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Thursday, 15 June 1989
Page: 4191

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(11.28) —I continue to raise the matter of a report put down by a Mr Cooper who was highly critical of the minority report of the Senate Standing Committee on the Environment, Recreation and the Arts concerning the potential of Kakadu National Park. I would not have bothered to raise this matter in the first place nor again tonight except for the fact that Senator Zakharov-I notice she has left the chamber-in pursuit of prosecuting Mr Cooper's argument came into this chamber and tabled his report. Senator Zakharov has criticised me because under Standing Orders quite properly I used in camera evidence to substantiate the arguments and the conclusions that the minority report drew. I can only assume that Senator Zakharov would have had the minority report draw conclusions without any evidence to substantiate those conclusions and criticise us more aggressively if we had done so. Senator Zakharov allowed Mr Cooper, who happened to be privy to what she described as in camera evidence of the Jawoyn people, to use in camera evidence in his written criticism of our report in breach of the Standing Orders and in contempt of the Committee. She ensured that the only copy known, at least to the Senate, was tabled in the Senate. Therefore, he was covered by the provisions of the tabling.

Senator Zakharov has been very aggressive in her criticism of the minority report in using in camera evidence. If Senator Zakharov wanted the in camera evidence used by Mr Cooper to be available to the public at large she could have sought a resolution from the Committee that the in camera evidence be made available. She did not do that. Sadly in my view Senator Zakharov allowed herself to be an instrument of Mr Cooper, as I said earlier, in prosecuting his case and providing, as he has, selective in camera evidence. It is with some disappointment that I record that Senator Zakharov came into the chamber and conducted herself in the way she did without first notifying me or any member of the Committee who signed the minority report. The reason she was able to table Cooper's report without dissent was that she had not been gracious enough to give prior notice to the shadow Minister on duty or to those people who signed the minority report who might, with sober reflection, have disallowed the tabling of the report and insisted that she seek a proper and appropriate route to have the in camera evidence tabled.

For those who are fans of Gwen Meredith I will continue that which I began last week. By the dint of time I was denied the opportunity of telling the Senate that Mr Cooper had claimed that the evidence given to us by Jawoyn women who were described as elders was inappropriate to be made available to the Committee and that it was of no consequence. Mr Cooper was saying that they were mere women and that not only was their evidence not to be considered consequential but also that they should never have been there in the first place because the place of women is not to be alongside men. I say with respect that that flies in the face of the view of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner who, under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, took their evidence at great length in determining whether the land claim should be approved. I refer to page 77 of the in camera evidence of those senior women. I asked whether Coronation Hill and associated areas were areas of significance. Senator Zakharov seemed at that time to be trying to give their evidence for them. I said:

They have said that Coronation Hill is quite free of sacred sites of significance and that there is a major Bula on Sleisbeck.

Ms Wynjorroc said yes. The transcript continues:

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Before you went up to Coronation Hill did you once think that there was a Bula on Coronation Hill?

Ms Wynjorroc-No.

I have read that piece of evidence to the Senate because Mr Cooper has told us that the Aboriginal women would not know anything about these things because it is all too secret for them and therefore would not be advised of such things. The transcript goes on:

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —You never thought there was one on Coronation Hill?

Ms Wynjorroc-No.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Did anybody ever think there was a Bula in that area of Coronation Hill?

Ms Flora-No.

Ms Flora's evidence is quoted at length by the Land Commissioner. The transcript goes on:

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Do you know why there is a sacred site registered which covers Coronation Hill?

Ms Wynjorroc-No.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Has anybody in this room ever asked or talked about a sacred site, a Bula, on Coronation Hill?

Ms Flora-No.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —You know nothing about it?

Ms Flora-No.

CHAIRMAN-Who put in the application for registration for that area?

It was a question she wished she had never asked. The transcript continues:

Ms Wynjorroc-I know myself they were mining there before, a long time ago.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Mining on Coronation Hill? Did that cause any problems?

Ms Wynjorroc-No.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Nobody cared? Nobody worried?

Ms Wynjorroc-It was all right. Everything was okay.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —There were no sacred sites, no burial sites, no area of significance, nothing special at all?

Ms Wynjorroc-Nothing.

Ms Flora-No.

That was a volunteered response, honourable senators will notice. To continue:

Ms Wynjorroc-There is just the one Bula place now.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Where is that?

Ms Wynjorroc-Up this way.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Sleisbeck-that is the big one. It is the big one, the important one?

Ms Wynjorroc-Yes, very important.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —But not on Coronation Hill?

Ms Wynjorroc-No.

CHAIRMAN-Do the other people here agree with that?

Mr Fordimail disagreed, and he was one of the two who did. Because it had been suggested that this was a sacred site that nobody would have been allowed to visit, Senator Townley asked:

Are you allowed to go anywhere on Coronation Hill that you want to?

Ms Flora replied, `Yes'. The transcript continues:

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —You can go on Coronation Hill?

Ms Flora-Yes. I was there for a couple of weeks; we camp out there, come back.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Is there a senior elder amongst the men here today? Who is the senior man?

Mr Brown-I am.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —You are the chief?

Mr Brown-Yes.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Do you agree with Ms Wynjorroc and Ms Flora that there is no Bula on Coronation Hill?

Mr Brown-No. No Bula.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —There is no Bula, no sacred sites, nothing at all?

Mr Brown-No.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —So mining on Coronation Hill would not hurt Aboriginal sites?

Mr Nipper Brown, the senior custodian of the Jawoyn people, said, `It can go ahead'. A pretty unqualified answer, I would have thought-a simple question, a simple answer. Just to make sure that I had heard him right, I asked, `Is that one, Coronation Hill, okay?' Nipper Brown said, `Yes'. I would have thought that would have been pretty indisputable evidence, but it did not satisfy Mr Cooper from the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority, nor Mr Ellis or Senator Zakharov. As I said earlier, the evidence given by Phyllis Wynjorroc and Sarah Flora before the Land Rights Commissioner in Darwin was the foundation, the cornerstone, of his determination in respect of the provisions of the Act as to whether the land ought to be proclaimed as land for the Aboriginal community. In respect of areas 4 and 5, he found in the negative.

I have read out the substance of the evidence. Mr Cooper referred to my questioning variously as firm, close and improper. Readers of the transcript can judge Cooper's objectivity and, I might say, honesty for themselves. We have had it put to us more recently by Cooper and others that the people were threatened and intimidated, that they were saying yes when they meant no, that they had a need to say that which they judged us to want them to say. It is not without significance for me to record that Senator Townley, in his very humane, generous, sensitive and understanding way when it was pointed out by Senator Zakharov, in a moment of desperation, that there was a difference of opinion there on that day, referring to two versus seven out of nine, said:

Not from the elders, we did not. Does anybody here feel under any pressure today? The ladies seem to be relaxed.

Mr Fordimail, the man who was speaking in favour of the area being a sickness country that should not be mined, said, turning to the ladies, `Are they putting pressure on you?'. Senator Townley turned to Phyllis Wynjorroc and said, `Phyllis, are you okay?' Ms Wynjorroc said, `Yes'. Senator Townley, to the most senior custodian in Nipper Brown, said, `Nipper, are you okay?'. Mr Brown said, `Yes'. So not only were we not insensitive to any suggestions, and that is why we had the hearing-I will come to that if time allows me-in a very relaxed form, but also we denied access to the public so that the members of the Aboriginal community could feel quite relaxed with the Committee and not feel that they were being scrutinised by either their peers or the public. We then went to the trouble of asking them whether they felt relaxed. Given the nature of Peter Jatbula and Mr Fordimail, I have no doubt they would have made it clear to us had they thought they were under any apprehension or anxiety. Cooper, when referring to the presence of women, says in the report:

Once again, this information was conveyed to the Committee in a submission-

this is Cooper telling us that women should not be there-

however, the dissenting report fails to acknowledge this evidence, despite using large extracts of the Barunga transcript obtained in such problematic circumstances.

I feel quite moved to find out who told us that the women should not be there. When I checked to see whose evidence I am chastised for not using and for not placing it ahead of that of the Jawoyn women and the Jawoyn people generally, I discovered yet again that Mr Cooper is telling us that we ought not to take cognisance of the direct and precise evidence of Jawoyn people. I find this man's arrogance absolutely breathtaking.

Mr Cooper asserts that the following part of the minority report is incorrect:

Mr Peter Jatbula and Mr Ray Fordimail were of the view that Coronation Hill was a Bula site and seven other Senior Custodians and senior Jawoyn people were of a contrary view.

That is Mr Cooper telling us that we were quite wrong because we said seven out of nine people agreed. The Cooper report states:

In fact, reference to the transcript shows that only four out of the nine custodians were of the contrary view.

I quote the evidence. I regret that I have to read it but it is the only way to make it clear:

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE: There is no Bula on Coronation Hill?

Mr Brown: Nothing.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE: So the Coronation Hill area is not a sacred site area?

Mr Brown: Nothing. It is free.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE: You went with Mr Davis [to Sleisbeck]?

Ms Wynjorroc: Yes.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE: And you saw that Sleisbeck was where the Bula was, not Coronation Hill?

Ms Flora: Yes.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE: Sleisbeck-that is the big one. It is the big one, the important one?

Ms Wynjorroc: Yes, very important.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE: But not on Coronation Hill?

Ms Wynjorroc: No.

CHAIRMAN: Do the other people here agree with that?

This question was directed to everybody. One person put his hand up and offered dissent and that was Mr Fordimail who said that he disagreed. Mr Fordimail, who had already been the lone voice in claiming the Coronation Hill was a Bula site, told us in later evidence, that I will not bore honourable members with now, that he learnt that from his father as a very young man. He said it should not be mined. Mr Fordimail said:

I just want to mention that the other senior custodian-

presumably meaning one-

who is not here at the moment, agrees with me.

He did not seek to encompass anybody else. He was talking about one other. He continues:

We both disagree that there is not any connection with Bula on Coronation Hill.

Forgive the two negatives but I am quoting Mr Fordimail. He is saying that the two disagreed. He was referring to Peter Jatbula. I might add that Mr Fordimail's evidence followed Mr Nipper Brown's evidence, in which Mr Brown said that there is no Bula on Coronation Hill and that mining was all right. Subsequently, in evidence, Mr Fordimail made it quite clear that Nipper Brown was the senior custodian and that he, Mr Fordimail, was considerably junior to him. I believe that any sensible reading of the evidence demonstrated that a benign presence-Mr Fordimail and Mr Jatbula-believed Coronation Hill was to be a Bula site and that nobody else did.

It does no credit to Mr Cooper, in my view, to imply the contrary, circulate what will now be a document widely made available to the public and to suggest that the contrary is true. I regret having to refer to Mr Cooper but that is the reason why I am on my feet. Having read pages 10, 11, and 12 of Mr Cooper's report, which anybody who is interested in the subject will bother to do, I find them utterly incomprehensible. Because of the thrust and logic of most of what he says I cannot make any sensible conclusions from them. However, he suggests that the minority report was written in such a way and the evidence was extracted so selectively that it cleverly tripped up the witnesses and was totally misleading.

I am at a loss to understand Cooper's logic. At best, it is some sort of pathetic attempt by Cooper to explain away, in some obscure way, the clear, explicit and precise evidence given by the senior custodians in the face of his clearly held view, in the face of evidence which he had given himself and in the face of evidence which he sought to proffer as being that of the Jawoyn people.

This pompous Cooper again criticises me on page 12 of his report for ignoring his evidence. On page 13 of this report Cooper again belittles the evidence given by Phyllis Wynjorroc and he seeks to explain away her unqualified evidence to suit his own purposes. He said:

Phyllis' statement that `there is just the one Bula place now' is revealing because it conflicts with a considerable body of documented research-

and this research was done by nobody but Mr Cooper-

and with her own knowledge of the Bula Sickness Country that there are a number of important Bula site foci of which the Sleisbeck site is only one. We are left to assume that Phyllis is simply telling the Senator what she thinks he wants to hear.

Senator Puplick —He is actually saying that she is lying.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —That is right. The thrust of what he is saying is that she was lying and that she lied to please me. But I will deal with Mr Cooper in my conclusions.

On page 14 of this document Cooper takes exception to the minority report drawing on the evidence of Nipper Brown and Barraway in respect of the registration of Coronation Hill by the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority. We did that because that was the primary evidence given to us. We simply responded to the evidence given by Barraway and Brown and we drew our conclusions accordingly. Mr Cooper takes exception to the fact that I and my colleagues drew the conclusion that we could not be satisfied that Nipper Brown or Barraway had registered Coronation Hill as a sacred site. I asked questions about this matter. The transcript reads:

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Nipper Brown, do you remember ever asking the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority to register Coronation Hill as a sacred site?

Mr Brown-No.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Did you ever want Coronation Hill for a sacred site?

Mr Brown-No, never. There is nothing there.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —There is nothing at Coronation Hill?

Of course, I was puzzled. The transcript goes on:

Mr Brown-Nothing, It is free.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —You never signed any piece of paper saying: `Make Coronation Hill a sacred site'?

Mr Brown-No.

Not being familiar with all these elders and on a first name basis, I asked:

Is Sandy Barraway here?

The transcript continues:


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Mr Barraway, have you ever signed anything asking for Coronation Hill to be made a sacred site?

Mr Barraway-No, I have never.

He did not sound too confused about the question. I then asked:

Have you ever thought of Coronation Hill as a sacred site?

In other words, I was asking him whether he had ever contemplated Coronation Hill as a sacred site, never mind signing an application for it to be registered by the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority. Mr Barraway answered:


I then asked Nipper Brown, the senior custodian:

Can women go on Coronation Hill anywhere?

I asked that question because we had been told by Mr Cooper that it was a sacred site; that women would know that it was a sacred site and therefore they should not be anywhere near it; and that their evidence was irrelevant. Mr Brown answered:

Yes. They looked at the mine.

He was thinking in contemporary terms. I then asked Sarah Flora:

Sarah, you say that you have been on Coronation Hill?

The transcript reads:

Ms Flora-Yes.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Right at the top?

Ms Flora-Yes.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —You stayed there quite a long time?

Ms Flora-Just having a look around.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Are all the women always allowed to be on Coronation Hill, Mr Barraway?

Mr Barraway-Yes.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —So all the women have been all over Coronation Hill with no problems? No elders tell you not to go there?

Ms Wynjorroc-It is all okay.

Ms Wynjorroc is an elderly lady. I asked her the following question:

Has it always been okay as long as you have known?

Ms Wynjorroc replied, `Yes'. I pressed it even further. The transcript reads:

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —You have never heard stories about Coronation Hill being a sacred site?

That is a leading question, I would have thought, under Mr Cooper's definition. The answer was no. Not satisfied with that answer, I led her further. The transcript reads:

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —No whispers or no stories?

Ms Wynjorroc-No.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —It has never been a scared site?

I am never satisfied with an explicit answer. I have to pester these people and persuade them that they are wrong. Ms Wynjorroc, under duress to answer the way I wanted her to answer, said `No' again-in spite of what might have been perceived to be my line of questioning. I would have thought that by definition and by the evidence the conclusions we drew were not unreasonable. The reason the Committee concluded that the application for Coronation Hill to be made a sacred site by Nipper Brown or Barraway was dubious was that their names were shown on the application forms. They are both thoroughly illiterate. They cannot read the words `Emu Bitter' on a label. They would not know what they were signing on a social welfare cheque except that they become familiar with the composition of the words, or the letters.

We are told by Mr Cooper that of course they signed the form-their crosses are on it, their signatures are on it. I asked them a simple, elementary, fundamental question and I was told by them that they had not signed the form. Mr Cooper is very angry that I drew the illogical conclusion that they had not signed the form. In my view, on the evidence before us, they had never thought that Coronation Hill was a sacred site. But Mr Cooper always has thought so, apparently, and that is what enraged him. The evidence speaks for itself.

Mr Cooper speaks about the Barunga meeting on 15 August called by the Jawoyn elders to ask that the nine employees of the Coronation Hill joint venture desist from working for the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd (BHP) and withdraw their labour. I was not there personally, so, on balance, I have to make a judgment in the scales of belief as to who was telling the truth. I am told by BHP senior personnel who were there that the meeting concluded that the Jawoyn employees should continue their employment. Mr Cooper says that is not true. On balance, I have to look for evidence which substantiates the claim of one or the other. Jawoyn people are still working as employees on the Coronation Hill joint venture. The very day I wrote the report, I rang representatives of the Coronation Hill joint venture and asked how many people were up there. They said, `There are 40 people at this moment living on the site'. I would have thought that was fairly compelling evidence to anybody who has an orderly mind that the majority of the Jawoyn people are not dissatisfied with Jawoyn people being employees of BHP.

Mr Cooper went on to tell us that Nipper Brown and Sandy Barraway approved of mining because they thought it could be conducted without explosives. I repeat the evidence of Mr McDonald, who is an elder of the Jawoyn people. I will not repeat all of it--

Senator Bolkus —Don't be too long; you have got three minutes to go.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I will take the three minutes, and ask for an extension. At the invitation of BHP Mr McDonald went to Groote Eylandt, where BHP has a mining operation. I asked about that matter and Mr McDonald said:

They showed us what they were doing on Groote Eylandt. We went to Groote Eylandt, had a look around at what BHP does with them there. They showed us around there and the Aboriginal people were happy with what BHP had done with them. When we came back we had a meeting about that with the Jawoyn mob and they said if there is mining like that it all right.

A representative from BHP told me that BHP had taken the people to Groote Eylandt, explained how it worked and the Aboriginal people had seen explosives being detonated. Mr Cooper dismisses that by saying that Mr McDonald was but a junior elder of the Jawoyn people. Anybody who disagreed with Mr Cooper had a defect, without question. When it came to Mr Fordimail, who was junior to Nipper Brown, saying that Coronation Hill was a site of significance, the fact that he was junior was totally inconsequential. It is only when Mr McDonald is junior that it is material.

Mr Cooper claimed that the minority report numbers of the Jawoyn people living or being at Coronation Hill were incorrect. I can only say that the number was confirmed by the management of BHP on the very day that I wrote the minority report. I am fussy about statistics, and I bothered to ring and ask for a count on that very day. They rang the manager out on the site, who did a head count, rang me back and told me the number of people who were there. Apparently that does not satisfy Senator Zakharov, Mr Cooper or the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Authority. I notice that Mr Cooper does not contradict our evidence that on 13 September 1988 nine Jawoyn people worked at Coronation Hill, a further 58 had signed applications and an additional 17 Jawoyn people-prospective employees-visited the site between April and September 1988, at the time when the minority report was written. Those statistics are in the report and Mr Cooper is stunningly silent on them. Mr Cooper seeks to disagree with our assertion that the majority of senior custodians support mining. I do not intend to repeat the evidence or retrace my steps. The evidence given directly to the Committee is capable of standing alone.

Mr Deputy President, before I turn to another subject, I see that my time is about to expire, so I will have to continue these remarks at the next sitting of the Senate.