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Tuesday, 30 August 1994
Page: 569

Senator CAMPBELL (3.35 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Gareth Evans), to a question without notice asked by the Leader of the Australian Democrats (Senator Kernot) this day, relating to the proposed Aboriginal land fund legislation.

There are a number of disturbing aspects of both the question from Senator Kernot and the response by Senator Evans, the most disturbing of which is the gross misrepresentation of the coalition's position, which was articulated by both the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Downer, and our shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs, Mrs Gallus, earlier this day in the House of Representatives.

  Mr Deputy President, as you will know, the coalition has decided to approach the land fund question in a constructive and positive manner and to seek to ensure that the land fund bill is amended in such a way as to deliver the stated objectives of such a fund, that is, to overcome some of the disadvantage suffered by Aboriginals due to the fact that they do not have access to land and cannot enjoy the economic benefits of the development and ownership of that land.

Senator Chapman —We want to see real improvement.

Senator CAMPBELL —As Senator Chapman says, we want to see real, sustainable improvements in Aboriginals in their economic and cultural lives—indeed, in all aspects of their lives. There is no doubt that there is a significant difference in the ownership of land by Aboriginals as opposed to ownership by white Australians, and a significant disadvantage suffered by many Aboriginal people in their health, education, housing and mortality rates. We share the view of the government that access to land can help alleviate some of those significant disadvantages. So we have set about finding some amendments to the land fund bill, which is a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation, to address those problems.

  It was most disappointing that the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Evans, and the Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Kernot, implied that the coalition is seeking to play some sort of political game with this bill, which is something we would not seek to do. It is very sad that, sight unseen, Senator Kernot would write off our amendments by saying that they are all some sort of game.

  That is something that disturbs me because the Democrats pretend to be the people who try to find consensus, the middle path. When it comes to their position on the native title legislation, we would never blame the Democrats for coming in and saying, `The native title legislation is a perfect piece of legislation that does not need amendment.' Between the Greens (WA) and the Democrats there were something like 240 amendments to the Native Title Bill. We did not come in here and say, `You should not amend the bill. Mr Keating has got it right first time.' However, Senator Evans and Senator Kernot are saying, `The ATSIC Amendment (Indigenous Land Corporation and Land Fund) Bill should not be amended.'

  Senator Bell interjecting—

Senator CAMPBELL —That is exactly right, Senator Bell—let the Democrats look at our amendments.

Senator Coulter —That is not what she said, anyway.

Senator CAMPBELL —That is exactly what she said. She said that the opposition would seek to gut the bill and it would not be a real fund; it would be only half a fund. The reality is that the opposition amendments, which the Democrats have not seen but already want to criticise—and they want to criticise our motives too—are intended to actually put some guts into the bill, not take them out. We would like to bring our amendments before this chamber positively and constructively and have them dealt with on their merits.

  I would like the Democrats to give the Senate an undertaking that they will deal with our amendments on their merits. I am sure the Greens will. They should look at our amendments and say, `Will these amendments assist individual Aboriginals, Aboriginal families and Aboriginal communities to improve their economic sustainability, lifestyle, living standards, self-esteem, and health and education standards?' They should look at each amendment and say, `Will the coalition's amendment achieve that?'

Senator Bell —Show them to us. Bring them in.

Senator CAMPBELL —But you have prejudged it. The trouble is that the Democrats' stupid and foolish leader has come into this place and said that Mr Downer is trying to gut the land fund with his amendments. And she has not seen the amendments! All I am saying is that that is a stupid, foolish and hypocritical position to take, and I condemn the Democrats for doing that. All I ask is that some fairness prevail. I ask the Democrats not to fall back into their sanctimonious and hypocritical stance, whenever the coalition does something about Aboriginal affairs, of saying the coalition is doing it for some other motive. I assure the Democrats that each and every coalition member and senator actually does have a fundamental desire to ensure that the prospects for Aboriginal Australians are improved. We also know that the land fund bill, as it is termed at the moment, will not achieve that. We seek to amend the bill so that it will, in fact, achieve that.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.