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Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1482


Mr HOLDING (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)(3.08) —I welcome the opportunity provided by this matter of public importance debate to debate calmly and rationally the issues in question. Since the honourable gentleman saw fit to quote a Sydney Morning Herald editorial, let me point out that a similar editorial dealing with the policy statement of his own Party was deeply critical of the fuzziness of his Party's policy on the role of the Commonwealth in the whole issue of land rights. The editorial pointed out that some of the detail of the Opposition's policy was highly commendable in part. It went on to say:

. . . the party's opposition to uniform land rights legislation-based on what in this context is one of the white man's most baffling shibboleths, States' rights-undercuts the recognition of the fundamental importance of land rights.

If there is confusion within the community, if there is antipathy within the community, if there is uncertainty within the community, much of that is attributable not merely to the fuzziness of the Opposition's policy in this area but to the fact that the Liberal Party and the National Party, but certainly the Liberal Party talk with two voices on this issue. Let me deal with the policy statement of the Liberal Party.

Central to this issue is: What is the role and what is the responsibility of the Commonwealth in this whole area of land rights? That role and that responsibility were recognised by the Fraser Government when it introduced land rights legislation in respect of the Northern Territory. The policy document which has been put forward by the Opposition states, in effect, that its policy is that, insofar as the States are willing to meet their obligations, the Opposition would support State legislation and only where necessary would it seek to impose its own legislation. That is to say, not even this Opposition says that there is no role for the Commonwealth. It says: 'If we were a government we would encourage the States to introduce legislation; but if they fail to do so, as a last resort we would accept our constitutional responsibilities in respect of land rights'. I believe that is a fair and just interpretation of the policy that has been put forward by the Opposition. That is precisely the way in which the Government has gone about its relations with the States in encouraging the States to develop land rights positions.

It is all very well for the shadow Minister to say what has happened in the States, but let us just look at that. When we came into government the New South Wales Government introduced its land rights legislation. Aspects of that legislation were not warmly received by the Aboriginal people and they asked immediately for Commonwealth intervention. We said that we would not intervene as this was a matter for the State to sort out with its Aboriginal people. We said that we would take up any of the problems not dealt with in that legislation within our discussions and our processes in the development of the principles which have to be attached to any uniform concept.

Equally, the Victorian Government introduced its legislation. It has been subjected to extensive consultation with Aboriginal groups. It has now been revised. We were again asked to intervene, but we said that this was a matter for the State Government in Victoria to get right with its people and that in that context we would respond at an appropriate time and through the processes which we have structured with Aboriginal people to consider these very important issues. In respect of Queensland, we are still awaiting the responses of the Queensland Minister. We are still waiting for him to honour the undertakings that he has given to the State chairmen of reserve communities as to the handing over of full responsibility, management and control of those reserves to that leadership. On the basis of a request from State chairmen we have deliberately withheld any further discussion until those discussions are complete.

In respect of the land rights legislation in South Australia, I am on public record as saying that the South Australian Government has gone so far in this area that there is very little for the Commonwealth to do except to work in co- operation with the South Australian Government to develop some uniform applications, and the State Government is perfectly happy to involve itself in that.

Does this sound like exercises in confrontation and antagonism? Duplicity is practised by the Opposition in respect of this matter. It is all very well for the Opposition to attack the Government on the basis of antagonism, but where has the opposition to land rights been fomented in Australian society? When the shadow Minister speaks, does he speak for a national party? What are the policies of the Liberal Party in respect of this issue? Let us take the case of New South Wales. Whatever criticism the Aboriginal people have of the structure of land rights in New South Wales, Mr Greiner, the spokesman for the Liberal Party, says that his Party will not have a bar of land rights. That is his position, and he condemns his Federal colleagues for even endorsing the principle, providing lip service to the concept.

In Western Australia, Mr Hassell has made it perfectly clear that he will oppose the whole concept of land rights legislation. He has gone right across the face of Australia, deliberately misleading and misinforming the people of Australia in respect of the aspirations and hopes of the Aboriginal people. Mr Hassell, at a joint Press conference in New South Wales, said to the people of Australia: 'No one's home is safe, no one's backyard is safe, unless you all stand up and oppose land rights'. He knew when he said it that it was a false and mischievous assertion. I publicly disowned it and I publicly repudiated it, but we heard not a word from the Opposition or from the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

Let us move on to the position in respect of Western Australia. The Government of Western Australia, having looked at the complexities of this issue, decided to establish the Seaman inquiry. The Federal Government endorsed and supported that inquiry. We said that we regarded the report of that inquiry as being significant not merely to the Government of Western Australia but also to a whole range of State governments and to the Commonwealth. I stand by that position. I believe, as I have said, that Mr Seaman's report is an excellent document. I believe that it is a document which commands the attention not merely of the Government of Western Australia but also of the Commonwealth Government and the other State governments. It makes many interesting propositions that have to be seriously considered by Aboriginal leadership and by all those who are genuinely concerned with this problem.

I am accused of delay, but let us look at that. We established a process in which the leader of the National Aboriginal Conference and the land councils in Australia were invited to participate in the formulation of a wide range of discussions which involved considering the full ambit of the very complex issues which deal with the aspirations of Aboriginal people, their role in Australian society and the role of the Commonwealth in discharging its constitutional responsibilities. When that body and that assembly said to the Commonwealth and to me as Minister 'We need more time in order to discuss these issues', I was happy to agree to that request and it was on that basis that the timetable was changed. I regarded that request as being one that ought to be responded to by any government of sensitivity. I find that request far more compelling than the kind of unctuous nonsense that I have heard from the shadow Minister.

Let us turn to Western Australia and the position of the Burke Government. Mr Burke has made his position perfectly clear. In respect of the formulation of his Government's attitude to the Seaman report, he said that the State Government's package represents the fairest and best package available and, having regard to the control of the Legislative Council, it is the best possible basis on which to frame Western Australian land rights law. What did he mean by that? He meant that the political colleagues of the honourable gentleman opposite have made it clear that they will vote against and work against the whole concept of land rights legislation. Is Premier Burke able to mount his responses to the Seaman recommendations as if he had a free hand? Of course he is not. He is forced to develop a package on the basis that whatever he takes into the Legislative Council will be opposed tooth and nail by the Liberal Party , the political colleagues of the people who sit opposite.


Mr Porter —And you do not believe it goes far enough?


Mr HOLDING —I believe and I have said that Premier Burke is a better judge of the legislature of Western Australia than I am. I wish him well. He has my full support and the support of the Government in endeavouring to produce the best possible package of legislation.


Mr Porter —What are you going to do?


Mr HOLDING —Let me say this to the honourable gentleman, who does not come into this House with clean hands. Is he prepared for the first time in his political life to stand up to his colleagues in the State Parliament and say: 'It is Federal Liberal Party policy to support land rights'? The honourable member should abandon his opposition and accept the invitation of Premier Burke to help draft meaningful legislation. However, there is not a bit of it. The honourable member knows that he will not do it. His basic political position is one--


Mr Porter —Our policy is clear.


Mr HOLDING —The policy is clear! The honourable member should tell me how clear this thing he calls a policy is when he is told the position by his State leaders. The policy is clear, but what does this Opposition member do when he is told by State leader after State leader-he is told by Hassell, by Greiner and by Kennett in Victoria-that they are opposed to the whole concept of land rights? The policy of the honourable member for Barker is that if the States do not implement a policy the Commonwealth must. He sits here and says: 'The policy is clear'. No wonder the Aboriginal people have had a gutful of the hypocritical stance that passes for a policy. They condemned the Opposition's policy, and they rightly condemned it.

The honourable member may be assured of this: The broad guidelines that we have adopted are to be adhered to. We will continue our discussions and negotiations with Aboriginal people because their voice is a voice that must be heard and be responded to. We will involve, as we have already involved, the farming community, the mining industry and the tourist industry. We will invite their contributions and we will develop a package in terms of the policies which have been outlined. We will encourage the States to go as far as they possibly can. Premier Burke has the best wishes of the Government and the support of the Government in a very difficult political situation. This stance of the Opposition is hypocritical. Honourable members know that their Western Australian parliamentary colleagues will work against, vote against and undermine any attempt at land rights. It is typical of the kinds of attitudes which have bedevilled the Liberal Party and lowered its respect in the community and the Aboriginal community in particular.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The Minister's time has expired.