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Thursday, 8 June 1989
Page: 3743


Senator TAMBLING(11.34) —On Monday evening this week, Senator Zakharov tabled a document prepared by an anthropologist entitled On Shaky Ground. She spoke about the Kakadu National Park and the Coronation Hill project in the Northern Territory. Senator Zakharov herself was, I believe, most certainly on shaky ground. Senator Zakharov's assertions about the role of the Northern Territory Minister for Mines and Energy, the Hon. Barry Coulter, in circumstances surrounding the Coronation Hill site are plainly ludicrous. She said that Mr Coulter had put pressure on Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd to put pressure, in turn, on the Jawoyn people for an agreement on sacred sites protection. I have checked this claim with Mr Coulter, who reports that it is merely a rerun of a line promoted by the former director of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority, Mr Bob Ellis, a person who subscribes heavily to conspiracy theories. It is simply not true. Barry Coulter, in the face of apparent conflicting interest about the location of a key Aboriginal site, commissioned an anthropologist, Mr Steven Davis, to report to the Northern Territory Government on the facts of the matter. That report did not sit comfortably with Mr Ellis, who sought in many ways to denigrate it and its author with a series of unpleasant personal attacks. Mr Ellis mounted a year-long campaign on this issue against the Northern Territory Government and others, in particular Mr Coulter. Mr David Cooper, the author of the document tabled by Senator Zakharov, is closely identified with Mr Ellis. Senator Zakharov's comments about Mr Davis should be seen in that light.

The honourable senator also accused Mr Coulter of claiming that a non-Aboriginal person, mining engineer Joe Fisher, had been the custodian of sites in the area for 40 years. It would be a nonsense to suggest such a thing, just as it is a nonsense for Senator Zakharov to suggest that that is what Mr Coulter said. What he said was that Mr Fisher had brought to the attention of the Northern Territory Administration in the early 1950s the fact that a number of sites significant to Aboriginal people were located in the South Alligator Valley, and that most of the information about sacred sites being promoted today by various organisations actually emanated from Mr Fisher's studies. In other words, it was thanks to Joe Fisher that such sites were identified and the first steps taken for protection. As the Aboriginal Land Commissioner has noted, the Jawoyn people had not had any connections with the region for many years before Mr Fisher's research. Senator Zakharov has sought to make mischief out of this undoubted fact. She is acting as a mouthpiece for white activists in this matter, and not on behalf of the Aboriginal people themselves.

Senator Zakharov points out that she has drawn upon the report which she has tabled, titled On Shaky Ground, authored by Mr David Cooper of the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority. Senator Zakharov makes it clear that Mr Cooper's report has made use of the original video material compiled by Mr Davis in the course of his inquiry. The document which Senator Zakharov tabled states on page 4 that the video `is currently the subject of the legal action'. The Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority gave an undertaking to honour restrictions on the usage and availability of this material, which is the subject of legal proceedings before the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. That undertaking does not appear to have been honoured. Mr Cooper's paper, tabled by Senator Zakharov, and the honourable senator's subsequent use of that material, is a breach of those undertakings. Senator Zakharov clearly abused her parliamentary privilege and has put herself above the law in ignoring the restrictions placed on this material in the process of Supreme Court proceedings. Mr Davis has at all times complied with the undertakings not to disclose any such material which is subject to the present proceedings in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory.

Senator Zakharov also states that a photograph of a restricted Bula painting which recently appeared in the Australian newspaper she believed to have originated from Mr Davis. This is absolutely false. Mr Davis did not take that photograph, nor did he send that photograph to the Australian or any other publication. Senator Zakharov states that she was disturbed to discover material in the video shown to women. Senator Zakharov may recall that Mr Davis pointed out to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts that the video tape was, in terms of Aboriginal tradition, restricted and should not be seen by Aboriginal women or uninitiated men and that it was left to Senator Zakharov to make her own decision as to whether she should see it or not. Senator Zakharov will also recall that she stated that it was her standing as a senator which she felt would exempt her from the traditional Aboriginal restrictions which apply to women. She made her own decision to see the video tape material. However, Senator Zakharov's conversation with Mr Davis on this point was not recorded in the Hansard as Senator Zakharov had failed to direct the recorders to proceed with recording the conversation at the outset of the in camera evidence. It was only when Senator Zakharov was reminded by Senator Townley of this lapse in recording of the in camera material that she then directed the recording to continue. However, it would seem that Senator Zakharov now conveniently has used her ineptitude in the management as a chairperson of the Committee to absolve herself from having breached traditional Aboriginal restrictions. Let me remind Senator Zakharov that within Aboriginal tradition the traditional penalty for the breach of such traditional restrictions by a woman would normally be death by spearing.


Senator Crichton-Browne —Not serious enough.


Senator TAMBLING —Maybe not. I expect that Senator Zakharov hopes that her position as a senator still exempts her from Aboriginal restrictions. Senator Zakharov also uses the same argument when she states that the Aboriginal custodians have been denied natural justice in that the video transcript, as presented by Mr Davis, was not made available to the Aboriginal custodians to check the integrity of the transcript.

Senator Zakharov should also be reminded that Mr Davis pointed out in that same initial in camera conversation, which she failed to have recorded, that it was only the viewing of the video material which was restricted in Aboriginal material as it shows paintings and elements which were restricted within Aboriginal tradition. Mr Davis clearly pointed out that he did not wish the transcripts of the video conversations to be restricted but, rather, a public document. It was Senator Zakharov who asked for the transcript material to be incorporated into the Hansard as in camera evidence.

When the in camera proceedings before the Senate Committee on Wednesday, 29 October 1986, were forwarded to Mr Davis for his perusal, he contacted the Secretary to the Committee and again pointed out that it was not his wish that the transcript of the video tape be held in camera but, rather, that it be a public document. He was advised that it was best for the time being to leave the material in the in camera evidence and that the option would be available in the future to have the restrictions lifted and the material subsequently be made publicly available.

Senator Zakharov states that Mr Davis's report resulted in an inquiry into the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Authority. Senator Zakharov further points out that the Sacred Sites Review Committee, which conducted the inquiry into the Authority, did not include the issue of Coronation Hill in its final report. If Senator Zakharov had researched her information adequately, she would have found that the Review Committee decided that it would not address the matter of Coronation Hill in its report as the Review Committee simply did not want to prejudice the outcome of proceedings before the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, and Senator Zakharov would have done well to have followed the same lines.