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Friday, 17 December 1993
Page: 5005

Senator CHAMARETTE (4.44 p.m.) —It is no secret that the Greens wanted more consultation, time and community scrutiny before this legislation was dealt with. The opposition has to share some of the responsibility for the fact that there was a concern in the community, a concern that the government capitalised on, about the failure to deal with this legislation quickly, about a delay and about the effects of that debate.

  I think the opposition must accept responsibility for the fact that it declared early on that it was not prepared to support a bill that would be the first in our history that actually attempted to give justice to Aboriginal people. The obstructionism and attitude of the opposition have generated concern within the broader community that this one opportunity to deal with this matter would pass by and that Aboriginal people again would be disappointed.

  I received many requests from people within the Aboriginal community who would love to have been consulted, who would love to have had the opportunity to speak for their land. They had no confidence—I share their lack of confidence—in the parliamentary process and the community process to offer that to them. The committee offered that opportunity and the committee had the opportunity of looking in a more fair way at the legislation. I believe that it failed to do that and there is no evidence that this legislation's being referred to a committee for a longer time would actually improve the chances for justice that Aboriginal people have been hoping for.

  I might add that many of the Aboriginal people who have contacted me are hoping that this legislation will not be passed because they are not confident that it, in itself, will offer any protection or justice for them.

  The Greens want to make very clear what we think about this bill. We believe that this bill is not about justice for Aboriginal people. It is about resource security for the mining and pastoral industries and very little else. Pat O'Shane said to me just today that this is not about Aboriginals' rights but about other people's rights, and nothing else.

  I believe that the opposition is posturing when it opposes this bill because, in fact, there is much in this bill that it has nothing to worry about. However, it may not gain votes from that. I believe that we have to step away from a party political view of what we are discussing today. I believe there are flaws here. I believe there is a need for all parties within this chamber to share their different perspectives but to do it with a respect for what we are actually discussing.

  It concerns me that there are three very different views reflected here. The first is the opposition position. I believe the opposition, in its requests for delay and for more consultation, needs to look at its own record because it is not admitting the need to redress the injustices of 200 years. It is actually presenting the view that it is unjust to positively discriminate in favour of Aboriginal people at this point in history.

  The second position is the Labor Party position. I do not agree with that position either. It is a fear of fully dealing with the historical injustice that Aboriginal people have suffered because of the anxiety, the consequences on the country and a desire to placate everyone, including some Aboriginal interests, but with far too much emphasis on economic certainty, on mining and pastoral concerns and state involvement.

  While the Democrats and the Greens share a common concern that something be brought out of this legislation that will be for the benefit of Aboriginal people, certainly the Greens' concern is that it will be held back from being simply a composite meld of the various competing interests being satisfied. The Greens' position is that we have to acknowledge the truth of the historical injustice. Until we acknowledge it, then no healing or reconciliation is possible. If this legislation fails to at least protect existing native title rights, based on the High Court's decision, it is unacceptable to the Greens.

  The committee stage of the Native Title Bill, as we perceive it, is the chance the Greens have of trying to extract some justice for Aboriginal people from a bill that gives less than the Mabo High Court decision. If we cannot, the legislation will not gain our support.

  I remind the Senate that the people who will suffer if this bill does not go through are those, some of whom are in the gallery, who are waiting on the response of this parliament to the injustice of 200 years. They are the ones who will suffer if they do not get this legislation. If this bill does go through, there are other people in the Aboriginal community in Western Australia who will also suffer because this bill is not meeting the needs of those who are totally dispossessed, who do not gain from the High Court's decision.

  I believe it is this parliament's responsibility to try to address this debate in the most respectful and dignified way possible so that the best legislation possible can be achieved, despite the fact that we have been rushed and despite the fact that it should have been done in a far different way with a better process of consultation and community scrutiny. But we all have to take responsibility for the part we take in it.