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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 2144


Mr TUCKEY(1.48) —In the West Australian of Saturday, 6 October 1984, a headline appeared saying: 'Canberra land-rights support for Burke'. This, of course, was followed by these words:

The Premier, Mr Burke, emerged from his crucial talks with the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, yesterday confident that the Federal Government will not legislate to override the Western Australian Aboriginal land rights package.

I wish to raise matters of great concern to the people of Western Australia in regard to that particular headline and the extent to which it has misled people when one looks at the facts of the meeting of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) with Mr Burke. The news item goes on to point out that Mr Burke said:

. . . both Mr Hawke and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Holding, had accepted the State Government's statement of principles, despite its categorical rejection of an Aboriginal veto over mining.

Mr Burke is quoted as saying:

I said that a veto was not-negotiable from our Government's point of view and from that point on it was not discussed.

Of course the next few lines are of great interest to me. He says:

I think Mr Hawke and Mr Holding accepted it.

Well, the headline certainly presents an argument that says a lot more than ' think'. Of course, Mr Burke only thought, because in fact he was talking about a joint Press release that was put out by the Prime Minister and himself on 5 October 1984. One of the statements from that was that discussions were extremely productive; that is the good old hardline regular statement that says nothing. Another statement said that Mr Burke had invited the Federal Government to nominate an officer of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to participate. Well, we do not know whether he is a watch dog or someone to help out. But then, of course, we go on to hear what the Prime Minister had to say:

The Federal Government in accepting its obligations at a national level-

if this is a matter for the States we must wonder what the national level is-

for Aboriginal land rights recognises the interests of Western Australia in addressing its problems.

Well they are some nice words, but I am not exactly sure what they mean because the people of Western Australia have made their interest quite clear. They are generally opposed to the concept of land rights, and that is their position. Of course we have to read more of the joint statement. It says:

The Seaman Commission's report and recommendations, together with the Western Australia Government's statement of principles, provides a valuable basis on which to address these issues in that State.

Well, that is great encouragement also. It is just gobbledegook. It continues:

The Federal and State Governments will work together to ensure that common principles are adopted in the formulation of land rights legislation. The Commonwealth remains committed to its constitutional responsibilities in this area. . .

It was only the other day that I drew to the attention of the House what this Government considers some of its constitutional responsibilities. They are, of course, set out in the Holding statement, the statement of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, of 8 December 1983. The Minister says on page 5 of the statement that the first major area of policy is land rights. He continued:

The resolution sets down five principles which will guide us in this important matter. I repeat them here as they appear in the resolution before the House:

Aboriginal land to be held under inalienable freehold title;

protection of Aboriginal sites;

Aboriginal control in relation to mining on Aboriginal land;

Now while that stays written down in this Parliament and not rejected by the Minister or the Prime Minister, what good is it for Mr Burke to say: 'I think Mr Holding and Mr Hawke accepted that'? Quite clearly they did not accept it.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Order! I remind the honourable member that the Standing Orders require that he refer to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs by their titles and not by their personal names.


Mr TUCKEY —Thank you. What you have said is not exactly correct but I will not waste my time arguing the point now. I just read from a newspaper. It was a quote of Mr Burke, the Premier of Western Australia. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on page 22 of the statement says:

The overwhelming vote of the 1967 referendum means this Parliament has the power and responsibility to make laws which enable Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians to come to terms with each other. This Government accepts that duty.

In some conservative quarters we hear talk of 'State rights'. The States' legislative powers in this area passed to the Commonwealth sixteen years ago. Any doubts were dispelled by the High Court in the Koowarta and Dams case.

Then he says:

Human rights are more important than 'State Rights'.

. . . .

I repeat: the human rights of Aboriginal and Islander Australians must take precedence over State rights.

With those things still in place what confidence can the people of Western Australia have in this headline that says: 'Canberra land-rights support for Burke'? There is nothing in the joint Press statement of the Prime Minister and the Premier of Western Australia that denies one word of those statements still existing in the Hansard of this Parliament as a statement of Government policy. It is yet to be changed, and while it is not changed there is only one certainty . We are well aware that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs are correct in claiming the overriding powers of the Commonwealth in this area. We are also well aware of the overriding power of that statement in the Parliament over a Press statement such as this one which tells us nothing.

But finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am particularly concerned at other statements that have been made. The report in the West Australian states:

However, Mr Burke issued a blunt warning to the Opposition that the defeat or emasculation of the State legislation in the Legislative Council would be an open invitation to Federal intervention.

Is it not time that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Prime Minister told Australians and Western Australians in particular what, in fact, they propose to do if Mr Hassell, the Leader of the Opposition in Western Australia, keeps his threat to which the Premier has referred and calls on the Legislative Council, where Mr Hassell has the numbers to defeat any legislation put forward by Mr Burke?

There is a lot of talk about the power of the Legislative Council in Western Australia but from my observation it passes a lot more legislation than it ever refuses to pass. Like our Senate here it is very conscious of the power and the responsibility it has. It is my observation in Western Australia that when the Legislative councillors take that independent decision they do so in the knowledge that they have total or certainly a high majority of public support. There is evidence of that in other areas. If they take the decision on this occasion it will be because they believe that is the case also.

What is the position of the Government in those circumstances? What is the position if the legislation, as weak-kneed as it might be in the interests of Aboriginal people, is rejected? Will the Federal Government then interfere as it did in the dams case in Tasmania, as has been quoted so conveniently by the Minister? Is that its intention? That is the warning that Mr Burke gives Western Australia. I suggest that the intention in either case will be to achieve land rights as per the policy of the Labor Party and as per the statements of different people such as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs that have been made . Let me read to the House a summary of Labor's policies in 1984. Under the heading of 'Land' it states:

Embark upon immediate negotiations with State governments to provide Aboriginal land rights in line with Labor's stated principles . . .

In pursuing its Aboriginal land rights programme, be prepared to use Commonwealth constitutional powers if faced with non-cooperation by State governments.

That is what Minister Holding was talking about when he talked of breaking a few arms. We are not really sure that he will come back into the Parliament. In fact , there is considerable doubt that he will continue his bumbling administration of this portfolio, but it is widely rumoured, for instance, that the honourable member for Melbourne, Mr Hand, might take that particular task over and that, of course, would be a faint shift to the Left. What does that promise for the people of Western Australia? The facts are that the Prime Minister and his Minister have not alleviated the concerns of Western Australians in regard to land rights at all. I condemn the Western Australian newspaper for its headline that was based on an article that in no way referred to the Press statement or dealt with the matters that were contained in it; it did not deal with the inferences of the non-event of the Press statement. The rights of the citizens of Western Australia are still under threat. That is my understanding of State rights.