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Friday, 19 November 1993
Page: 3283


Senator PARER —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Special Minister of State. On the 7.30 Report last night the Special Minister of State, Mr Walker, agreed that lawyers were going to get `very rich' out of the government's Mabo legislation and that, in fact, it would be a `bonanza for lawyers'. He went on to say, `Well, that's not our fault'. I ask: if it is not the government's fault, whose fault is it?


Senator COLLINS —I am not quite sure whether Senator Parer wants me to discuss the problem of lawyers getting rich in general or lawyers getting rich specific to Mabo. If he wants to talk about lawyers getting rich in general, I would refer him to the report of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs which examined at length the question of what lawyers get.


Senator Parer —Mr President, I raise a point of order. My question was quite specific. It did not apply to lawyers in general. I ask you to direct the minister to answer the question.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Collins, would you answer the question that was asked by Senator Parer.


Senator COLLINS —Mr President, I was doing precisely that. The question of lawyers getting rich out of Mabo can be effectively answered only if this Senate is prepared to pass legislation, which the coalition has been urging us to do for weeks, to prevent Aboriginal people getting access to the Australian court system, like everybody else. That is the underlying factor behind a series of questions being run in here. Leaving aside the moral ground on which that proposition is based, it would be struck down instantly anyway if this parliament were foolish enough to do it. But that really is the point of the exercise.

  The legal system is an inherent part of a society such as ours that operates under the rule of law, and long may it continue to do so. All citizens are free to access the courts under that system, including Aboriginal people. People are not barred on the grounds of their race from having access to the court system. That involves lawyers. People, at the end of the day, have a right to adjudicate their rights in court.

  The principal question Senator Parer should be addressing himself to is the abysmal failure of the coalition to address itself properly to this issue, and it has not. Take the appalling presentation by the leader of the coalition on national television. I cannot say it better than Fred Chaney. This is what Fred Chaney had to say about the coalition's approach to Mabo:

. . . I am sorry there is not a hint of the possibilities of Mabo and no leadership on what could have been made of it.

Jeff Kitney said it better than anyone can say it when he said this:

It is a political fix, shaped by negatives and devoid of any generosity of spirit to Australia's most disadvantaged people. But most of all, it is a position shaped by the imperatives of Hewson's damaged leadership.

Dead right!


Senator PARER —I thank the minister for his part answer in which he seemed to confirm that the legislation was extraordinarily complex and would give rise to a whole lot of legal representations. I refer him to the remarks in respect of the legislation made by Mr Walker. Mr Walker said that the managing director of BHP would be able to understand the legislation because he has got more Queen's Counsel than the rest of Australia put together on the payroll. Is that the sort of legislation that we should have that can be addressed only by those who have more Queen's Counsel than the rest of Australia put together?


Senator COLLINS —As Senator Ray said correctly, this legislation is complex. It is complex because it seeks to balance the requirements of proper land management, states rights, the needs of developers in Australia, and a little bit of fairness for Australia's Aboriginal people. That is why it is complex. The coalition's position is dreadfully simple; it is not complex. The coalition's position is to remove from Aboriginal people in this country any rights they might have at all.


Senator Hill —Mr President, I raise a point of order. That is not only a lie, but it is offensive as well and I ask you to require him to withdraw it.


Senator Robert Ray —On the point of order, Mr President: what Senator Collins described—whether those opposite like it or not—was a description of the opposition. It did not refer to an individual, but if Senator Hill wants to take it as being directed at him, he can wear it.


The PRESIDENT —Strictly, I do not think it is unparliamentary.