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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 34

Mr WEST (Cunningham) - It is ironic that Noonkanbah, the Aboriginal-owned pastoral lease which has been the site of so much confrontation this year, should have begun as a Federal Government project to restore a dignified lifestyle to the Yungngora community. Yet, when the lifestyle of these people was directly and savagely threatened, the Federal Government turned a blind eye to its responsibilities. In 1971 this community, then made up of pastoral workers on the white-managed pastoral lease, went on strike because of maltreatment. They were reduced to living in appalling and degrading conditions around Fitzroy Crossing, some 60 miles away. But, in 1976 the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission acquired the pastoral lease for the Yungngora community. The station, which is one million acres in size, was in ruin. The people have successfully restored Noonkanbah station to pastoral viability and have re-established their traditional way of life within a white community.

Sacred sites have a special and particular significance to Aborigines. They believe that sacred sites are those places where the heroic ancestors travelled, forming the world, the people and the whole blueprint for life. These sites are the subject of religious celebrations by which Aboriginal people protect the sites and renew their religion and associations with the land. Wherever Aboriginal people have been able to continue their culture, these sites have been an integral part of it. They form the nuclei of particular Aboriginal people's association with their land, passed on to them by their ancestors, and are thus central to the Aborigines' very existence. In Western Australia sacred sites should be protected under the State Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 which empowers the Western Australian Museum to investigate, recommend and declare sacred sites. However, the Minister for Cultural Affairs, at present Mr Grayden, has the power to override the Museum recommendations.

In June 1979, after an extensive survey of Noonkanbah, the Museum compiled a report on the sacred sites. It recommended that, amongst others, the areas bounded by No. 1 and No. 2 drill sites chosen by Amax Exploration (Australia) Inc. should be protected. But, Western Australia's unsavoury and arrogant Minister for Cultural

Affairs, Mr Grayden, very swiftly used his veto powers and overrode the Museum. Amax gained authority to drill for oil at Noonkanbah in early 1979. In addition, 30 different mining companies and prospectors have pegged out 600 separate exploration tenements on Noonkanbah. It is little wonder that the people are worried for their future on that station.

Let me briefly run through the appalling events of the last five months. On 2 April the Noonkanbah community forced off the site the water drilling company contracted by Amax. In July the State Government foreshadowed amendments to restrict even further the Aboriginal Heritage Act, although the Minister still has power to override the recommendations of the Museum. On 24 July the Western Australian Government declared the road through the station a public road and excised the drilling site from the pastoral lease. The community had proposed a compromise to the State Government, including a re-mapping of the area by the Museum and the State Government's acceptance of any recommendations. The Government rejected the community's proposal and then launched the infamous 'operation convoy'. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a letter from the Noonkanbah community, signed by Joe Wunmah, Mick Michael, George Bell and Bob Mululby, to the Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court, which adequately sets out the terms of the proposed compromise agreement.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows -

Yungngora Community, Noonkanbah Station, 18 July 1980

To: Sir Charles Court,

We have asked Mr Ernie Bridge to deliver this letter to you for your consideration.

We want to put these proposals to you as a way of reaching agreement on the question of mining on Noonkanbah. We hope you will accept this as being made in good faith in a real effort to resolve these difficult questions.

The main thing is we must know that all our sacred places will be safe from mining and that you will believe our word about these places.

We have asked Ernie Bridge to take this word to you and now we wait for your answer.


1.   The Community agrees to carry out a program of mapping of sacred areas on the Station in conjunction with the Museum and Community Anthropologists by stages as follows:

(a)   the area along the Fitzroy River from Paradise to Quanbun boundary and ten miles north of the river by the end of this year;

(b)   balance of the Station done within eighteen months.

2.   Mapping to be done on the following conditions:

(a)   the Government is to accept any future recommendations of the Museum;

(b)   the mapping to be carried out with the present Aboriginal Heritage Act to apply;

(c)   no mineral exploration to be carried out on the Station until the mapping is done, then such exploration to be done through negotiation between the parties involved.

3.   To that end the Community undertakes to negotiate with the Government towards terms and conditions for such mining exploration and developments on these areas of the Station which are not aboriginal sites within the meaning of the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

4.   No drilling on protected areas or mineral exploration of any kind within such areas.

5.   A promise from the Government that it will accept any further recommendations from the Museum about the protection of sacred areas.

6.   A promise that there will at no time be mining or drilling in the area delineated by the Museum Report of 1979 and recommended for protection.

7.   The cancellation of all mineral leases held in the area mentioned in paragraph 6.

8.   This Agreement to be properly drafted by Government and Community Solicitors and signed by both parties.

Signed by:

Joe Wunmah

Mick Michael

George Bell

Bob Mululby

Mr WEST - This secretly contrived 53-vehicle convoy was resisted by Aboriginal communities, clergymen and unionists on the way to Noonkanbah. More than 50 people were arrested. Some 32 trucks were used in the convoy, more than 30 police were present, and 20 police wagons were used. The cost to the Western Australian Government for the police and the officers of the State Emergency Service, and for organising the use of Main Roads Department bulldozers, graders and two trucks to clear the road of vehicles in the convoy's path was $500,000. It should be pointed out that the Commonwealth shares part of that cost through its tax-sharing arrangements with the States.

I visited the area on Sunday, 10 August, and I was revolted by the scene at the drilling site. The entire area was surrounded by a fence of cyclone wire topped with razor wire 10 feet high. The perimeter was guarded by large numbers of State police. Here, in Western Australia, was a scene straight from racist South Africa set up by the Western Australian Government and condoned by this Federal Government through its inertia and inadequacy. The most disgraceful expedition any Australian government has ever launched, was the description used by Professor Charles Rowley, the former Chairman of the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, which bought Noonkanbah for the Yungngora community in 1976. This disgusting power nexus between the State and

Federal governments was broken by the announcement of the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions on 12 August that no union labour would be used on the site until an appropriate agreement was reached between the community and the company. The members of the Australian Workers Union, to their everlasting credit, have refused to work this scab rig, and Richter Drilling, the contractor to Amax, has stated that it is not prepared to use non-union labour.

The Court Government in Western Australia - I say this advisedly - is determined to crush the Noonkanbah community. It is deliberately sacrificing Aboriginal people to its gung ho mining and development policy. Premier Court's attitude towards Aboriginal people has been clear throughout this whole miserable exercise. He has threatened, insulted and savagely attacked them with the full power of the State police, and has made outrageous media statements. He has said that it will be impossible to approve a pastoral station for another Aboriginal group. He has said that taxpayers will be bitter because public funds have been given to the Aborigines. He has further stated that the Aborigines, Professor Berndt, and other leading anthropologists were lying about the religious nature of Aboriginal relationship to land. He said: 'We now find that the true objectives of the people attacking the Government are land rights and royalties'. The Noonkanbah people have denied repeatedly that they want royalties. They want their land. The issue is one of land rights because of the religious nature of land and the implications of sacred sites.

The Premier has attacked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney). On 8 August in the West Australian he ridiculed Senator Chaney's pathetic plea for compensation for the Yungngora community. Court said:

If the drilling program ends with this year's activity the Yungngora community will have nothing but an additional water source and improved roads to remind them of it.

He is denying Aborigines their religious feelings. No white Australian would tolerate such callous disregard for their religion or their culture. Even more racist and disgusting have been the responses of Court's Minister for Cultural Affairs, the abysmal Mr Grayden. He has said that cultural freedom and land rights for Aborigines in Western Australia should be kept out of his State like a noxious weed, and that the Noonkanbah sacred sites are not genuine. In one sentence he dismissed completely the whole body of anthropological knowledge and the Museum's work. Grayden said in the Western Australian Parliament on S August that Aborigines sit around drinking alcohol and playing cards and two-up. He called Aboriginal communities junk-yards. He has hidden in a cowardly way behind his parliamentary privilege to slander Aboriginal people. When the Western Australian Aboriginal Legal Service had the audacity to announce that it would take action on his racist attacks he called for the abolition of the Aboriginal Legal Service across the nation. Senator Chaney has been written off by Aboriginal Australia. He has engaged in hypocrisy, double-speak and duplicity by pathetically attacking Court on the one hand and by complying with the Prime Minister on the other. On 1 1 March - this is the best comment honourable members will have ever heard - Senator Chaney said:

The rumour that the company would enter the property without notice and with police protection- caused great consternation. It is good that the Premier has put that rumour to rest.

Yet in July Senator Chaney was at Noonkanbah standing over the Aboriginal people. He told them that it was inevitable that drilling would take place and that they should try to make the best of the situation. On 4 August he and his predecessor, the present Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner), who is sitting opposite, said in the West Australian that a mediating structure should be provided to work out the best solution and to provide for compensation. They showed that they understood the Aboriginal association with the land in that West Australian article. They made an emotional but pathetic plea for a reasonable approach to Noonkanbah. They said: Quite simply, the Aborigines believe that if their land is destroyed, then they too are destroyed.' They criticised Court's insensitivity and lauded the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act which I remind honourable members was introduced in this Parliament by a Labor Government in 1975. They stated that justice for Aborigines, as provided by that Act, could be given only by politicians, not by police, courts or trade unionists, and they called for an accommodation of interests at Noonkanbah. But what attempt was made to create an accommodation of interests? Their own Prime Minister had already rebutted their remarks. On 2 July the Prime Minister told the Aboriginal people at Broome in the Kimberleys that 'Australia needed to build up its oil reserves and this could not happen if drilling was stopped or delayed'. The Prime Minister said that oil drilling must proceed at Noonkanbah.

Mr Cotter - He didn't say that at Broome at all.

Mr WEST - The Prime Minister said that oil drilling must proceed at Noonkanbah. How much longer will the national government tamely accept, in this servile way, being stood over by this arrogant, dictatorial and awful old man, the Premier of Western Australia? How much more ahuse of Aboriginals will it tolerate from this bigoted State Government? The truth is that, despite all the rhetoric about Aboriginal selfdetermination, this Government has been shown clearly to be repressive and anti-Aboriginal by simple virtue of its refusal to act and to use its Federal powers. Why is Court so insistent on drilling? Does he really expect Amax to find oil? The answer is no. I contacted the General Manager of the Amax operation and was told that the chances of striking hydrocarbons at Noonkanbah are no better than 50 to one. The Western Australian Government knows that popular opinion on land rights is moving the Aborigines way. But, that Government's view is quite simple: It wants no land rights; no recognition of sacred sites; no recognition of Aboriginal culture; no right to negotiate the right to mine on Aboriginal land. In short, it seeks to crush the Aboriginal's morale at Noonkanbah, once and for all.

Quite clearly, unless the Prime Minister withdraws support for Charles Court's actions and policies, the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Chaney, ought clearly to resign. He supports land rights in the States; he understands the Aborigines unique relationship with their land; he knows the significance of the sites; he espouses self-determination for all Aboriginal organisations. With all these fundamental Aboriginal causes, I agree. Labor agrees; the trade unions agree; the majority of the Australian people agree; but the Prime Minister does not agree with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The Prime Minister supports black rights in Africa, but says that drilling must proceed at Noonkanbah. That is another example of his duplicity.

Mr Giles - What rot!

Mr WEST - Why does he not do something about it? Why does he not stop this monster in WA? The Federal Government has the power and the responsibility. In the show-down between mining companies and Aboriginals, with this Government the Aborigines will come last every time. Senator Chaney is jammed between Court and the Prime Minister. He is a prisoner of his belligerent State colleagues. He has been sold out by his own Prime Minister.

I congratulate the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the clergy and all those who supported these people. I hope they will continue that support. It should not be a trade union function to protect the Australian Aboriginals; it is the responsibility of the Federal Parliament. The Prime Minister must withdraw his support for Court and resolve the immediate problem of Noonkanbah by acquiring under section 51 of the Australian Constitution the sacred sites and areas at Noonkanbah. Failing that, if the Government is not willing to stop Court, Senator Chaney, as an honourable man - and I believe he is underneath - and as a result of his expressed criticism of the Western Australian Government, must resign.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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