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Friday, 17 December 1993
Page: 5083


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (11.58 p.m.) —I made absolutely clear that it is not the Commonwealth's intention. We fully recognise the appropriateness of state control over land management. There are just certain limiting cases, and one of them is when states seek to act in a way that is completely discriminatory and against the proper protective role in relation to Aboriginal people, and that is what is in issue here.

  This particular legislation has been acknowledged, appreciated and understood by the other states to be a cooperative venture—a product of a consultative process. There is only one state that is acting manifestly against this spirit, and Western Australian legislation destroys, as it purports to do, with a sweep of the legislative pen the concept of native title, turning it into a statutory title, which is far less effectively protective in its character, which is subject, for all practical purposes, to ministerial whim to the extent that its exercise is something which we just cannot consciously and conscientiously live with, given the responsibilities that we have, as a Commonwealth, under the constitution, to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this country. We make no apology for seeking to exercise that responsibility in a way that the opposition has failed to do.

  We do not want to interfere with land management generally. We are certainly not interfering with rights to compulsorily acquire land, which is properly the subject of native title; that is a proper incident of land management. We are not in any way seeking to undermine that. The object of the exercise is, as we have described it and as I have described it tonight, to give a little justice to some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been denied it for over two centuries in this country.

  Question put:

  That the amendment (Senator Kernot's) be agreed to.