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Wednesday, 27 September 1995
Page: 1907


Mr TICKNER (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) (12.50 p.m.) —in reply—I will take a few minutes to conclude this debate, thank members for their contribution to it and respond to a number of issues that have been raised in the course of the debate.

  In my second reading speech on this matter I mentioned that the initiative is very much in line with recommendation 315 of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Recommendation 315 of the royal commission was first of all a plea to the government of Western Australia to give effect to the recommendations of the Millstream conference held in that state. The Millstream conference recommendations put forward a broad charter of reform and involvement of Aboriginal people in national park management in appropriate cases.

  Those recommendations, although directed to the government of Western Australia, were first of all responded to by the Commonwealth in its draft response to the royal commission, with the Commonwealth picking up and endorsing the terms of that recommendation. As a result of that Commonwealth leadership, every state and territory government endorsed that recommendation. I am pleased to say that the return of Jervis Bay National Park to Aboriginal ownership is directly in line with the Commonwealth commitment given in response to that recommendation.

  However, I must say in response to issues raised in the debate that there is still quite a way to go in respect of the actions of a number of the state governments to give effect to their commitments in response to recommendation 315. I can say to the chamber that the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories (Senator Faulkner) and myself will be seeking to advance this agenda as a part of the government's response to the social justice recommendations put to us by ATSIC and the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in relation to the government's third stage response to the High Court decision in the Mabo case. We want to work closely with the state and territory governments to advance recommendation 315. I am heartened by much of the debate and comment from the opposition in the course of debate on this bill that we can do so from at least the Commonwealth level with a large degree of cross-party support.

  I will make a couple of other brief comments in concluding the debate. It is fortuitous that the Minister for Tourism (Mr Lee) is in the chamber as we conclude this debate because he shares, along with the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories and myself and other colleagues, a commitment to advance the agenda of indigenous tourism. If I can just recount my own experience in this regard, my first trip to the Northern Territory was in 1975. Those were the days when my good friend, now senator from the Northern Territory, Senator Collins, was actively involved with the environment centre of the Northern Territory. Other people on that trip included the now Senator Coulter from the Australian Democrats. This was long before either of them became elected to parliament.

  As a then relatively young non-indigenous Australian, to visit Kakadu National Park before it was a national park, just to see the majesty of the rock art of Kakadu, was a very profound experience for me. It helped shape a lot of my views and attitudes with respect to how I think about Australia. In terms of a time line of human occupation of this continent, the fact is that non-indigenous occupation is but a speck in time compared with the 40,000 years or more of indigenous ownership of the continent. There is so much that non-indigenous Australians can learn from an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and art. It is just such a magnificent contribution to the reconciliation process. I know this is an agenda that the minister in the chamber and other key ministers will seek to advance in the period ahead.

  I am heartened by the recently foreshadowed initiatives of the New South Wales government to give effect to the now long outstanding unanimous report of the parliamentary committee in that state which recommended the transfer of key areas of national park land to Aboriginal ownership. I think that the unanimous parliamentary committee report should be supported, as it appears it will be, by the New South Wales government. I look forward to seeing tangible progress in that area.

  We are coming up to the 10th anniversary of the return of Uluru to Aboriginal ownership. That event, for those people who were there, was a magnificent day. Indeed, one of the speakers in this debate, the member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding), was the minister at the time. That debate brought together a wide cross-section of Australian people in support of that action. Unfortunately, at that time, there was also a campaign against the return of Uluru to Aboriginal ownership. The then Northern Territory government had full-page newspaper advertisements in major newspapers across the country saying that Uluru belongs to all Australians and foreshadowing doom and gloom and terrible consequences if that national icon were returned to Aboriginal ownership. Of course, none of that came to pass.

  In fact, the work of the Australian government in this regard has been commended by UNESCO. It has been recognised as truly a model for the world. Uluru is one of the premier national and international tourist destinations in this country and it is enriched as a tourist destination because of the Aboriginal ownership and the Aboriginal involvement in the management of that very significant national park area. In conclusion, the message is that non-indigenous Australians have nothing to fear from initiatives of this kind and everything to gain. The initiatives will be seen, as they are I think now, as very proud reforms of our federal Labor government. I thank the House.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

  Bill read a second time.

  Motion (by Mr Tickner)—by leave—agreed to:

  That the bill be reported to the House without amendment.