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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 136

Senator COONEY(10.28) —The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill, in effect, gives to the Aboriginal community the area defined in the Act as Uluru. The other Bill, the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill, leases that land back to the community as a whole. Senator Peter Baume, Senator Reynolds, Senator Macklin and Senator Puplick have spoken before me. I indicated yesterday that I agreed with the excellent sentiments put forward by Senator Reynolds and Senator Macklin. I think that in this instance the judgment of Senator Baume and Senator Puplick is wrong. As Senator Baume has come into the chamber I should perhaps say that he has a very proud history in this area because as a Minister he contributed greatly to the advancement of Aboriginal people. I think the same can be said too of Senator Chaney, who, particularly as he comes from Western Australia, also has a proud history in this regard. But on this occasion I think their judgment is wrong in opposing this legislation.

I would like to comment upon a couple of points which were raised yesterday. Senator Baume said with some feeling that he and his party had no doubt that the Aboriginal people are the most disadvantaged people in the community, and that is so. It is in that light that we should have regard to what Senator Puplick said. Senator Puplick does not feel that we should bear any guilt, as it were, for what our ancestors may have done to the Aboriginals. There is some point in that but, on the other hand, it does not mean-I am sure that Senator Puplick did not intend it to mean-that we should not now do something about the situation that has been created by our ancestors. As he said in regard to Richard III, it behoves us to do something about the past. As Senator Puplick courageously put forward this morning, in opposition to the ills visited upon Richard III by the Tudors--

Senator Peter Baume —Beware Henry Tudor!

Senator COONEY —Yes, Henry VIII clauses-we should try to restore in some way the balance that has been upset in the past. I wish to comment on a couple of points which have been put forward. It has been said that the rock belongs to Australia as a whole. That is probably true. The same could be said about anything. I suppose the Sydney Opera House belongs to Australia as a whole. It really does not follow that by saying that a particular feature belongs to Australia as a whole some Australians cannot have particular rights in regard to it. That is what has to be remembered here. It has been said that Uluru has significance to all Australians. I am sure that is correct. I have been there once. One can see that Uluru does have some sort of attraction to everybody who goes there. It is a magnificent area. On the other hand, to non-Aboriginal Australians it does not have the religious, social and cultural significance which it has for Aborigines. Therefore, that area ought to be marked. What better way of marking it than by giving that land to the Aborigines by way of legislation which enables the land to be leased back to Australia's as a whole? People visiting the area would be able to see that Australians do occupy that area, do enjoy it and do walk over and around the Olgas. The attitude which they evince perhaps indicates what the argument is all about.

Most Australians treat the rock as a tourist area. The Aborigines treat it as an area with religious significance. What harm would it do to give the Aborigines a special right, as it were, over the area? Why not? When I visited the area I went round with an Aboriginal elder, Tjimawa. He was certainly a very eloquent witness for the special relationship that Aboriginal people in that area have with the rock. I was impressed by what he had to say and what he had to show. That is the argument. Of course all Australians have a regard for the rock, Uluru and the Olgas. They have an attraction to all Australians but the Aboriginals have a regard for the area which is above and beyond that which most other Australians have. It is that special relationship with the area that the two Bills which are before us seek to address, and address properly and correctly. As I have said, the legislation does not take away the use and the enjoyment that people as a whole in Australia can have of the rock.

Senator Puplick raised the question of photographs. As a general principle, people cannot object to photographs being taken. However, people can object to photographs being taken if, in some way, they breach or flout a right or entitlement that those people might otherwise have had. As I understand from having been there, the objection that the Aborigines in the area have to photographs being taken is that in some way they impinge upon their religious, cultural or social beliefs. When the taking of photographs is seen in that light it takes on a different aspect and no doubt people can appreciate and accommodate that.

I have already mentioned restorative justice, about which Senator Puplick spoke. I take it that Senator Puplick did not intend that we do nothing about it; all he meant was that it must be seen in perspective. We hope that this legislation deals with the whole matter in perspective and meets the needs of the Aboriginal people.

If one looks at the history of Aboriginal people under various governments one sees that the apparent differences between parties over these pieces of legislation are not as great as they may otherwise seem. The argument is about the means of redressing the injustices that have been done to Aborigines in the past. It is about the best way to accommodate their religious, social and cultural beliefs. As I have said, in the past these matters have been addressed by some great Ministers. This legislation can be seen as machinery put into operation by this Government to accommodate a need that everybody sees, but apparently there is a difference in how people see that need being met. In my view this legislation is a great achievement; it is something that should give great heart to the Aborigines in that area and to Aborigines as a whole throughout Australia.