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Tuesday, 21 December 1993
Page: 5466

Senator CRANE (8.29 p.m.) —Coming through this legislation is almost a hatred, or a vindictiveness, in relation to Western Australia. Senator Evans's response to Mabo might well be appropriate for what has happened on the eastern seaboard. I am not saying that what has happened in Western Australia is perfect, and I do not want to convey that impression.

  What has happened in Western Australia is far superior to what has happened in the other states; although South Australia and the Northern Territory have gone some way towards the Western Australian situation. Maybe I am out of order in not strictly debating this legislation, but I think it important that some facts be placed on the public record. In the state of Western Australia there has been a reservation for indigenous people for some 100 years. The reservation has been provided for in legislation since 1934, and prior to that it was a condition of lease. As imperfect as that may have been, it is one hell of a lot more than has happened in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and in particular Tasmania. It amazes me that people stand up in this place and pontificate on how moral and wonderful they are.

  Also, it is important to place on the public record that in the mid-1980s—and I am very proud to have been associated with this initiative—Western Australia put in place the process of the purchasing of stations. Obviously last night the minister was not aware of this and nor were his advisers. In responding to me the minister said that those stations were very limited when, in fact, they cover approximately 10 per cent of our pastoral leases and form an ongoing program. I have to say, from first-hand knowledge and experience, that the way in which those stations are now being run is very little different from the way other stations are being run. Some stations are very good, some are of a middling standard and some are not so good. But in my view the whole process in Western Australia has worked extremely well. Also, in Western Australia excision legislation was put in place. As imperfect as it might be, once again it is one hell of a lot better than the situation on the eastern seaboard.

  As a Western Australian I feel I should put these points on the public record. We can look at a whole range of matters. The Greens want the eastern states response to Mabo, plus whatever they can pick out of the eyes of the legislation that has been put in place. I will not stand here and say that the Western Australian government has it totally right. But what I do say is that, in my view, the response of the Western Australian government in relation to the things I have spoken about is much more appropriate than the response we are getting in relation to this legislation.

  I know, and indeed have known for a long time, many elders in Western Australia. I have been consistently told by them that they prefer the Western Australian response to the federal government's response. Yet we see that so much of the federal government's response—and, unfortunately, this has come through consistently in this debate—is targeted at Western Australia.

  In that respect, I sincerely believe that the federal government has taken its eye off the ball, which I think is very unfortunate. For the whole of my primary school life, I attended school with more Aborigines than Europeans. A lot of those people are still very good friends of mine; I see them from time to time, although perhaps not as often as I would like.

  Many of those friends are very fine individuals who have accepted their responsibilities in their particular communities, as I would have expected of them. I want it on the public record that I was very sad at the way this debate over the last three or four days has had to be cut short. The Greens and the Democrats can throw all the barbs they like at us for not moving any amendments to the legislation. Our job in opposition is to scrutinise legislation. We have absolutely, totally and clearly demonstrated that there are so many difficulties and holes in this legislation that we will be back here within six months, probably three months, with a whole raft of additional amendments. I am not sure how many amendments have now been made to the legislation but it must be getting close to 300. I now have in front of me three amendments: 14A, 14B and 14C—I am not sure whether we will get a 14D.

Senator Gareth Evans —No, you are safe.

Senator CRANE —Thank the Lord for that. I have spoken with the Aboriginal elders in Western Australia. We know that the legislation will be passed tonight and, from the bottom of my heart, I hope it works. Unfortunately, I do not believe that it will—I believe that we will be back here in a few months with a raft of additional amendments.

  At the end of the day it is important for all Australians, whether or not indigenous Australians get native title rights, that there be equity and economic development in which those people can share with those of us who arrived some time later. On my father's side, they came out in 1926 and, on my mother's side, they came out in 1829 or 1831—two years after settlement in Western Australia. So we go back a long way.

  I hope the bill works. Unfortunately, the government has lost sight of the fact that, for a long time, different circumstances have applied in Western Australia. As inadequate as our response over the years might have been, it has been one hell of a lot better than what has occurred on the eastern seaboard.