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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 1185


Mr PORTER(10.19) —During this week Australians have opportunities to share in the richness of Aboriginal culture through the activities of National Aboriginal Week which is being celebrated in some centres around Australia. Unfortunately some celebrated National Aboriginal Week in July and the balance are celebrating it this week. It is important that National Aboriginal Week be fully utilised to build further understanding and respect between all Australians. Network 0-28 is to be applauded for televising a collection of movies, specials and documentaries that will assist in the promotion of Aboriginal heritage and history and the greater appreciation by all Australians of our history. There is a need for greater understanding of the Aboriginal people and I single out for particular praise the Film Women of the Sun. Productions such as this act as a vehicle for the positive bridge building that is so necessary between all our peoples.

I want to take the opportunity to restate the policy the Opposition has consistently applied to encourage the genuine aspirations of the Aboriginal people. Inherent in the Opposition's position is the recognition of the affinity most Aborigines have with their land. The Opposition realistically and responsibly seeks to develop policies that embrace the needs and aspirations of the different Aboriginal groups to whom we refer in our policy; namely, Aborigines who live on their traditional land, fringe dwellers, those on reserves and those in towns and cities. It is essential that the individual requirements of these Aboriginal communities be considered. We are not seeking to categorise Aboriginal people or to foster welfare reliant Aboriginal people as has been claimed. Instead, we seek to address positively policies relevant to the people concerned.

The Government's determination to impose uniform land rights legislation on the States fails to recognise the diversity of legitimate Aboriginal needs and aspirations. The States have a responsibility to meet their obligations to the Aboriginal people. The States are independently adopting policies which seek to take account of the particular social, economic and cultural needs of their Aboriginal communities in respect of access and tenure of land. The statements of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) have demonstrated a preoccupation with the imposition of a Canberra devised policy and a lack of understanding of the genuine attempts that are being made by the States to meet the needs of their Aboriginal people. On the one hand, the Minister invokes his Government's five principles as being 'non-negotiable' and he is quoted as saying he is prepared to break a few arms to have those principles implemented. Then, in the wake of criticism from the Labor Government of Western Australia, he claims:

'There is an inquiry going on in Western Australia. We are committed to the results of that inquiry.'

Does that mean that the Minister is now not intending to legislate in respect of those States which have land rights legislation, or will his legislation be the same as any Western Australian legislation? He said the Government is committed to the results of that inquiry. Perhaps his legislation will go further than any Western Australian legislation. Despite the passage of many months the Government has failed to outline clearly its uniform land rights proposals. The uncertainty this has generated heightens the misunderstanding and even fear that is widespread in the community. The Government has an obligation to spell out what its uniform land rights legislation will embrace.

If the Western Australian and Victorian governments proceed to legislate and if , as I am informed, the legislation granting security of title to Queensland reserves is promulgated by the end of the year, all the mainland States and the Northern Territory will have land rights legislation although obviously it will not be uniform legislation. Therefore the Minister should state in what areas the legislation that exists or is being developed by the States is deficient. The Minister should identify in what areas he finds the existing legislation in New South Wales or South Australia unsatisfactory. For example, does he intend to invoke one of his five principles, which is 'Aboriginal control in relation to mining on Aboriginal land'? If so, in South Australia that will involve overturning section 21 of the Maralinga legislation which provides for arbitration of terms of access for exploration and mining where agreement cannot be reached. That State Labor legislation is similar to our proposed amendments to the Northern Territory land rights legislation. But that South Australia legislation is inconsistent with the Minister's Aboriginal veto on mining principle. What is his intention in this regard?

In Adelaide on Monday, the Minister said his legislation would 'complement' the South Australian legislation. The question I ask is in what way would he add to the existing State legislation. Where is the State legislation deficient, in his view? Apart from criticising some States, the Minister has failed to outline the nature of his proposals. One wonders how the Minister intends to enforce his legislation. Presumably if land is granted under his legislation he will attempt to act by way of the Commonwealth's power of compulsory acquisition. The coalition, having been through the Mornington Island and Aurukun exercise, is well aware of the practical problems involved in dealing with individual situations, let alone invoking such confrontations with the States all at once on an Australia-wide basis. I fear the outcome of such a Commonwealth versus States brawl in which the Aboriginal people would be meat in the sandwich.

The Government has failed to take the people of Australia into its confidence over land rights. This Government is ignoring the endeavours of the States and has displayed a lack of sensitivity which is divisive and harmful to the Aboriginal people. As a direct result of the uncertainties generated by this Government, Aborigines are incurring the antipathy and antagonism of other Australians. In marked contrast to the Government, the Opposition's approach is both realistic and reasonable. I welcome the following comments made by the Western Australian State Labor member for the Kimberleys, Mr Ernie Bridge, himself an Aborigine. He said:

'Analysis of the Federal Opposition's policy on Aboriginal land rights announced yesterday revealed a commendable grasp of the principles and details of the issue . . .

The policy also had paid attention to the needs of the Aboriginal people resident in towns and cities.

The Opposition's policies on sacred sites showed a sincere appreciation of their significance.

I call on the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs at least to outline his proposals for the imposition of uniform land rights on the States.


The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.