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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 150


Senator MacGIBBON(12.03) —It is a sad day when such poorly researched, misdirected and shoddy-to use a word used by Senator Missen in this debate a short while previously-legislation is presented to the national Parliament. As a late speaker in this debate on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 1985 and the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1985 I do not intend taking much of the time of the Senate in covering the ideas that I hold in relation to this debate because the salient points have been covered by previous speakers on the Opposition side.

I oppose both these Bills and support the amendment moved by Senator Peter Baume. It is an interesting fact that we on this side have had to restrict the speakers' list. However, no honourable senator from the Australian Labor Party has come forward and effectively defended the Bills. We have heard only two Labor speakers. Of course, we have heard the surrogates of the Labor Party, the Australian Democrats, paying their dues and homage to the Labor Party with a ritual speech in support of the Bills. The speeches from this side have been excellent. Of course, Senator Peter Baume led for the Opposition. He has been the most gifted Minister for Aboriginal Affairs that this Parliament has seen. Senator Teague and Senator Puplick both brought their great scholarship to this debate. Senators Crichton-Browne, Knowles and Missen have all made valuable contributions to this debate.

I am opposed to the two Bills simply because they are illegal. They contravene the land rights legislation of the Federal Parliament. Put very simply, these Bills break the requirement of the land rights legislation that only unalienated land can be distributed as a result of a land rights claim. Secondly, they do not establish the title or who does own that land, as is required under the Act.

Let us be perfectly clear on this point. The Opposition is not opposed to helping the welfare of Aboriginals in any way at all. As Senator Peter Baume said in his speech, we recognise that the Aboriginal community is the most disadvantaged group in the Australian community. Our record in government is very clear. I think it is a fair comment to make that some of the steps taken by the Parliament in the past have, in the light of experience, proven to be not the most appropriate steps that could have been taken. This country is still groping towards a means of helping the Aboriginal community. That point is not at issue at all.

What is at issue is the illegal action of the Labor Government in contravening the land rights legislation. If I could have the temerity to offer the Government a bit of advice I suggest that if it does not like the legislation it has the numbers to change it. I ask the Government not to go down the illegal path of flagrantly and blatantly not conforming to the legislation. As I said earlier, there are two fundamental points over which the Government is in breach of the law. Firstly, the Ayers Rock-Olgas area happens to be a national park. As a national park, it is alienated land. The inquiry by Mr Justice Toohey, to which so much reference has been made by speakers on this side of the House, found that the land was not available for distribution. That is the first point. If the Government did not want to change the legislation it could have taken steps to set that part of the law aside and then go to the next stage. It is a very serious business to take alienated land and distribute it to the Aboriginals. It means that no national park in Australia is safe. A national park set up for the benefit of all Australians will now move under the control and be for the financial benefit of a small group of people.

The second point is that if this practice is followed it means that no one is safe in respect of land ownership and tenure in Australia. It means that the private ownership of land will be subject to the whim of a Labor Government; land can be alienated in precisely the same way as this national park has been alienated.

Let us make no mistake about the importance of Ayers Rock to the people of Australia. How many times driving in Australia have we seen a sticker on the back of a car which reads `I have been to Ayers Rock'? Such stickers can be seen on large numbers of cars. Research on tourists, from Europe, Asia, North America or South America shows that when those tourists are asked what they know about Australia and what they want to see there are only two areas they nominate. They do not nominate Sydney or Melbourne-for good reasons. They nominate Ayers Rock and the Great Barrier Reef. The Uluru National Park ranks with other national parks of the world such as the Kruger park in South Africa as something which has an appeal and recognition right throughout the world. The law is being broken to give this park away to a group.

The second illegal action by the Government relates to the fact that it has not established who is entitled to the land. To put it euphemistically, the group the Government proposes to give the Park to may or may not be the group which is entitled to receive the land under the existing legislation. I go back to the old Scottish legal status of not proseen; the group may be, it may be not. The evidence would tend to suggest that this group is probably not entitled to receive title of the land. That matter has been covered by Senator Sheil and Senator Teague at some length. The evidence, put in simple terms, is to the effect that the present Aboriginal inhabitants of the region-the so-called Mutitjulu community-have moved in within the recent past, within the last decade or so.

There is good evidence as to whom the traditional owners are. Most of that evidence is incorporated in the research work of Professor Strehlow. I have read his article in the June-August 1969 edition of the Inland Review written prior to the politicisation of land rights, dealing with the mythology of centralian Aboriginals. Professor Strehlow grew up at the Hermannsburg Mission. He was the son of Lutheran missionaries. He was born out there and spoke Aranda fluently. He mixed with the Aboriginal tribes. He spent a lifetime as an anthropologist studying Aboriginal culture in Australia. Professor Strehlow's scholarship has never been criticised. His credentials are impeccable.

On that basis, it is worth considering to whom he attributes the traditional ownership of this area. He made this attribution long before there was any argument about it and before there was any prospect of commercial gain from this matter. He defined the principal owner as the Jankuntjatjara with the lesser owners being the Anderkerinja, the Pintubi and the Pitjantjatjara. The people who are now claiming title to this land, some of the Mutajula community, may be descendants of the principal owner and the lesser owners. But the important point is for them to establish that before the judicial inquiry as the law provides. That has not been done. So we have the abrogation of a piece of alienated land, a national asset, and it is being given to people who have not established their legal entitlement to it. This has some very serious consequences. First, one really cannot have governments being negligent in the application of their legislation. How can we expect the community to obey the law if the Government will not obey it. In simple terms, that is precisely what this Government is doing. It is breaking the law. The discussion on the entitlement to the land does not need to proceed further.

For the sake of the debate, I would like to deal with some of the points made by previous Labor speakers from the Opposition's point of view. Senator Cooney made the best speech for the Australian Labor Party, but despite a lifetime as a barrister Senator Cooney, a person of undoubted ability and professional competence, spoke for only five minutes. Interestingly, he said nothing at all in defence of the Bills. He found it impossible to defend the Government's actions. With legal skills, he chose instead to attack the Opposition's amendment. Even Senator Cooney will be embarrassed in the light of day to read in Hansard what he said.

He made two points. First, he said that the Opposition's suggestion that the title to the land be handed from the Aboriginals to the State Government or to the Administration of the Northern Territory was wrong. I am sure that on reflection he will see the transparency of that argument because there is an enormous difference between private ownership in the hands of a few people such as the Mutajulu community and the holding in trust for the community at large that is encompassed in the transference of title to the Administration of the Northern Territory, or to a State government for that matter.

His second point was the way we were proposing that Aboriginals be involved in the management of the land yet, at the same time, seemingly saying that we were not prepared to advance Aboriginals. That is a rather imprecise argument. There is an enormous difference between saying to the Aboriginal community `You can participate in the management of the project to the limits of your desire' and saying `You, a small group, own this. You are the beneficial owners. To you will accrue all the financial rewards from its commercial operation. You set the standards on who comes in, who takes photographs, and even who has health care facilities'. The latter point was emphasised when the Aboriginals would not allow some sort of cardiac support system on top of the mountain for people who need it. It has happened that people have had cardiac arrests climbing Ayers Rock.

The interesting speech was that by Senator Reynolds. It is well known in the north that Senator Reynolds is the protagonist of any extremist Aboriginal view. Mr Acting Deputy President, you would be well aware of Senator Reynolds' actions in north Queensland and the great embarrassment that she causes the Labor members for Leichhardt and Herbert in the House of Representatives. It is no exaggeration that Senator Reynolds will play a part in the next election in the loss of those two seats by the Labor Party. Senator Reynolds denied the expression of any view contrary to that of her party. The Government, in its traditional Labor way, is allergic to any criticism of a view that does not emanate from the central Caucus. Earlier this week I was reading a good article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Mr Paul Sheehan on the sitting of Parliament. The average number of sitting days has declined from 67 between 1901 and 1982 to a mere 50 days under the present Hawke socialist administration. It has declined for the very good reason that the Government does not want to be brought to account before the Parliament and the Opposition to defend its actions such as those concerning the Uluru National Park.


Senator Messner —It is scared of the Parliament.


Senator MacGIBBON —Yes, Government members are frightened of the Parliament and they tend to run away from being challenged on what they are doing. So we have an enormous decrease in the number of sitting days. We are down to 50 days this year. It is absolutely scandalous to be running an institution of this size and not to be using it. At the same time, they have lifted the number of Bills going through by 35 per cent. They are ramming legislation through. They are using the gag and they are denying the elected representatives of the people the right to challenge and debate that legislation. We could see that clearly in what Senator Reynolds was doing yesterday.

Yesterday, it was very interesting to see the way that Senator Cook in the Mudginberri debate dismissed opposition to the Labor policy of letting strikers having free rein in Mudginberri by saying that there were only two dozen people involved; they were nothing; the Government had nothing to fear from two dozen people. What about the rights of the individual? They count for naught with this Government. What really upset me in Senator Reynold's speech-I am glad that Hansard is now available-was that she accused the Liberal Party of being party to what she described as an absolutely racist document. I took the trouble to get the document to which she referred. There is no doubt that Senator Reynolds is not one of the leading intellects of the Labor Party, but even she would be well able to read this document which is written in almost monosyllabic words, and come to a clear understanding of what is involved. In no sense is it a racist document. It is the oldest trick in the book to accuse an opponent of being disloyal, a traitor to the country, or a racist. This is precisely the cheap, shoddy, debating trick that Senator Reynolds used yesterday. This document is not racist. It does not mention or imply race at all. Senator Reynolds ought to recognise that there is genuine concern in the community about the consequences of land rights legislation. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the matter, the controversy is there and as a politician she ought to be aware of it.

The second matter to which I objected very much was that she attributed this document to the Liberal Party. It is not a Liberal Party publication. I am not trying to distance the Liberal Party from it. I would be quite happy to have my name and photograph on that document because I do not think that it is offensive to any of the accepted political standards of this country.


Senator Kilgariff —She's a fraud.


Senator MacGIBBON —She is a complete fraud. I have taken the Senate's time today because no one else in this debate has picked up this point, but to me it is untenable that this sort of debasement should take place in a debate on what is really quite a serious matter.

As I said at the outset, these Bills are based on an illegal action by the Government. It is not conforming to the law. All the evidence that has been presented from this side supports that argument. It is important because, if the requirement of the law that only unalienated land can be distributed is not observed, it will undermine the stability of land ownership in this country. No one has security against the ravages of this Labor Government if we go on in this way.

Secondly, we are conferring financial gain on a group of people. When we do that we must be scrupulously careful that we are operating with respect to the law. In some ways this legislation is almost a parallel to what occurred a couple of months ago when the Morosi housing scandal blew up. Again we had the disbursement of public funds without accountability. Obviously the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) is very confused and this legislation is the product of some very confused thinking. I oppose this legislation.