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Thursday, 9 December 1993
Page: 4312

Senator COONEY (6.20 p.m.) —The motion before the chair is whether a select committee, which will report back here by 1 February next year, ought to consider a whole variety of matters arising out of the Mabo judgment. You, Mr Acting Deputy President, are very familiar with that judgment, having no doubt read it, and you have been a member of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that has looked at and inquired into very many matters from very many people arising from the Native Title Bill.

  Can more inquiries take place? Of course more inquiries can take place. No matter what legislation comes into this chamber, more inquiries can take place. I think you, Mr Acting Deputy President, made a very powerful contribution to a debate that has been going on in this chamber on industrial relations legislation.

Senator Bolkus —He always does.

Senator COONEY —He always does, as the august minister who sits in front of me says. On several occasions, we have heard those opposite say that one of the problems with the inquiry is that there has not been enough consultation. I remember when the corporations legislation came before this parliament the claim was made that there had not been enough consultation and that more should take place. The question is not whether more consultation could take place but whether enough has. I can only reiterate on that point the telling remark made by Senator Kernot, who said that in deciding whether enough consultation has taken place we should look at not only the discussion that has taken place in the committee but also the discussion that has taken place over years—which she plays such a central part in—between the Aboriginal citizens of this country and other members of this community.

  There has been massive consultation over the years. It is said that somehow that position will be improved if, over the January holidays—that is the holiday season; it is a very Australian custom to have holidays in January—such consultation takes place as will, according to speakers on the opposite side, bring agreement with the various groups affected by the Mabo decision. That is clearly not so because the difficulty with the Mabo decision is that it brings into play a whole range of conflicting interests which can never be reconciled.

  That is the problem with which we are faced. When we listen to the miners talking about how the proposed legislation will affect them, they put forward very valid points. When we listen to the pastoralists, so do they. When we listen to the commercial fishermen, as you did so intently, Mr Acting Deputy President, they have a good point. Of course, so do the Aboriginals. Everybody feels they are entitled to their rights and, in the ideal situation, everybody should be given their rights, but conflicting rights can never be reconciled. They will not be reconciled by a quick inquiry. It will have to be a quick inquiry. As I understand it, the committee will have to report back on or before 1 February 1994. It is impossible for that to happen.

  I thought Senator Chamarette made a most moving speech in this chamber. Clearly, she has had to face some very hard issues, which she has resolved. The resolution of those, of course, is not easy. No doubt we all feel the tensions that arise in a situation such as this. But, in the end, our system of government is such that the parliament must make laws that are proposed by various people. The bills might be proposed by a private member, by government and so on, but in the end we have to make a decision. We cannot, and should not, resile from our responsibility to do that. Now is the time for us to consider the bill, and that will be done next week.

  This process will not be the end of the fight of the Aboriginal community in this country for justice. This is a very historic occasion. Winston Churchill, whom perhaps you did not know, Mr Acting Deputy President, in the darkest days of the war said:

This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

I think that, if this legislation is approached by the Aboriginal community and others on that basis, it will be put into proper perspective. It should be debated, and debated next week.

  Question put:

  That the motion (Senator Hill's) be agreed to.