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Thursday, 18 November 1993
Page: 3134


Senator HILL —My question is directed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate as Minister representing the Prime Minister. I ask whether the minister is aware that the head of BHP, Mr John Prescott, commented in relation to the Labor Party's native title legislation in the following terms:

Examining the proposed bill is like reading porridge.

. . . . . . . . .

It is far too complex, far too difficult to understand and fraught with the danger of leading us into additional uncertainty and unnecessary conflict.

. . . . . . . . .

In this time of economic difficulty, it is not in the nation's interests to hamstring our future prospects with unworkable and inappropriate rules.

How is it that the government has got it so wrong that, instead of its bill contributing to increased certainty and confidence, it is actually leading to greater confusion and uncertainty?


Senator ROBERT RAY —I have seen some reference to Mr Prescott's views on Mabo and his views on the legislation. In my time in government there has been no more complex issue to come before government than the consideration of what came out of the High Court decision. For those who want to see a simplistic solution, I simply say to them: it is not available.


Senator MacGibbon —Rubbish!


Senator ROBERT RAY —If it were so simple, why did Senator MacGibbon's party spend so many hours yesterday wrestling with the issues? Why did it spend so many weeks and so many months on it, as this government has? The only difference in the end is who came up with a fair solution and who came up with a solution that reflected internal division within the Liberal Party. That is the other side of politics. Those opposite are so divided on the issue that they had to come up with a compromise.


Senator Alston —A unanimous decision.


Senator ROBERT RAY —Sure—a unanimous decision based on the fact that those opposite want to have their cake and eat it. They want to recognise the High Court decision; they want to protect the Racial Discrimination Act—they want to do all those things. But they do not want to support the federal legislation, nor will they put their full support behind Premier Court in Western Australia. What they have come up with as a solution to Mabo is to opt out, because the decisions were too hard and too difficult.

  In essence, the question that Senator Hill asks today is this: is there a really simple, easy, one-line or few-line solution to Mabo? No, there is not. It is a complex issue in which, if all bases are not covered, future mistakes will be made and legislation will be challenged—and rightly challenged—in the High Court. That is a position that this government has resisted. We have spent many months, and we have had many meetings, developing the issues. All the opposition did in the initial stages was run all sorts of rednecked arguments, trying to create uncertainty in the community. What the opposition did yesterday was a great cop-out—the greatest cop-out an opposition has ever been involved in in this country.


Senator HILL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I think the minister actually missed the question. The question was: why is the government providing a solution that is actually leading to greater confusion and uncertainty?


Senator ROBERT RAY —It would not be hard to confuse Senator Hill or the opposition.


Senator Alston —Why don't you call Prescott a redneck?


Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator Alston, the inveterate injector who puts his mouth into gear before his mind even catches up, says, `Am I describing Mr Prescott as a redneck?' No, I am not. I am describing some of those on the opposition as precisely that. What the opposition did yesterday was basically a political solution to its own internal party problems; it did not tackle this issue properly or head on.

  What I was saying in answer to Senator Hill's question, before his colleague interjected, was that this is a complex issue that cannot be answered simply. To understand it means quite a deal of application—probably more than Senator Hill or I could apply to it—in order to come up with solutions. That is what this government has done.