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Tuesday, 5 September 1989
Page: 973


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(5.26) —Clause 18 epitomises all that I find objectionable about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Bill in the sense of the assumption of responsibility it takes unto itself. I have wider objections to it which go to the heart of the problem, that is, the Bill will do more to destroy the Aboriginal community, their well-being, future growth and development than anything else I can imagine. But as I said last time I spoke on this issue, as long as we have a Minister who is ideologically driven by a personal ambition to stamp his social mark on the Aboriginal community, I expect that we will be visited by other Bills like this in due course.

The Bill fundamentally dismantles the three tiers of government, their composition and their intrinsic relationship with each other. The Bill-naked, unclothed and in the light of day-fundamentally sets upon the community of Australia, black and white, a new political system, a parliament for Aboriginal people. That is the Minister's view of self-determination. As Senator Peter Baume said before, it will do anything but that because the people of the regions and the zones will end up representing absolutely nobody. Certainly, they will not be representing the people in the way in which they are used to being represented.

I was horrified to hear the Australian Democrats' spokesman, Senator Coulter, in his glib and predictable way, talk about States' rights. That is the indulgent form of the expression we hear these days from this new brand of politician. They should refer to States' responsibilities and the rights that accompany the responsibilities. To hear the Democrats say that the power of the States is that power which has not yet been assumed by the Commonwealth really sums up their attitude towards the federal system of government in Australia. It is summed up also by their policy, which talks about State boundaries being an accident of history and which says that they ought to be dissolved and replaced by local government regions. In other words, they propose doing away with the States. That is in their platform.

As the Minister for Justice, Senator Tate, will know better than most, the Australian Democrats time after time have introduced into the Parliament legislation which fundamentally seeks to usurp the responsibilities and the role of the States. The legislation for uniform land rights for the Aboriginal community in Queensland, introduced by Senator Macklin in about 1982, is probably still sitting on the Notice Paper somewhere gathering dust, like most of the Democrats' decaying and failed proposals. It seems to me that the Democrats do not understand the history of Federation. They do not acknowledge that this creature of the Commonwealth Parliament was arrived at by agreement by our founding fathers through the imprimatur given to them by the various States-the founding States, the original States. The founding fathers were very clear and distinct in ensuring that the powers given under the Commonwealth were to be clear and defined and that residual power was to rest with the States.


Senator Coulter —Precisely; residual power?


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Every single power other than those given particularly and precisely to the Commonwealth in the Constitution. It was never intended that the insidious, pernicious intrusion into their rights by what some describe as the enlightened High Court of Australia would ever take the powers away to the extent it has because, of course, the Constitution would never have been consummated.

As a bit of political trivia for Senator Coulter, it was only as a result of the fact that we had so many eastern States goldmining prospectors in the western goldfields that Western Australia ended up voting for the Constitution. It was the eastern Staters who had planted themselves in Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie that swamped the positive and responsible reflex of traditional Western Australian people who in the end ensured that the Yes case was carried, notwithstanding the best endeavours of Lord Forrest in those days to persuade the local people it was right because he had been promised a side deal-and that was self-determination in Western Australia-by our dear father and mother country. That is how we got the Constitution. We got it no other way than by the collective wisdom of the various States coming together. These days some assume that all wisdom, knowledge and understanding flow from Canberra back to the States which have mendicant, subservient, second-class parliaments that really ought to deal with the inconsequential matters of life. Of course, the situation is anything but that.

This legislation tears at the very fabric of the three tiers of government in Australia. It seems to ignore the fact that local government, for instance-and it is a sin of not only this Bill but also successive governments-is a creature of State legislation. It ignores the intrinsic relationship between Commonwealth, State and local governments. It is totally inimical to good government in this country.

I have no doubt that the Bill will be divisive and destructive and will achieve absolutely no purpose other than to give a warm inner glow to those who believe that self-determination, whatever that means, is more important than the fundamentals that go to the well-being of the Aboriginal community. It is not without significance that the Government, supported ably by the Democrats, has directed all its energy into this legislation because it came to the conclusion at the end of the day that there were no politics in uniform land rights, notwithstanding the fact that they were fundamental to the platform of the Australian Labor Party when it was elected in 1983 and remain fundamental to the platform of the Democrats in 1989. They were also fundamental to the platform of the Labor Party in Western Australia when it was elected. Of course, it stepped back from the proposition.

I am only sorry that this Bill will not be thoroughly defeated, but I conclude by saying to Senator Coulter: let there be no secret about where the Democrats stand in respect to States. It is in their platform. Let there be no secret about where the Labor Party stands. The temporary Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said in the Boyer lectures that he believed in the abolition of the States. This legislation will go a long way down the road to undermining the States' constitutional responsibility, to no good end.