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Wednesday, 21 August 1985
Page: 73


Senator MACKLIN(12.18) —Before the debate on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill and the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill started I was curious to know what argument members of the Opposition would raise. They have raised what might be seen in one sense to be an ingenious argument but nevertheless trivial in as much as it plays on the notion of the claim that was made regarding Uluru and Lake Amadeus. I will read from the report by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner to set at rest people's minds. The judge states on page 3:

I held that the area of the National Park was not unalienated Crown land and so was not available to be claimed within the Act.

This was the simple basis on which it was excluded. That was not even considered because at the very beginning claims were made that it was not part and could not be part of the hearing. There was no hearing on Uluru and Katatjuta at all. It was excluded totally, so the previous two speakers for the Opposition have perpetrated what is, in a sense, an utter fraud by claiming that there was a hearing about this. It may also be interesting to note, if honourable senators wish to do so, that the same report, unlike what Senator Puplick thought, also stated that the land is not held by the Crown. Section 7 (7) of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act quite specifically says that the Crown is vested of its right, title and interest. The people of Australia have not held that interest since 1978.

There was also a bit of an operation in history in Senator Peter Baume's speech. Because he was the Minister at the time, he would have known that it was made a park in 1958 by the Northern Territory Government. He failed to mention that and, of course, it is quite relevant in regard to what occurred in the intervening period. The reason it is relevant is that the people themselves were excluded from that property, as becomes very evident if people read the evidence given before the Committee. They will see that if they read through the transcripts of the evidence that was given at the actual hearings.

We also had trotted out by Senator Puplick something which I presume he pinched from a book recently launched by the Premier of Queensland about the Pitjantjatjara people. Quite frankly, if one reads the report again, it makes very clear that the Pitjantjatjara people had one of the strongest ceremonial attachments to that area. I refer to paragraph 120 of the report which states that with regard to the exclusion of Uluru and Katatjuta there was an unreality in dealing with the claim area divorced from the national park; that is, the two sites which had been excluded were really the focal point of that entire area, the focal point of the area of the people's concern.

Senator Puplick spoke about confusion and, indeed, I think there is an enormous amount of confusion in this area. However, most of the confusion seems to be his and the people he supports. The simple matter is that the Mutitjulu community, which is named after a waterhole quite near Uluru itself, is called Mutitjulu for the very good reason that it could not be called the Uluru community because Paddy Uluru had died some time previously and it is a tradition of the people in the area not to use the name of someone who has died, particularly an elder of the standing of Paddy Uluru who, of course, was one of the custodians of the rock. Hence Mutitjulu was the name that was used.

I also raise the fact that what we are talking about is trusteeship, not ownership. The people at the Mutitjulu settlement are indeed Pitjantjatjara and Yunkantjatjara people. Those two peoples see themselves as basically the owners and that the people now currently at the rock have been delegated by their own communities to be the custodians of the rock-not the owners, the custodians of the rock. Indeed, in ownership terms, it is more correct to say that the rock owns them than that they own the rock. It is part of their religious heritage. What seems to be unable to be understood time and time again in these debates, probably because most people here stem from a Christian tradition in which religious beliefs are attached to a person, is that the religious beliefs of the Aboriginal people very largely are circumscribed by lands and areas. I would not have thought it was too difficult for people to work through that singular difference and to try to understand and empathise with that different religious tradition.

When I knew this debate was coming on I took the trouble to go out and sit down with the people at the rock, to talk to them and to listen why they wished what the Government is now doing to occur. That seems to me reasonable and fair. I suggest that if other senators who are taking part in the debate had done so, they could not stand up in this place and say that there is no good reason for this legislation. The reason is very clear when one sits and listens to the people. The dominant reason is-and while it may not go down well with a lot of honourable senators, it is the reason why the people want it to occur-that the lore is growing weak, that the ownership, the control and the custodianship of the rock have for so long been alienated from the rightful people that the lore, as they say in their own words, is growing weak. It may be that that does not mean much to many honourable senators but I suggest if people took a more sympathetic view of a different religious tradition, it would mean a great deal that the lore grows weak there. It is not an insignificant reason why this is occurring. It means a great deal to those people; it means an enormous amount to those people. I suggest that if previous speakers had listened to the people, as I did, and watched tears roll down their faces when they talked about how weak the lore was in fact becoming because of their alienation from the rock, these speakers would not have taken the types of attitudes they took in the debate today.

What the Government has done is nothing more than what previous governments suggested. The history of this matter is reasonably complicated. I wish to quote from a Press release issued on 2 June 1982 by Ian Wilson, who was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the Fraser Government, which said:

The proposal will also provide for the recognition of prior ownership by Aboriginals of the Uluru (Ayers Rock/Mount Olga) National Park by way of a grant of title to Aboriginal trustees and for that area to be declared and managed a national park . . .

That is precisely what the two Bills before us today do; precisely to the word. Somehow between 1982 and 1985 all sorts of other spurious reasons have been trotted out as to why in fact a decision made by the Fraser Government should not be implemented. It is a pity that some people do not read back through Press releases that have been issued. If members of the Opposition are interested I could read another Press release by Senator Chaney, when he was Minister, which is virtually to the same effect.

Mr Everingham has spoken in the other place with regard to this matter and Senator Reynolds has already referred to the speech that he made to the National Press Club on 28 July 1982 when he was putting down what he believed was the settled situation for his Government. He said:

The Territory Government will give title to Uluru National Park, including Ayers Rock and Mount Olga and make an arrangement whereby it will continue as a National Park administered jointly by the Northern Territory Conservation Commission and traditional owners.

Of course what is now occurring is that the Northern Territory Government is not involved, it is the National Parks and Wildlife Service. But the self same proposition appears there as appears in the two pieces of legislation before us today.

I think we need to be aware of the ideas that are lurking in the minds of the two honourable senators who spoke for the Opposition when they raised what they consider are doubts and concerns that are expressed outside this chamber. They know as well as anybody else in this chamber that under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, regulation of those parks is at the discretion of the Director. By regulation the Director is able to make regulations with regard to the entrance into those parks, the use to which the parks are put, what one may do in those parks and how one may act within those parks. We believe that that is reasonable. This chamber believes that it is reasonable. After all, the last amendments to the Act were made by the Fraser Government; so presumably members of the Opposition here also believe that that is reasonable. Why is it not reasonable when the Uluru Board happens to include Aboriginals? Why is it then that all sorts of ideas are raised that certain things are going to be taken away?

I was recently in a national park in which there was a commercial venture and I was not allowed to take photographs. I did not hear honourable senators scream and yell about that. The reason I was not allowed to take photographs was that I had to buy slides so that whoever had the commercial operation in that place could make money out of it. In fact, the Aboriginals in that area do not want photographs taken, not for money reasons but because surrounding the rock are rather important sacred sites that may not be photographed. There are already concerns, for example, that people who climb the rock may be able to overview a site sacred to Aboriginal women in the area. That site has been used by women and has been very important to them.

Because I knew these sacred areas were around us, in my discussions with the Aboriginal people I asked them what their intentions were. Their intentions were, they said, to allow tourism to continue and to develop. They said that they had plans which they hoped to put in place for the development of tourism in that area. They believed that the plans that they had in mind would make the site far more attractive for people from outside Australia than it had ever been in the past. In listening to them I gained the very clear impression that they were keen, interested and willing to get going on that task.

Why is it that we in this place cannot see ourselves granting the same trust to those Aboriginal people as seemingly we are able to place in white directors of the national parks? I find it very odd and very disturbing that that is not yet possible in Australia. The Aboriginal people believe that by the restoration of their custodianship of Uluru people outside this country will once more come to see the rock as it is-as part of the undying heritage of this country. It is not a matter of removing the rock as a tourist attraction; it is a matter of restoring it to its rightful position.

Of course, that ultimately leads us to the fundamental notion of land rights and the granting of land rights. My party and I believe that that notion is one of justice and not charity. It is a recognition of just claims and not the granting of handouts. We believe it is based on the self same moral imperative as underpins the rest of our community. We believe that the moral basis of ownership of any area, no matter where it is, rests on the argument of first occupancy or prior ownership. Every honourable senator who owns property in Australia gains it by rightful transfer of title. For honourable senators who are interested, that happens to be a moral imperative of the Christian religion to which most people in this place subscribe. The moral basis for ownership recognised by every establishment church is prior ownership, first occupancy or rightful inheritance.

It is not a matter of taking the blame for what happened in the last 200 years as Senator Puplick suggested. It has nothing to do with that at all. It is a matter of what in 1985 we do in regard to the future. What we do in regard to the future must rest upon the justice of the current situation. If any of us take title to a car, land or any other goods to which the person selling does not have rightful title we are in receipt of stolen property. That is the normal law of this land. The amount of time involved makes no difference.

I have tried to explain that aspect in parts of my own State which are not all that receptive to some of these arguments with a useful analogy. For example, if during the last war this country had been occupied by invading Japanese forces that were still in possession today I am quite sure that my father, the fathers of other senators and, indeed, some honourable senators present who were themselves adults at the time, would still say to their children: `This is your land; it is not theirs. They have occupied it by force, but nevertheless this is your land. Believe that always'. If those children departed from that view we would believe them to be reneging on something which we held to be pretty near and dear to us. I am quite sure that had such forces occupied the country since 1945 this would make no difference to us as to who rightfully owned the land. We would not have it as rightfully owned by invaders but by the people who had lived here before.

I have met Aboriginal people who have had parents shot. I have met Aboriginal people who have had uncles shot. I have met Aboriginal people who themselves have been forcibly taken from their parents and put in indentured labour. We are not talking about something of the past. We are talking about 1985. At some stage we have to address the problem of the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia. It has to be addressed in a just way. I believe there are only two ways in which that may be done. Firstly, where lands are available and able to be restored, they must be restored. Secondly, where lands are not available to be restored, compensation must be paid. Without addressing the problem in those two ways I believe the issue will not go away. All the waving of arms and all the bright speeches made by people in places such as this will not kill the flame of undying attachment of Aboriginal people to their land.

Why is it that in a debate such as this we are talking about depriving somebody of something, rather than talking about the restoration of that very sacred place to its custodians? Having spoken to the people who will be on the Board, I am very confident that in fact they will develop that area in terms of tourism in a way that will surprise many of us. I think it will become much more of a national monument than it has been in the past. It will be something in which all of us can take pride because it will indeed be a very clear symbol of what we should be doing in other parts of this country. However, unfortunately, the Government in its preferred land rights model has seen fit to cast those matters aside. As some speakers have already said, Ayers Rock will remain as a symbol. It will remain as a symbol until the issue is finally settled in justice and reconciliation between the two groups of people who have an interest in this country. Ultimately, it cannot be done in any other way.

I believe that this is an excellent, fundamental and very important reason why these Bills should be passed. They at least take a very great symbolic step in the right direction. Not only is this a step of vital importance to the Aboriginal people themselves. It will be symbolic to the entire Australian community that we have started down a road which for this nation is historic-a road which ultimately will lead to a just settlement of the entire land rights issue.