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Tuesday, 21 December 1993
Page: 5469

Senator CAMPBELL (8.46 p.m.) —I do not think anyone on the opposition's side would doubt the sincerity of the minister's views or indeed those of many of the ministers in the Keating cabinet who feel so passionately about implementing national land rights as the government is seeking to achieve through this legislation. Equally, I think the minister would recognise, whether or not he likes it, that people on our side of the chamber, even though we respect the deeply held views of the minister and some of his colleagues, think that the way the government has gone about it is wrong.

  Many of us think that we can look after Aboriginal rights; we can make sure that they are protected; and we can ensure that the hopes and aspirations of Aboriginal people can be delivered in a very different way. The consensus that broke down during the 1980s, particularly because of the political expediency of the then Premier Brian Burke—which I am sure I do not need to remind the minister about—reflected the strong community opinion that a national land rights scheme was not the right way to approach the problem.

  I guess all of the constitutional issues that are involved in trying to develop a national land rights scheme, as this bill does, will sooner or later be fought out in the courts. Again, those legal battles will do very little for the hopes and aspirations of Aboriginal people. There is no doubt that this legislation will be subject to High Court action. The Richard Court WA legislation is already subject to action. Those actions are only a product of governments going well beyond their constitutional powers, creating far too much power in Canberra, going through an undemocratic process, creating what we describe on this side of the chamber as a divisive piece of legislation which is separatist in our view.

  I am sure that we have heard many arguments as to why it is not separatist, but I think it is a great shame that where a government goes well beyond its constitutional powers—or at least tries to stretch the use of those constitutional powers to the absolute limit—in the end, some of the things that we seek to achieve by abusing those powers will actually work against what we are trying to achieve for the Aboriginal people and for the people of Australia as a whole.

  Having said that, I want to move back to the point that Senator Panizza was referring to earlier in relation to the definition of land and particularly airspace. I wanted to ask the minister whether or not he was aware that approximately two years ago in Western Australia the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the honourable Judith Watson, by ministerial decree banned air flights over some Aboriginal sacred sites and reserves because they were doing magnetometer work.

   Whether he was or was not aware of that, I would like the minister to assure the committee in unequivocal terms that in no circumstances would the minister, the tribunal or anybody associated with this system be able to ban that sort of prospecting work from the air using magnetometers or any other form of exploration equipment and that people doing that sort of exploration work from the air would in no circumstances be required to create a permit. The precedent has certainly been set in Western Australia by the former Labor Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, who did ban that exploration activity. That is why some of us from Western Australia have particular concerns about there needing to be any sort of application before the system to ensure that that sort of exploration can take place. I think it would be a very important guide for the future, if the minister can make that commitment here in the committee stage of this debate.