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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 141


Senator MISSEN(10.58) —I must say that I find some considerable objection to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill and the accompanying National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill and will ultimately vote against them; however it is not substantially for the reasons that Senator Knowles, who preceded me, and some of the other speakers have given. I do not hold with the general views which Senator Knowles has expressed, although in regard to a number of specific criticisms of the Bill I think she is on very sound ground. I want to put my own position on this matter. I have taken a consistent position since 1975 when this Senate carried a motion which I will read to honourable senators. The motion which Senator Bonner, as he then was, moved and which was carried unanimously by the Senate, read:

That the Senate accepts the fact that the indigenous people of Australia, now known as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, were in possession of this entire nation prior to the 1788 First Fleet landing at Botany Bay, urges the Australian Government to admit prior ownership by the said indigenous people and introduce legislation to compensate the people now known as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders for dispossession of their land.

The resolution was applauded at that time and in the debate on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill by Senator Chaney and by many other present Opposition-then Government-senators. I continue to applaud it and to stand by it. I believe we must recognise that we have an obligation to the Aboriginal people. It is not enough to say that everyone has equal rights in this country. There is no doubt that in the last 200 years we have seen, on a monstrous scale, the deprivation of the rights of Aboriginal people. For the sake of those people's dignity and worthiness alone, they must be granted substantial rights in land. I was one who supported most strongly what followed from that resolution-the Bill of the Fraser Government which brought in Northern Territory land rights. That legislation had the strong support of the Fraser Government parties and I think was substantially a bipartisan issue. I did not speak to the motion for the second reading of that Bill, although I had taken an active part in its formulation, because there was a limitation on the number of speakers. In my short contribution at the Committee stage I said that I strongly supported what had been said by Senator Chaney and Senator Peter Baume and what they had done in regard to these matters. I remind the Senate of what Senator Chaney said in the second reading debate on that Bill, because I think it is relevant to the general argument before us today, if not to the details of the Bills with which we are now dealing, which are very flawed in their concept. He said:

Unlike Senator Ryan, I am not at all worried about saying that I am extremely proud of the fact that this Bill is before the Parliament. I would say to her that there are moments of satisfaction in being in the Senate. There are occasions when legislation comes before us which does represent a contribution to the improvement of the lot of Australians in a particularly important way.

I agreed with those sentiments then and I agree with them now. Of course, time has shown some need for amendment of the legislation. Unfortunately, the present land rights Bill goes in an entirely different direction. It short-circuits or removes many of the provisions which would make it feasible for the Government to determine ownership, the correct traditional owners, and matters of that sort. Those provisions were written into the Act and are not being complied with in this legislation. This is one of the primary effects of the present legislation. Nonetheless, I believe that we were right to grant land rights in the Northern Territory, which was in our jurisdiction. We are right to press for them to this day in other areas.

I remind honourable senators that it has been a tradition of the Liberal and Country parties over a period generally to support land rights. I also remind honourable members that just a few years ago, in June 1982, Mr Ian Wilson, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, said in a Press release:

. . . the Government would introduce legislation which would give effect to a package of proposals which had been the subject of negotiation between the Northern Territory Government, the Commonwealth Government and the Aboriginal Land Councils . . .

That related to this particular problem of the Uluru lands. Mr Wilson continued in that Press statement to say that the proposals would provide for the recognition of prior ownership by Aborigines of the Uluru National Park by way of a grant of title to Aboriginal trustees and that the area would be declared and managed as a national park. The Senate might also like to be reminded that Mr Everingham, the former Chief Minister for the Northern Territory, pointed out in an address to the National Press Club in July 1982:

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 Aboriginal owners.

Therefore, there is nothing strange about the concept with which we are confronted and I regard it as sound. I see nothing offensive in granting title to the correct traditional owners, if they can be found properly in accordance with the provisions laid down by law. That is a problem not covered by the present land rights Bill.

It is said that because this is a national park it should not be alienated from the Australian people. Of course, the rest of the Australian people have a considerable interest in Ayers Rock and the other features of this land, and that must be protected. That is recognised, and it is recognised in the Bill because there is talk of a lease, but the lease is not set out in the Bill, which is one of its major defects. Nonetheless, I see no objection to a national park being transferred by way of title. In fact it was done in the Cobourg Peninsula and it has also been done in Kakadu. There are precedents and there is nothing strange about it. However, we must recognise that we live in a period of a white backlash. Throughout Australia-and this happens in all parties-the idea is being inflamed that no separate rights must be given to any people. A great attempt is being made to make those separate rights appear as some sort of apartheid, whereas in effect they are compensation to peoples who have been dispossessed of many assets. The essential asset is their interest in land, which is fundamental to Aboriginal culture. I believe that we will have to pass through this period of backlash and come to a period when we recognise that reasonable and moderate steps must be taken to ensure that ownership of land is an essential right claimed by Aboriginals. Senator Knowles in her speech said that we must not exploit Aboriginality. I do not see why the respect and love of Aboriginality should be any different from the love people have of their ancestry, whether it be Czech, Yugoslav or whatever. I believe that multiculturalism is an essential part of Australia and that we should not fear differences which may be allowed to continue.

I do not intend to go into the provisions of these Bills at length as they have been covered fairly extensively by Senator Peter Baume and Senator Puplick. I rely considerably on the matters they have raised as throwing up substantial defects in the Bills. I am afraid that this is part of the shoddy work of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding). It is all very well for the Labor Party to claim some virtue in this way. For example, I heard Senator Reynolds yesterday extolling the Bonner resolution, but she should have pointed out that in 1983 her own Queensland Labor Party caused the defeat of Senator Bonner. The electors may have chosen wisely, I am not saying that they did not, but the Labor Party, through its own preferences, caused Senator Bonner, whose resolution Senator Reynolds extolled, to be removed. Therefore, there was no Aboriginal spokesman in this Parliament, and I think the Labor Party in Queensland took that step deliberately. It thought it better to have no spokesman if it were to be an Aboriginal Liberal spokesman.

One must be careful not to extol our own internal virtue all that greatly when such inadequacies are displayed by the Labor Party. Unfortunately, that Party is now in government and shows no direction or certainty. It is prepared, it says, to put down certain provisions fornational land rights, but when the Government is met with States that do not like such provisions the Government goes back on that. There is no certainty in operation or policy whatever. This is seen in the land rights Bill that is now before us.

Surely one of the essential aims of the Bill should be to set out the terms of the agreement providing that certain rights for other Australians would be observed, such as the rights to inspect and view, and the right to go onto the lands. However, those matters are not contained in the Bill. The present land rights Bill is premature. The people of this country are entitled to know that if this Parliament is to adopt a land rights decision in respect of Uluru and Mount Olga, at the same time it should set out in the legislation the terms of the lease under which these matters are to be implemented. Later I will say something about the Opposition's amendment, which unfortunately has the same defect. That is the essential defect in the present Bill, as I see it, and it needs to be cured before one takes the matter any further.

Moreover, as has been pointed out by other honourable senators on this side of the House, and at length, these provisions will mean that ultimately control of this area will be in the hands of the director, and the so-called board will be a nothing. The board's ideas can be overturned and the directors will ultimately make the decision. That is insulting to the Aboriginal people and it is a totally inadequate way of going about the matter. Further, a method is set out in the existing land rights legislation of determining who are the traditional owners. There is at least grave doubt whether the traditional owners to whom it is proposed to give this land have a just and rightful claim.


Senator MacGibbon —There is no claim; that has been established.


Senator MISSEN —I am putting it mildly. I am saying that it certainly has not been established that they have such a claim. There is a suggestion that what has been manufactured is a constructed form of group which has no long claim to the area. These matters could and should be determined under the provisions of the land rights legislation. They should not be done by an Act of Parliament that determines things in this way. When one considers the terms laid down in the light of the recommendations of Mr Justice Woodward years ago, and by Mr Justice Toohey, one concludes that these factors should be considered more carefully and should not be passed through Parliament in order merely to get legislation through.

I believe therefore that the Bill is inherently defective and cannot be supported. I will not be voting for it. I must say that I have seen the Opposition amendment to the second reading motion, which is by way of an in principle amendment, and I find that I cannot support it either. I do not intend to vote on it because I believe it is subject to the same vice as the Bill. It wants the ownership of the Uluru National Park to be vested in the Northern Territory subject to an agreement being entered into-an agreement about which we do not know what the terms will be. The Opposition amendment has the same defect as the Bill. I am not at all satisfied that one can rely merely on the goodwill of the Northern Territory Government, which may or may not enter into an agreement. If that is a proposal for redrafting the Bill, I think it is inadequate.

Nonetheless, I believe the Bill does not adequately provide for proper Aboriginal demands in regard to Uluru and Mount Olga. I do not believe it should be passed at this stage and consequently I shall vote against it.