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Tuesday, 26 August 1980
Page: 684

Mr WEST (CUNNINGHAM, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the Prime Minister concerned and embarrassed that he will go to the United States to receive a B'nai B'rith award for humanitarianism next week when he refused again yesterday to use Commonwealth powers to protect Western Australian Aborigines from social and religious oppression by his Western Australian State colleagues? Is the Prime Minister more concerned with his image abroad than with the interests and future welfare of our Australian Aborigines? Will the Government now take responsibility for protecting Aboriginal interests or leave that responsibility to be undertaken by trade unions, perhaps the clergy, and certainly the Opposition?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - The Government's view all along has been that sacred sites should be protected and that a community ought to be protected. It is worth noting that throughout the discussions yesterday it became very clear that the major concern of the Aboriginals present with us was the preservation of their traditional way of life and of their community. In a very real sense the preservation of sacred sites is important but symbolic of that. It is not just a question of the sacred sites; it is because that is an important part of their own tradition and culture. All parties agreed - the Aboriginals at Noonkanbah, the National Aboriginal Conference, the State Government and the Federal Government - that these things must be protected, so it is a matter of great regret to the Commonwealth that it has not been possible to come to an agreement through negotiations. Since there is an agreement that the sacred sites and the way of life of the people must be protected - this is common to everyone who has an involvement in this matter - we believe it ought to have been possible to come to a negotiation in relation to it.

The honourable gentleman has asked this Government to use powers which the Opposition never thought to use when it was in office and which no Government hitherto has sought to use. This Government established land rights in the Northern Territory. Much has been achieved over the last five years under the two Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs whom we have had and whom the Aboriginal communities widely regard as the best Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs that this country has ever had. That has been said by community after community right around Australia because those Ministers have given effect to government policies which have been realistic and which have given dignity and self-esteem to Aboriginal communities and groups. If all people in Australia are to advance, as this Government would want, these policies must continue. It will not advance the cause of Aborigines if one government is virtually to go to war with another over the question of what ought to be done. Just as we believe that the problems at Noonkanbah should be resolved by negotiation, as has been said privately and publicly on many occasions, so too we believe that if there are differences between governments they ought to be resolved by negotiation because both governments have a responsibility to the Aboriginal people and for their advancement. As there seems to be a misunderstanding among honourable gentlemen opposite I shall read a statement that was issued today. It states:

The Chairman of the National Aboriginal Conference, Mr . . . Hagan said in Canberra today that the NAC Executive Committee was pleased with the outcome of talks last night with the Prime Minister . . . and senior Cabinet Ministers.

As a result of the talks the Federal Government was now fully aware of the Aboriginal viewpoint on land rights and the protection of sacred sites.

The Government had agreed that protection of sacred sites and of Aboriginal community lifestyle was paramount in any negotiation of mining on Aboriginal land.

Mr Hagansaid the meeting had provided valuable insight for both the Government and the NAC into the complexities of the other situation and this would prove beneficial in any further top level discussions. 'While the NAC entered no agreement with the Government on the Noonkanbah issue, it is confident that the Government, for the first time -

I beg to differ slightly here because I believe the Government has understood the issue-

now fully understands the feeling of the Noonkanbah people and of all Aborigines on the question of land rights' . . . 'The NAC made the Government totally aware of the resolve of the NAC and other Aboriginal organisations that in this instance it should intervene to effect a peaceful resolution to the Noonkanbah dispute.'

He said Press reports that the talks had failed had presupposed that the NAC had met the Government with the expectation of effecting an immediate change in the situation.

This was not the case.

So it goes on. That was a Press statement by the Chairman of the National Aboriginal Conference on its behalf. As indicated at the end of that Press statement, it is true that the Conference put to us that it would prefer this Government to use the totality of its Commonwealth power. The Government, in response, said that if these matters are to be resolved through negotiation and consultation, it will be not only a question of negotiation and consultation among Aboriginal groups, the State Government, miners or the Federal Government but also a question of negotiation and consultation between governments. It is not a question of one government arbitrarily using powers in relation to another. That would not advance the cause of Aboriginal people. That Press statement on behalf of the National Aboriginal Conference demonstrated plainly that the meeting yesterday was a constructive and useful one and that there is a better understanding of the totality of the issues involved. That meeting will be followed by discussions later this week with the Deputy Prime Minister and others and with the mining groups which have an interest in making sure that these matters can proceed in a reasonable way by negotiation and without confrontation. I have no doubt that this Government will have the co-operation of mining groups in relation to that.

Some other simple facts, I think, are not necessarily well understood in this issue. The mining is not on a sacred site. On the basis of the Western Australian Museum report, the proposed drill hole is about a kilometre and a quarter to a kilometre and a half away from a sacred site. There is a question of an area of influence. That is a different matter. The matter of sacred sites does not arise. It was made quite plain by the National Aboriginal Conference yesterday that the matters of prime concern were, firstly, sacred sites and, secondly, the preservation of the Aborigines' own traditions and lifestyle. This Government fully agrees with that. There is no mining on a sacred site and there should be no suggestion that there is. The other point that needs noting is that Noonkanbah was bought as a pastoral lease for the Noonkanbah people some time ago. If

Australia were to accept the proposition that any minority group could, for all time, reject or prevent mining on a pastoral lease, that would be saying something of great significance which I do not think many Australians would want to embrace. That does not detract for one moment from the proposition that all those matters of importance to the Aboriginal communities need to be safeguarded and protected, whether they be sacred sites or the habits and customs of their daily living.

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