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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2340

Mr CONNOLLY(8.50) —The Aboriginal Land (Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest) Bill 1987 which has been introduced into this House is, in many respects, a milestone in legislative depravity by this Government. We are being asked to debate three Bills which were introduced into the Victorian State Parliament, where they belong, which were never debated in the upper House of the Victorian Parliament, where they should have been--

Mr Holding —They were debated in the Parliament. I was there and I heard it.

Mr CONNOLLY —I regret that, Minister; you are correct. The legislation was not carried through. That legislation is the responsibility of the Victorian Government and the legislative responsibility of the Victorian Parliament. For the first time of which I am aware this Parliament has been asked to carry through legislation which a State parliament was unable to pass.

The significant point is that the Opposition parties in the Victorian Parliament did not object-and nor should they have objected-to the proposal to give a title to Aboriginal communities at Lake Condah and the Framlingham Forest. In both these areas the spiritual, social, historic, cultural and economic importance of the Kirrae Whurrong community and local communities in that area were well established. No one has ever disputed that. The issue arose principally over the question of what form of title should be granted to the communities. The Victorian Parliament was told by the Government, as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) has said in this House, that in consultation with the Aboriginal community it was determined that the legislation should be based upon a freehold title in perpetuity-namely, the same title as is applied in the Northern Territory and a different title from that which is applied in all the States. One can argue about the issue, about what form of title is best. The Government bases its case on the presumption that since the Aboriginal community accepted that title, all was well. Nothing else mattered and no other points of view would be taken into account. The legislation was to be forced upon the Victorian people, and now upon this Parliament, irrespective of the merits of any alternative case.

The position of the Liberal Party of Australia is well established and is stated in its policy, announced only a few weeks ago:

It is the view of the Liberal Party that land administration is a matter for the States, both in terms of formulation of policies and their administration. We continue to believe that the role of the Commonwealth is to encourage and support the States in their endeavours to provide adequate land title for Aboriginals.

We went on to say, however:

It is not the role of the Commonwealth to impose a land rights regime upon the States in defiance of State governments and without regard to the different circumstances within the various States. Nor should it be the role of the Commonwealth to assert the responsibilities of the States in matters of land administration through the enactment of some form of Commonwealth land rights legislation.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you must forgive me for suggesting that tonight we are seeing yet another example of the Minister clutching at legislative straws in a desperate attempt to shore up his grossly declining position with Aboriginal communities across Australia-communities who were told by him, when he was in opposition and in his early days as Minister, that they would be given national land rights legislation. We know the history of that disaster. It is a history which has brought no credit to the Government and it has resulted in the Aboriginal communities seriously questioning the credibility of its policies and, in particular, the bona fides of its Minister.

This is also significant in the context of Victoria, his own State. That State Government, which has been in power longer than any other State Labor government in recent years, has what can only be described as a pathetic record in trying to solve the land rights issues of its indigenous population. Here we are debating in both the Parliament of Victoria and now in the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia a proposal to hand over title to a miserable 11 1/2 hectares of land. It is not unreasonable to ask the Minister: Why in God's name should this Parliament's time be wasted on such issues? This is a 100 per cent State responsibility. If State parliaments and governments are to be encouraged to run away from the representative views of elected members of their two houses, reflecting the views of their State and of its population, this Parliament will be in a shambles. While there is no dispute, in accordance with the national referendum of 1967 which will have its twentieth anniversary in only a few days, that this Parliament has the right to legislate in Aboriginal affairs, the issue must be raised whether in this particular case it was right that this action should be taken. It is the profound and definite view of the Opposition that this was a responsibility of the Victorian Parliament--

Mr Hawker —It still is.

Mr CONNOLLY —It still is and that is where the matter should have been left.

The other point that needs to be raised is this: As I understand it, in all States arrangements can be made in relation to the establishment of Crown land issues without having recourse to legislation. I put forward the proposition-perhaps the Minister may have an alternative view-that it was the Victorian Government which tried desperately to make a major issue of this particular performance because of its failure to do anything to help the issue of Aboriginal land rights up until now. Also, the Victorian Government declined to take the administrative decision which is simply to transfer the title administratively to the Aboriginal communities on whatever terms were agreed or considered to be fit. Instead of that, it had to make a big name for itself by introducing this legislation into the Victorian Parliament. It could not get things all its own way so it rushed off to big mumma asking for support at Federal level. It got on to the Minister-its erstwhile son, its erstwhile Leader of the Opposition in Victoria for so long-to try to make a little more political capital out of its miserable performance. That is what it is-a miserable performance.

There are three Bills in this context and the same principle applies to legislation on Framlingham Forest as to legislation on Lake Condah. The third piece of legislation relates to amendments to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Bill. When this legislation was put on the table and debated in this chamber by the Minister, the point was made it was there to compensate for any weaknesses which might appear in similar State legislation. We have always been sceptical about that argument. Having seen the legislation in its present form, and the amendments which have been introduced, I remain equally sceptical.

Perhaps the most important fact of all is that the Labor Government at the Federal level and, by implication, at the State level does not have the support of the Aboriginal people involved in this transfer. The point has been made that negotiations were conducted for some eight years and, ultimately, the form of the legislation which has been introduced in this House is apparently fundamentally different from the commitments made by the Minister on an earlier occasion. I refer to the Warrnambool Standard of 26 March this year when the Aboriginal community leader, Mr Geoff Clark, accused the Minister of sweeping aside matters which had taken eight years of negotiations between the community and the State Government. He protested that the amendments gave the community no choice as to which Act it would be incorporated under, namely the Victorian legislation or the Commonwealth legislation.

It is obvious that the Aboriginal people have not been fully consulted on the implications of Federal legislation, or they would have known that the Federal legislation can relate only to an organisation incorporated in the eyes of the Commonwealth under the Aboriginal Councils and Associations Act. It is wondered, and I wonder, what else the Minister and his advisers may well have not told the Aboriginal owners. At the end of the day we are seeing that they are simply being manipulated, as is always the case in issues of this type. The communities are concerned that the power of elders to set regulations governing behaviour has been undermined.

Mr Holding —Which communities?

Mr CONNOLLY —Framlingham. Mr Clark claims that amendments have taken away the communities' self-determination, with the Minister being able to stipulate who sits on the board of directors. The community wants elders to have the power to set regulations within existing law on a number of matters to improve the area, but again that was deleted from the Act. The State Government and the Opposition accepted those requirements but the legislation that the Minister has introduced into this Parliament is fundamentally different. I finalise my observations on this point, again by quoting the words of Mr Geoff Clark. He said that with one sweep of a pen Mr Holding has destroyed the essence of what they have been fighting for. The Minister, no doubt, will have his views on that subject, but the simple fact is that there is a significant division of opinion among the Aboriginal communities. The Minister will come into this House and no doubt claim that they have given him carte blanche effectively to involve them at a very basic level in the administration of the organisations which will have control over the land which this Parliament is being asked to transfer at this time.

I want to make only one point about this. As I said in the Liberal Party policy, we believe it is up to State governments to determine the form of title which is available to local communities and I am not entering into that argument-but it is equally the responsibility of a government, if it is to introduce legislation, to stand up and argue its case and be rational enough to make adequate amendments. Let us take the question of title. In the Minister's lengthy, 58-page tome, defending his record period of administration, he made a number of observations in relation to the question of title. I found it an interesting document because in one place, for example, he apparently takes credit for what is happening in Queensland, the State which is usually the butt of most of his criticisms in relation to Aboriginal affairs. He said that in Queensland the State Government has almost completed the issuing of deeds of grant in trust over island and mainland reserves and recently indicated that it is prepared to consider a freehold title.

Any reasonable reading of those words-in particular, that the State Government is prepared to consider a freehold title-leads one to presume that the Minister sees some credit in that concept. If he did not-he is now nodding his head-surely in 58 pages of turgid prose he would have had the opportunity to say so. That was not the purpose of this document. It was produced for two reasons: Firstly, to try to debunk the Opposition's policy which, at that stage, had not even been released and, secondly, to try to shore up his rapidly declining public image as the saviour and the protector of Aboriginal Australians. The Minister knows as well as I that the quotations in relation to this area are massive about what people regard as the failures of the policy for which he has been responsible. I think it is extraordinary that he should include in this document, by implication, credit for actions with which he had nothing to do. The means by which Aborigines got land in Queensland, to a very large degree, was due to the substantial efforts of my friend and colleague Senator Peter Baume who worked very hard with the Queensland Government to achieve a settlement, in relation to which the Minister and his so-called national land rights policy were going in exactly the opposite direction.

Mr Hand —On a point of order: With all due respect I appreciate that the honourable member probably does not know where Framlingham is, but I think it is a long way from Queensland and I suggest that he get back to the legislation. He is discussing a matter that is totally irrelevant to the debate.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —The honourable member for Melbourne might be cutting off some of his options. The debate is fairly wide ranging.

Mr Hand —On the point of order, I will stick to the issue because I know where Framlingham and Lake Condah are. The problem with the shadow Minister is that he does not know where they are, so he has to talk about Queensland.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I think the comments of the shadow Minister are reasonably relevant. I call the honourable member.

Mr CONNOLLY —I appreciate your support, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is important; we are discussing the issue of land rights.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I would not like the shadow Minister to suggest that I was supporting him.

Mr CONNOLLY —There is a correlation between land rights anywhere in Australia and land rights at Lake Condah and Framlingham. For the benefit of the honourable member for Melbourne who always shoots off before he checks his facts, I have been to both those places and I have spoken to Aboriginal communities in that area.

Mr Hand —They ran you out. It is in the Press.

Mr CONNOLLY —Is is also in the Press what Mr Clark, the leader of the Framlingham community, thinks of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and, what is more pertinent, what he thinks of this legislation. Having had the legislation denied--

Mr Hand —They ran you out.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There are far too many interjections. The honourable member for Melbourne will cease interjecting.

Mr Gayler —What about what he thinks of you?

Mr Holding —Tell us what he thinks of you.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Leichhardt and the Minister are not helping either. I call the honourable member for North Sydney.

Mr CONNOLLY —I am not the honourable member for North Sydney.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Bradfield, I should say.

Mr CONNOLLY —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I apologise to the honourable member for Bradfield.

Mr CONNOLLY —Much as I honour my colleague the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender), I am sure that my constituents in the equally excellent electorate of Bradfield would rather that I be named accordingly.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I have apologised to the honourable member for Bradfield.

Mr CONNOLLY —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The whole issue of land rights, whether we are talking about Lake Condah, Framlingham, or Queensland, the Northern Territory or anywhere else, is of fundamental importance to many Australians and particularly to the Aboriginal communities of Australia, wherever that may be. On that point there is some general agreement. I had hoped that when the Minister and the Government determined a year or 18 months ago to ditch their ridiculous policy of national land rights they would accept the fact that States were best able to make determinations of local issues relating to land. As the Minister, I know, would appreciate the circumstances involving individual Aboriginal communities, wherever that may be, vary.

The question as to whether the land should be freehold or leasehold, is wider than Framlingham or Lake Condah or anywhere else, for one important reason. I would hope that the Minister shares with me- it certainly is clearly described in the Liberal Party policy on Aboriginal affairs-the fact that we want to encourage Aboriginal communities to be as economically independent as possible. Owning land is one thing; being able to develop it is entirely another. In my discussions with Mr Clark, for example, at Framlingham he put enormous support behind the belief of the Minister-obviously, that from whom he got it-that for time immemorial the Aboriginal Development Commission would always have sufficient resources to provide to Aboriginal communities for the legitimate economic development of their land.

The Minister is well aware of the fact that 12 per cent of Australia is now Aboriginal land. We ought to be equally as aware as I that there is no way known to humanity that the ADC, under any government in the foreseeable future, will ever have enough money in its own right to fund every development opportunity to the extent that may be necessary over 12 per cent of this vast continent. That opens up the whole issue-it is a difficult issue, and I accept that-as to what other mechanisms we can develop to try to give Aboriginal communities alternative structures by which they may seek funding through normal commercial means for economic development. I have not heard one word about this from the Government.

Members of the Government rave on morning, noon and night about land rights, but we hear nothing about the desperate need of these communities to have the capacity to get out and do something for themselves and to break away from the constant tendency of this Government to try to be overtly paternal-the very notion that the Minister so continually decries. But the fact of the matter is that when I put forward the proposal that the States had to be more involved in Aboriginal affairs, I was attacked. The Minister said in that 58-page document before a ridiculously hopeless Press conference which no one wanted to report, that my proposal was nonsense, and that I and the Liberal Party were setting back the progress of Aboriginal Australians for 20 years. They were the exact words that he used.

Mr Holding —That's right.

Mr CONNOLLY —I find it extraordinary that, having decried the need to involve the States, having denied the need to rationalise the programs between the Commonwealth and the States, which was the very basis of my policy, I then discovered that on 2 December 1986 the Prime Minister had written a letter to all the State Premiers. He made the following point:

I am sure you would agree that there are potential mutual benefits to the Commonwealth, the States and the Northern Territory from achieving rationalisation in the administration of certain shared functions. If some joint programs could be administered at less cost under revised arrangements, without any reduction in the quality of services, then the Commonwealth believes we should carefully consider such alternative arrangements.

In putting this view I should make it clear that the Commonwealth is not motivated by a desire to reduce its commitments to particular programs, but rather to improve the efficiency with which such programs are delivered to the public. As a product of the exercise, some small savings in administrative costs may well accrue to the Commonwealth and the States and the Northern Territory-but the wider and longer term advantages of rationalisation of program administration would be more important.

The Prime Minister went on to refer specifically to the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio. He further stated:

The initial program we propose would cover a broad spectrum of Commonwealth-State activities. The Australian Aboriginal Affairs Council has established a review of Commonwealth-State financial arrangements for Aboriginal Programs. This review started with broad terms of reference to clarify respective funding responsibilities, but for a range of reasons has not been able to proceed as originally intended. The Commonwealth proposes that this review should also consider the scope for reducing the administrative overlap between programs operated by our respective Governments, with no diminution of services provided to the Aboriginal community. I am asking Mr Holding to be in touch with his counterpart State Ministers to arrange preparation of a progress report by the end of March.

I think it is fair to ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs: Where is his progress report? What a damned hide he had to attack me, when the Prime Minister is purporting to support exactly the same policy that I support. The simple fact is that the legislation in this nation and the basis of the 1967 referendum, about which the Minister speaks so much, is based on the very essence of the need for the Commonwealth and the States to support and share responsibility for the development and improvement of our Australian Aboriginal situation.

That is the basis of what it is all about. I am sick and tired, as are the Aboriginal Australians, of hearing the Minister coming out time after time attacking anyone who dares suggest that he has not been the paragon of virtue and success. The record of the Minister's administration of the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio, over four years, is a damned disgrace. The Minister knows it, I know it, and the Aboriginal people know it. How does the Minister justify, for example, the situation that exists at Kintore? When I visited Kintore two weeks ago, I saw people--

Mr Gayler —Tell us about your policy.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The Minister and other honourable members, on both sides, including the honourable member for Leichhardt, will cease interjecting. We will conduct this debate in an orderly fashion.

Mr CONNOLLY —This is an important issue. The Minister tries to make a farce out of the whole situation. He spends his life trying to cover his own tracks at a time when his own community, the very people who are supposed to support him, are less than impressed with what he is doing. There are 1,200 Aboriginal organisations in this country, costing us $98m, and the Minister has had the audacity to say in this document that these organisations are all under review. Yet, last week, when the Minister's own officers were asked before a Senate Estimates Committee the most fundamental questions about how many organisations were under review, they indicated that they did not know. One suggested that it might be half a dozen or perhaps 12. The document that I have here, which the Minister purports to be the basis of his record of achievement, puts forward on virtually every page nothing more than a basic untruth. It ignores the truth-namely, that thousands of Aboriginal people are getting virtually nothing out of the funds that have been put forward by the Government. The Minister has made a virtue of the fact that he has increased the budget by 46 per cent. We are now spending something like $530m-odd a year, but the fact is that I can go to a place like Papunya, Yuendumu or Kintore and see situations that one can only describe as being the worst of the Fourth World.

I think that Australians, irrespective of what their politics might be, must realise the fact that this nation, which spends so much of its efforts trying to tell other people how to run their affairs, ought to spend a bit more effort concentrating on our own. For example, I went into a shop at Kintore and I saw frozen meat there that I would not feed to my dog. It is quite likely that the meat I saw there was rotten; it had been refrozen because it had come so far. Most of us, when we go to a Coles or some supermarket, expect to see pink chickens in nice foil, and frozen, but in Kintore they are yellow or brown.

Mr John Brown —Pink for girls; blue for boys!

Mr CONNOLLY —In the time that I was there, three people died. The honourable member thinks it is funny. I do not think it is funny at all, and anyone with any guts would not think so either. The honourable member is a disgrace. He is a disgrace as a Minister and a disgrace as a member of this Parliament.

All I ask of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is that he accept his responsibilities and that he stop trying to big note himself over little matters such as the question with which we are dealing tonight. This relates to matters which could have been solved in the Parliament of Victoria. This Parliament's time should be spent on matters relating to Aboriginal affairs which are of signifi- cance. There may be 53 medical services looking after Aboriginal Australians in various parts of this nation, but the performance of some of those services is absolutely disgraceful. For example, the service looking after the Pitjantjatjara people, has a budget of $2m to $3m; it has a per capita investment of $15,000. The Pitjantjatjara people have homelands in north and south Australia-they were the first to get land rights-yet that community is riddled with a whole range of health problems the likes of which most Australians living in metropolitan areas simply do not comprehend. They do not even believe it when they are told.

These are the real problems that fellow Australians have to live with, and they are not getting the help that they need. Two weeks ago I spoke to a nurse out at Kintore, a young Australian girl. She was damn near dead on her feet. She was working under conditions worse than I have seen in Bangladesh or West Africa-and believe me, I have seen a few pretty bad things. I said to this girl: `Why can't you have a holiday?' She replied that she could not have a holiday because, although the service had advertised right across Australia for help, it did not get one application from a trained nurse in this land. Yet, we have nurses prepared to work in Bangladesh, West Africa, North Africa, and God knows where.

What has failed with this culture? What has failed with this Government? It is not able to go to the Australian people and say: `Our fellow Australians need your help. Will you come and help us?' We do not hear any of that from this Government. We just hear this damn tripe which does nothing to help the Australians who need help and does no credit to this nation internationally. When I was in Papunya a group of French journalists had been there the day before. They are down in Tasmania at this very time with the dear friend of honourable members opposite, Mr Mansell. A French television team is ripping the reputation of this nation overseas to shreds. Yet we spend the time of this Parliament arguing about, 11 and a half hectares in Victoria. We should not be discussing those things; we should be discussing the fundamental issues. If this nation wants to have credibility internationally it is time that this Government took the matter on. I have faced these problems--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Blanchard) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.