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Wednesday, 29 May 1996
Page: 1296

Senator CHRIS EVANS —My question is directed to Senator Herron, the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Do you agree with claims that the Native Title Act is `bad law', that it creates a new form of title which is inherently racist? Do you concur with the view that the act is highly dangerous to this country and represents a profound undermining of the sovereignty of the states?

Senator HERRON —This is a very important question because the Native Title Act has not worked. The opposition is completely aware of that. We said in our policy that we would make it workable. As I mentioned previously when this matter arose, Senator Minchin—

Honourable senators interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There is far too much shouting across the chamber.

Senator HERRON —They may converse as much as they like. They are obviously in disarray and I am happy for the Leader of the Opposition to talk with his frontbench. That is their problem. Senator Minchin has done an enormous amount of work in producing a paper that is available for discussion. That should be obvious to everybody. Even the opposition should be aware of that.

It should be fairly obvious to you, Senator—and I do not recall whether you were here at the time that legislation was put through—that it is unworkable. Could you name me one title claim that has been agreed to? Has anything gone through the tribunal? Has there been one? No determinations whatsoever have occurred as a result of the act.

We gave an absolute commitment in our policy speech that we would make it workable. It is in terms of workability and practicability that we will approach the Native Title Act. The discussion paper will be responded to. I would expect that it would be responded to from the opposition and every interested party, because if there is one thing that we must get together it is that everybody must agree that it can only work to the betterment of everybody in this country, the wider community as a whole, if it does become workable. Otherwise, it will be caught in the whole process that is occurring now as a result of the inadequate legislation that went through during that period of time. I would appeal to everybody on both sides of the chamber, whoever they might be, even people outside this chamber, that we work together constructively.

I had great pleasure today in launching an economic program in relation to the Aboriginal community which will work to give them economic independence. I see the Native Title Act and its workability as being part of the process to allow the Aboriginal community to achieve economic independence. Underpinning that economic independence will be the developments in infrastructure and housing, which, in turn, will underpin health and the outcome of health programs.

I think it is important that the act be made workable, that there should be constructive work done in response to the paper produced by Senator Minchin and endorsed by the government, so that we can make that process workable and so that the outcome, both for indigenous and non-indigenous people, will be for the betterment of Australia as a whole.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Madam Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, I note that you failed to repudiate those views. Given that those views were expressed by Senator Minchin in his contribution in the second reading debate on the Native Title Bill in December 1993, do you believe it is appropriate that Senator Minchin, given that he holds those views, should now be drafting the amendments to the Native Title Act? Further, can you tell us which member of the Executive Council in the Senate has jurisdiction and precedence in native title matters?

Senator HERRON —All of us undergo an educative process during the passage of time. If we stand still, we will go backwards in this process. I am not aware of any views that Senator Minchin may or may not have had in the past. I am sure Senator Minchin, like all of us, has learnt an enormous amount from the process that he has gone through in developing knowledge in relation to this. It is like the old wife bashing question, isn't it, when you say that I did not repudiate it? That is the process—you are asking me to repudi ate something. Let us leave the past behind. Let us get on with the future and produce an equitable outcome for all Australians.