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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 153


Senator KILGARIFF(12.21) —We have before us the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill and the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill. I must commend many of the honourable senators who have spoken already today. There have been some excellent speeches right across the board, including those from honourable senators on this side of the chamber. I was particularly interested in Senator Teague's presentation. A lot of work went into the preparation of that speech. I suggest that the people who read the record of this debate take care to read his thoughts on the matter.

Today I wish to speak on this legislation both as a representative of the Northern Territory and as a representative of what I see as the wider Australian community, because this legislation will have an impact on all Australians. I believe that the fact that, with another senator, I represent the Northern Territory, and know what has been happening there as a direct result of this Government's Aboriginal policies, allows me to bring the facts, which some have ignored so far, to the attention of honourable senators. As someone who has lived in the Northern Territory for most of his life, I have seen the development of the Aboriginal affairs policies of a number of governments. I have also witnessed the development in the Aboriginal communities of a sense of purpose and a desire on the part of the Aboriginal people to have a real and effective say in the management of their lives. This, I believe, has been frustrated to quite an extent.

But, sadly, over recent years I have also witnessed the development of racial tensions not only in the Northern Territory but over the whole country. I believe that there has been a general lessening of support within the Australian community for certain Aboriginal policies. I am quite convinced that the disharmony which has developed in the Territory is due mainly to the operation of the land rights legislation presently in effect there-I have spoken on this before-because, I believe, it should have been overseen more thoroughly. The legislation has led to the granting to the Aboriginal people of inalienable freehold title to land, which includes stock routes on pastoral leases, reserves, national parks, public rivers and roads, et cetera, and has created divisions and resentment in the Territory and, most of all, has created uncertainty. For instance, pastoralists with stock routes running through their land can never be sure that a claim will not be lodged on those stock routes. The effect of such claims is to fragment their land holdings, sometimes literally cutting the property in half.

Mining interest can never be sure that, if they proceed with expensive and time consuming exploration for minerals on land which is available at the time, their efforts will not be thwarted by the effective right of veto which Aboriginal organisations have over land use in the Territory under the current legislation. Figures from the Northern Territory Chamber of Mines bear witness to that fact. Since the introduction of the original legislation in 1976 no new mining operations have been commenced in the Territory. This is a direct result of the difficulty which the legislation causes those mining interests which might wish to proceed with exploration and development. In almost ten years not one new mining permit has been granted. There have been administrative endeavours to overcome these problems but they have not been overcome.

The confusion and anxiety which exists in the Territory and which is spreading to the whole Australian community is an undeniable result of the present Federal Government's approach to the whole question of land rights, including the Bills before us today. The Federal Government is clearly unable to come to any agreement within its own ranks as to how best to deal with the question of land rights and, because it also has been unable to establish a consensus amongst the various groups involved in the Aboriginal land rights debate, there has been talk of the Government deferring any decision on land rights legislation for up to 12 months. Such a move would only add to the disharmony and appprehension which already exist in the community. It would only lead to more confusion and disillusionment in the Aboriginal communities who have already been built up to expect far more than the Government is reasonably able to deliver.

There has been the fiasco of the Western Australian Government's proposed legislation. No one knows what will happen in that State now that the Burke Government's legislation has been rejected. Mr Holding has made references to the Federal Government's intention to bring in a national model but, of course, this has become controversial and has not the support of the Western Australian Parliament and others. There has been the suggestion that the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act is to be amended, yet no specific details have been forthcoming. Quite simply, none of us, Aboriginal or otherwise, knows what to expect.

The Government's vacillation and confusion where Aboriginal matters are concerned seems to extend to the understanding of its Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) of the legislation which we are now debating. The Minister has assured us all, in the other place and repeatedly in the media, that these Bills will return Uluru to the control of its traditional owners. I beg to differ with the Minister on two points. Admittedly, the land has been granted to the people, but it is leased back. Let us look at the situation. Firstly, this legislation will return Ayers Rock not to its traditional owners but to a group of Aboriginal people known as the Mutitjulu community. I say that this community is the creation of the white man and can in no way be said to represent the traditional owners of Uluru, even though it may include some traditional owners from the area. Is it not a fact that the true traditional owners are the Yunkantjatjara people and others who, it seems, have been forgotten by the anthropologists? I will say a little more about that later. I believe that-I doubt whether anyone can deny this-if the law of the old Aboriginal ancestors were applied to Ayers Rock, the type of legislation that is before the Senate now could not possibly be passed. Secondly, the Aboriginal community which is to be given control of Uluru will get no such thing. Control will rest with the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service-the ANPWS-and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment. As I have said, scrutiny of this legislation will show this.

No doubt the Labor Government will pat itself on the back and proudly announce its generous decision to grant a majority of positions on the new board of management of the Uluru National Park to Aboriginal representatives. What it will not make quite so public, however, is the fact that these Aboriginal representatives, along with the Northern Territory Government representatives on the board, are quite powerless in the face of any opposition from the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Director has the power to veto any decision that the rest of the board might wish to take. If the Director disagrees with the rest of the board the matter must be referred to the Minister, who is entitled to arbitrate. So the real power is in the hands of the Director and the Minister.

Apart from the fact that the Aboriginal people are being denied real control of the management of the park, there are other elements in this legislation which give cause for concern. Under the present arrangements for the management of the Uluru National Park, which was approved by both Houses of this Parliament only two years ago-honourable senators will remember this-the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service is obliged to carry out certain specific administrative functions. They are not functions which the Director can perform at his discretion; they are statutory obligations which should be fulfilled, directions to the Director on management. In particular, the Director is required to establish an Aboriginal advisory committee, to be known as the Uluru Aboriginal Advisory Committee-the UAAC-which is to be consulted in relation to decisions on the development and management of the park. There are numerous references throughout the existing plan of management to the UAAC and its role in the administration of Uluru. But the Committee has never been formed.

Another blatant example of the failure of the Director to comply with the plan of management has been in his approach to the Northern Territory Conservation Commission. Under the plan the NTCC was to be responsible for the day to day management of the park. The Director refused to delegate his powers to the officers of the Conservation Commission, which left them in a situation where they were carrying out their duties without any authority. Only after two years of representations to the Minister were Conservation Commission officers finally issued early this year with warrant cards. Even more recently the Director of the ANPWS has indicated that he fully intends to wrest control from the Northern Territory Conservation Commission for even the day to day management of the park. Only a few weeks ago he announced that under the new arrangements he expected his own Commonwealth officers to take over their duties. It is ludicrous to suggest that Northern Territory officers, paid by the Nothern Territory Government, should work under the direction of the Commonwealth. In addition to these matters, the Director has failed to implement programs and activities which are outlined as essential in the plan of management. This situation also applies to Kakadu National Park and is placing both parks at environmental risk with increasing visitor pressure.

The Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service has, by his consistent failure to comply with the plan of management, shown that he is determined to do as he likes with Uluru national park-he certainly has the power-regardless of his obligations under any legislation. I am saying that he has his obligation under legislation but is not carrying it out. He is running it according to his own whims and wishes. Under this legislation we are now debating he will enjoy at least as much authority as he does under the present legislation. Given events to date, I think there is little chance that anyone on the new board of management of Uluru, including the Aboriginal representatives, will have very much to say in the running of the park.

Already I believe the wishes of the Aboriginal people have been ignored in the preparation of this legislation. It is well known in the Territory, and I suspect in the Minister's office, that the Aboriginal people living near Uluru wished to have representations on the Northern Territory Conservation Commission on any new board of management. Instead the Federal Government has insisted that the Northern Territory representatives come from the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, one member each from the Government and the Opposition. One has little criticism of the members of the Legislative Assembly, but it is difficult to see the logic of appointing politicians who have not nearly the wealth of experience in the management of the national park as is held by officers of the Northern Territory Conservation Commission. I believe that the decision to overlook officers of the Conservation Commission as members of the new board of management amounts to an unfortunate and ill-advised snub to the wishes of the Aboriginal people. I understand that at a meeting they indicated clearly to the Minister at one stage that they wished the Northern Territory Conservation Commission to participate. So I would expect them to, because I believe that the relationships between the officers of the Commission and the Aboriginal people are extremely good.

The Opposition seeks to amend the Government's legislation to provide for ownership of Uluru National Park to vest in the Northern Territory Government, which would preserve the park, as its custodian, for the benefit of all Australians. The Territory Government itself has already given an undertaking that it would provide for real Aboriginal representation on a board of management, which would be headed by a representative of the Northern Territory Conservation Commission, which would be given the responsibility for the management of the park. The Territory Government has clearly indicated that it would also establish community living areas for the Aboriginal people in the area, which would have a separate lease. They would be private areas in which the Government would provide accommodation and facilities for the Aboriginal people. The private lease would be exactly what it is said to be; that is, a private lease under which the Aboriginal people could live their private lives and not be subjected to anybody going into their village whom they did not want there. I would say that the Aboriginal people would have real input rather than the illusory control offered by this legislation.

The management of the park would be in the hands, on a day to day basis, of the Conservation Commission, which has already shown its commitment to the development of Uluru, despite the lack of any support or encouragement from the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Northern Territory Conservation Commission should be commended for pressing on, despite the attitude of the Director of the Service. It is the Conservation Commission and its predecessor, the Northern Territory Reserves Board, which deserve the credit for the development of the Uluru area over many years. In fact the Reserves Board initially took over the rock and brought it to what I believe to be its present fulfilment as a conservation area.

This valuable national asset should be preserved for the benefit of all Australians, not just a small interest group, with ownership vested in the Northern Territory. On that note I shall address some of my remarks to senators opposite, and specifically to the Australian Democrats. Honourable senators will recall that when the Franklin River in South West Tasmania was threatened by the development of a dam senators opposite, particularly the Australian Democrats, were among the most vehement opponents of the dam. They were on their feet almost daily in this chamber calling on the Federal Government to intervene to prevent this valuable wilderness area from being `exploited' by a small interest group; namely; the Tasmania Hydro-Electric Commission. There were constant calls for the area to be declared within the province of the Commonwealth so that it might be preserved for the benefit of Australia and the world. When the Hawke Government came to power it announced its decision to seek to prevent the building of the dam in Tasmania. The Hawke Government apparently takes the view that while it is wrong for a special interest group in Tasmania, such as the HEC, to have control of a wilderness area, it is quite okay for the Federal Government to hand over to a small group of people, with a questionable claim to the area, a site which is already of great cultural significance to all Australians, Aboriginal or otherwise. The double standard which is quite apparent in the Government's actions is appalling, and its decision to hand over Uluru in this way can be described only as a betrayal of the Australian people.

I oppose the legislation and support the Opposition amendment, as I believe that it is more representative of the situation most Australians would like to see exist in relation to Ayers Rock. Speaking of the views of the Australian community, I have in my arms a large number of petitions. When I say a large number of petitions, that is exactly what it is-a heap of them.


Senator Teague —They would be about a foot thick.


Senator KILGARIFF —Well, there are thousands. I have one bundle with 2,229 signatures, another with 1,051, others with 1,070, 1,233, 1,033 and 1,501. In all, the total number of signatures is 7,036. The interesting thing about these petitions, which will be lodged in the Senate tomorrow, is that they come from the people of a particular area, Townsville. In my view this is indicative of the strength of feeling in the Australian community on this issue. The petitions were circulated in Townsville through a local newspaper. If the exercise had been carried out in the Australian and various other newspapers throughout the Commonwealth, I wonder what number of petitions this Senate would have received. The fact that there were some 7,000 or so signatures on petitions in Townsville is most illuminating. The petitions are addressed to the President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled and read:

The petition of certain citizens of Australia draws to the attention of the Senate the Government's stated intention to hand over to the Mutitjula community ownership of Ayers Rock and Uluru National Park, which have until now belonged to all the people of Australia. We believe that Ayers Rock and the Park are the natural heritage of Australia and should be retained by the Crown on behalf of all living and future generations of Australians.

Your petitioners therefore pray that the Senate oppose any action that would give ownership of these national treasures to any single group in the community.

As I have said before, I doubt whether there is anyone in Australia who is against Aboriginal participation. However, the fact is that it is a significant landmark in Australia and it should belong to the Australian community. The strange thing about all this of course is the action that the Government has taken. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has indicated, despite the fact that he has not yet the authority, that he will hand over a lease to the Mititjulu Association, perhaps in October or November. This legislation has not yet been passed. I say that handing it over to such an Association is not in accordance with Aboriginal law, which is what most people desire these days. In fact, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 1985 is based on the fact that there are traditional owners. As I understand the situation, the fact is that this matter has not been before any court, nor has evidence been taken on the facts, The Government has decided to take this move, a political move, which might I say is a strange move.

I suppose there is a lot of concern these days at the way the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act has been practised, the way it has been extended through High Court decisions and the like. I remember that it was the judgment of the person who introduced this legislation some years ago that there was going to be some 23 per cent of land claimable. We know that it has gone much higher than that. With land that has already been granted, land that is going to be claimed and the claims that are being processed, together with the fact that the legislation is so open-ended, one can easily see that although the figure is not up to 50 per cent yet, it is up to perhaps 47 or 48 per cent. Because the situation is open-ended claims can go on and on. Because the legislation is open-ended the solicitors representing various groups can pore over maps of the Northern Territory, and any land that is claimable is going to be claimed.

I will take some five minutes or so to mention a very interesting and illuminating debate which is occuring now which is referred to in the Bulletin of 27 August 1985. On page 34 is an article headed `Aboriginal Affairs, Anthropology on trial in land case'. The article describes an interesting situation; interesting because I believe this is the beginning of a review of Aboriginal land rights on a national basis. This review is not going to occur within the House of Representatives or the Senate, where there always should have been a committee, which I have stressed, but which did not happen. The review of Aboriginal land rights is now going to take place in the community and not within the Parliament. This article is a clear indication of what I see is going to happen in the future. It is most interesting. The article refers to a challenge thrown out to anthropologists. I believe it is a rightful challenge because clearly within the ranks of anthropologists one sees that there are very many cases-that may be an exaggeration-where anthropologists clearly do not agree with claims that have been made before the Northern Territory Land Commissioner. The article in the Bulletin reads:

Australian anthropology is on trial in the Northern Territory. For the first time in a land-claim hearing, the Northern Territory government has requested access to the raw data that anthropologists collect from their tribal informants.

To the great surprise of the anthropologists involved, who specialise in the understanding of traditional Aboriginal society, the Aboriginal Land Commissioner Justice Maurice has decided to take the request seriously. He has asked anthropologists with some knowledge of the Warramungu people (who are claiming about 10,000 sq km near Tennant Creek) to show cause why they should be immune from having to disclose to the court their field notes and confidential working documents.

Both as an applied profession and as an academic discipline, anthropology has been put on notice and the stakes are very high. The notion of anthropological immunity from disclosure has been the central topic for debate in hearings conducted by Maurice in Alice Springs over recent weeks. As far as the lawyers acting for the numerous concerned parties are aware, there is no direct legal precedent in English common law for such a case.

. . . .

Why did the Northern Territory government request that anthropologists produce their field notes? To an extent, this unprecedented pressure on the profession reflects unabated concern, not just in Darwin, over the general impact of the territory's land rights legislation, now 10 years old. Sir Edward Woodward, whose landmark inquiry prepared the ground for the legislation, only last month made clear his fundamental reservations. Times have changed when the chief architect of Australia's Aboriginal land legislation is moved to suggest that the Aboriginal land councils and their advisers should consider forgoing or even surrendering some land already claimed or granted.

The article continues, and no doubt other people will read it. But I believe that the Government should heed the experts in this field, particularly Sir Edward Woodward and others. Before the Government proceeds with this legislation it should reconsider it along the lines that have been suggested by the Opposition, for very many reasons. Clearly, the majority of the people of Australia wish this legislation not to be passed. On a wider note, the legislation and the practices that are being carried out now within Aboriginal land hearings and the evidence that is being presented by some anthropologists to the land commissioners are now under challenge. I believe that there is every right for a lot of this evidence to be challenged.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ryan) adjourned.