that the minister for Aboriginal affairs needed a section 10 report. Do you know what the court said? It said, `Not unless it was frivolous or vexatious.' You are now arguing that another report is not necessary. Is that what you are arguing? If you are, that is consistently stupid. You know, and you ought to know, the results of that will be another judicial inquiry. You know it as well as I do, and that is why you are trying to delay it with this little procedure you are going through. You know very well that this bill is not contrary to the Racial Discrimination Act.

Mr Melham —Support the amendment.

Mr McLACHLAN —No, of course not. It is unnecessary. You still have not said whether you are going to vote for this bill. I have got a sneaking suspicion that in the end you will buckle and vote for this bill, but I sure hope you don't.

As the South Australian royal commission found after 16 weeks of evidence, you got cleaned up by those people up there who had the courage to stand up and tell the truth. Who were the perpetrators of your line? Tickner, Lavarch, Henzell and Beazley—the current Leader of the Opposition. You would be very silly if you continued to take the view that you have taken. I have said that this legislation is not inconsistent with the Racial Discrimination Act. In fact, it will be later legislation and, as well, is not inconsistent with the Racial Discrimination Act. That is the advice of the Attorney-General (Mr Williams)—and you know it. And that is why the bill is coming forward.

So in the end this matter was not to do with whether a bridge should or shouldn't be built. It was not about the developers, the Chapmans—whether they should be supported. It was nothing to do with that. It was about an invention of such proportions that it could have changed the very nature of the law had it been perpetrated. (Time expired)