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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2053

Senator CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Sport, Territories and Local Government)(5.10 p.m.) —I briefly put on the record my abject disappointment at the position taken by the opposition parties, but particularly the Greens. I must say, I was shocked to hear that this would not receive an exemption. When Senator Chamarette asked Senator Herron a question a fortnight ago about where this legislation was Senator Chamarette, either by way of interjection or by way of taking note—I do not recall just what it was—actually suggested to the Senate that this bill would not require an exemption. I think at some stage Senator Herron in his answer to Senator Chamarette during question time had said: `Why are you doing it? It does not need an exemption.' Today we have a different story.

I think Senator Carr was probably not as closely involved in this debate. I know Senator Bob Collins, Senator Kernot, Senator Chamarette and Senator Ellison were very closely involved. It is absolute nonsense to say that there has not been consultation on this. I accept Senator Chamarette's view as one that certainly has some merit—to say that things might have changed in the last nine months on these issues. I suspect that in regard to the issues that are dealt with by this bill there would not have been any change at all because we have gone to the ones that circumstances have not changed. As I have said to Senator Chamarette privately, we went through the amendments that were listed in the select committee's report debated in this chamber. One of the amendments the Senate wanted was that the national strategy should be based on regional strategies. The majority of the Senate agreed that it should be a ground upwards process of determining a national strategy. The national strategy has been determined and tabled in this place. So clearly with that sort of amendment time has overtaken it. But Senator Herron, you will note, in his second reading speech said that we still think that principle is important and at the end of the review period we would still want to see whether or not the Senate majority was right in the first place and, indeed, the national strategies in future should be based on regional strategies. That is something I think a majority of senators would still agree on.

Crucial to this is overcoming the most hypocritical and sad change that the previous government made to this legislation. We all recall that when the native title legislation was debated in this place a reason for the establishment of the land fund was that the preamble to the native title bill, as it was—act as it is now—stated that a land fund would be established because it recognised that only a very small number of people would be able to benefit from native title. This land fund would be to help those people who had been `most severely dispossessed', to paraphrase it.

Effectively, what the land fund legislation did by entirely ignoring that principle that was enshrined in the preamble—the preamble that I think Senator Kernot called a marvellous, beautiful and wonderful statement—was erase that entire concept from the Native Title Act. The land fund legislation erased a significant section of that preamble that Senator Kernot described as a pristine, beautiful and marvellous statement.

Part of this legislation that we are seeking to deal with today reinstates a part of that principle, and that is to ensure that those people suffering most disadvantage in relation to access to land be given preference. Of course that was a contentious issue. We took that issue around Australia. We went to 12 different centres around Australia. We certainly did not consult with every Aboriginal person, but I do know that we consulted with a lot more people in a lot more detail than the previous government ever did in relation to any of its acts.

The concept of assisting those suffering most disadvantage in access to land was one that had actual general agreement—even the Peter Yus and the Noel Pearsons actually came up with this sort of wording to reach consensus at their crisis meeting. If you go back to the Hansard, you will note that, when Noel Pearson gave evidence to the committee in Cairns, he said, `Look, I think that's a good principle.' He agreed with the principle of consulting with traditional owners and those with historical links to the land. Noel agreed with that.

Senator Kernot —That is not the same—

Senator CAMPBELL —No. This is another amendment dealt with under this amending bill, Senator Kernot, that we are seeking to—

Senator Kernot —You ran them together.

Senator CAMPBELL —I will try and slow down and put a bit more punctuation into my speech. The concept that, when you go to buy some land for Aboriginal people, you actually do consult with those with traditional and historical links to the land was one that Noel Pearson in particular, and just about everyone, agreed with. There was virtually unanimous support for the concept.

The reason they opposed having it dealt with in the initial bill was that their position was quite a pragmatic one. When you are around Aboriginal affairs for a while—and I have only been around it for a little while—you do have to learn to be pragmatic and achieve what is achievable. Their view was, `We should get legislation; we do not want it held up.' They said, `Look, forget about all your amendments; you're holding up our bit of legislation that we need for social justice reasons.' They were saying, `Good amendments, Senator Campbell; good amendments, coalition parties; good amendments, Senator Chamarette; but stop making so much fuss about them. Just get the damned legislation through the Senate.' That was the approach.

The amendments that are contained in this bill are the ones that were entirely non-contentious to all bar Lois O'Donoghue and probably David Ross. When you left Canberra and went out to Dubbo, Brisbane, Cairns and Darwin, you found that all of these people wanted that. In this chamber, Senator Bob Collins said, `You cannot have individual ownership. That whole concept is absolutely anathema to Aboriginal people; it is not part of their culture.' I remember Senator Evans saying that you have to have this white man's concept of a corporation to reflect the cultural relationship between Aboriginal people and the land. But, funnily enough, when we got out to the goldfields, when we got up to Cairns and spoke to Torres Strait Islanders, we found a lot of Aboriginal people—not just Torres Strait Islanders but Aboriginals from the goldfields all around Australia—saying, `No, no, you cannot rule that out; it can happen. It is a possibility.'

Senator Kernot —You are not saying it is universally supported now, are you?

Senator CAMPBELL —No. I am not saying it is universally supported. This is what we always argued, Senator Kernot. I find it—and the coalition supported me on this—racially discriminatory and paternalistic to say, `You've got to have our concept of how you own land. You've got to be a corporation.'

What this bill sought to do was to say, `Let's have some flexibility; let the Aboriginal people have some self- determination in relation to this question; let them have some power to determine how they live their lives and how they own their land—of course subject to the ILC.' You will notice in this bill that we very carefully ensured that, in exceptional circumstances, the ILC would have the right to make those grants without excluding them, based on their race.

Senator Kernot —Why is it urgent?

Senator CAMPBELL —I will get to the reason it is urgent, Senator Kernot, and I will conclude on this point. We had that debate and we had that consultation. I will accept Senator Chamarette's point as to the result if the Senate votes this way. Senator Herron, in his travels during the winter recess, will, I am sure, consult on a whole range of Aboriginal affairs matters, and he will also consult on this so that Senator Chamarette's purpose will be served. It is an honourable purpose.

I had to say in this speech that I was shocked at the decision not to exempt it after our discussions prior to this date. The reason it is urgent is that we went through that consultation process. The coalition parties decided that we would not insist upon these amendments and that we would take the view we were pushing it uphill to get it through the Senate and would not get it through the Senate. We decided we would try and win the election. We decided that we would go to the election with our amendments written in black and white on a policy that was sent by the former shadow minister, Christine Gallus, who did a superb job distributing them to a huge number of Aboriginal communities. There was massive support.

The day that we decided to pursue that course, that is, to try and win the election and win a majority in the House of Representatives, the now Prime Minister and former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard, got up in that place and said to the whole of Australia and everyone who took a very close interest in this bit of legislation, `We cannot get it through the Senate. Trying to get it through the Senate is not going to achieve our ends. Pursuing that course is the best way to achieve our ends and to achieve the wishes of all of those Aboriginal people who came in and supported us.' The support we got was absolutely phenomenal.

The network of people who have come to share the views of the coalition in relation to so many Aboriginal affairs matters was built up enormously during that process. I have met a lot of people who I regard as my friends in Aboriginal Australia through that process. They were horrified to know that we were not going to insist on the Senate getting the legislation through. I said to them, `We are going to win the election down there and, as soon as we can, we are going to bring this legislation back here. That is the promise of John Howard MP, the member for Bennelong, then the Leader of the Opposition—that, if he became Prime Minister, as soon as he could possibly do so, he would reintroduce the legislation into the Senate and try and get these amendments through.

That was the promise we made. I thought that that was very much something that Senator Chamarette understood. I regard it as a bit of a moot point as to whether we introduced the legislation a few weeks ago or introduced it now. As Senator Bob Collins would know, you cannot simply get a one- page policy document and turn it into a piece of legislation in about two minutes. It does take a little bit longer. Senator Herron is to be commended for the drive that he has brought to the process of bringing this legislation back in. I know this because I spoke to him within 48 hours of him becoming the minister. He has been determined to bring this bit of legislation into this place as soon as was physically and politically possible. He has got it through all the processes of the cabinet and brought it in here, and he is personally responsible for ensuring that the Prime Minister's promise is kept. It is just a great shame to me personally that, because of the failure of the Senate to grant it an exclusion from this exemption, it cannot be dealt with before this session is over.

As Senator Chamarette said before, she has lost her place in this chamber. I know that she has put a lot of time and energy into the quality and the detail of these amendments, so that is a matter of some regret. Clearly, she has strong principles in relation to the cut-off motion and community consultation. However, it is important to remember that we have carried out that consultation.

I will not prejudge what the Aboriginal views are because we will carry out that consultation, but I would be very surprised if they have changed one iota on the substantive matters that form part of this bill. They are matters of high principle for us and for many people in Aboriginal Australia. It is a great shame that we cannot deliver to them what I regard to be a crucial part of their social justice. But, again, it takes a long time to move things in a democracy the size of Australia. If we have to wait another five months to deliver what I regard as absolutely basic to their human rights—that is, ensuring they have freedom in relation to accessing land issues and not some paternalistic approach that tells them how they should own land—then we will wait a few more months. We look forward to the support of the Senate when that occurs.

   Question put:

   That the motion (Senator Herron's ) be agreed to.