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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 37


Mr VINER (Stirling) (Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs) - Listening to the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) it seems to me that the mark of the success of a Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is to have someone call for his resignation. I think the Premier of Queensland called for my resignation three times. I think even the Premier of Western Australia called for my resignation at one time.


Mr West - I do not want to see him resign; I want to see him act.


Mr VINER - I can assure the honourable gentleman that Senator Chaney's administration of Aboriginal affairs holds the greatest respect amongst Aborigines and within this Government.


Mr West - I will be happy if you act.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order!The Minister will resume his seat. I remind the House that the honourable member for Cunningham was listened to in silence.


Mr John Brown (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mr Deputy Speaker--


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -If the honourable member for Parramatta continues to interject while I am addressing the House I will be required to deal with him. Every honourable member has the right to be heard in silence. I request that that course be followed.


Mr VINER - The honourable member for Cunningham also made some most disparaging remarks about the Premier of Western Australia. They are quite unbecoming in this House, and advance his argument in no way at all. Let me just remind him that the Premier is regarded as one of the most dynamic premiers ever of Western Australia and one of the most dynamic premiers in Australia. He has brought more advancement, both social and economic, to the people of Western Australia than any Labor premier before him. So, let not those sort of things be said of Sir Charles Court.

I have lived through a number of situations where the Commonwealth has had to come into conflict with the States in Aboriginal affairs. Members such as the former member for Fremantle, the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) and the former member for MacKellar, Mr Wentworth- a very highly respected Minister for Aboriginal Affairs - have had to fight for Aboriginal interests right throughout Australia. It seems to be the lot of any Commonwealth Minister that he must do so. I have admired the way in which Senator Chaney has fought for Aboriginal interests at Noonkanbah and other places around Australia.

Let me state clearly the Commonwealth's position: The Commonwealth has consistently expressed its view to all parties that conflict should be settled by negotiation, not by confrontation. Yet, the call of the Opposition in this matter of public importance is for confrontation. If there is one lesson that has been learned over many years of Aboriginal affairs, it is that confrontation does not succeed. It is easy to advocate development projects proceeding regardless of all other consequences. I know there are people in this community who hold that view. It is also easy to argue for the protection of Aboriginal interests at all costs. I know there are people in this community who argue that point of view. But the real challenge is to allow development of Australia's natural resources - so essential for the benefit of all Australians - to proceed and, at the same time, to provide properly for accommodation of Aboriginal interests.

The essence of the article which Senator Chaney and I wrote and which was published in the West Australian was that there needed to be an accommodation of interests. That was precisely the task which the Federal Government set itself with regard to the development of the great uranium deposits in Arnhem Land; an accommodation of interests which beforehand people considered were irreconcilable. These included accommodation of mining interests, accommodation of conservation interests and accommodation of Aboriginal interests. The resolution of those interests in the Northern Territory, I think, will stand the test of time.

The Commonwealth has consistently recognised the responsibility of the States for land tenure and granting of mining rights and has accepted that mining cannot be prevented on pastoral leases. As I have said, the Noonkanbah dispute cannot be settled by confrontation; it can be settled only by compromise on both sides. Unless there is a willingness to come to terms with the reality of the need for accommodation there will be nothing but bitter resentment and a deeper widening of the gulf that separates the black and white people of Western Australia.

The Commonwealth has a clear direct interest in this matter on three bases: Firstly, on the basis of the 1967 referendum which gave to the Commonwealth power to make laws with Tegard to the Aboriginal people; secondly, in the national interest to bring about a reconciliation and a harmony between all the races which populate Australia; and thirdly, a clear international interest to have regard to the way in which the rest of the world looks upon what we do within our own continent. At the heart of this dispute is, as Senator Chaney and I said, the question of land. Our article states:

At the heart of the Act--

That is, the Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act- is the special relationship that Aborigines have with their land. This is at the heart of Noonkanbah. It is what sacred sites are all about.

Unless and until that is recognised there cannot be a reconciliation of interests. Therefore, I regret that so many people in Western Australia speak of the Noonkanbah people, the Yungngora community of Aboriginal people, as detribalised; in other words, devoid of any traditional interest with respect to the land which makes up the Noonkanbah pastoral lease. That proposition is wrong, and unless that is recognised, as I say the necessary reconciliation, the necessary accommodation, cannot be achieved.

The dispute centres upon the question of what protection should be accorded not to specific sacred sites but to what have been described as areas of influence surrounding such sites and in particular, whether such areas lying between major sites should be closed to mineral exploration and development. As we know, the Noonkanbah dispute derives from the desire of Amax Exploration (Australia) Inc. to drill in an area of influence rather than on any specific sacred sites, the closest of which is 1.25 kilometres from the drilling rig. The Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act provides for the protection of places including any sacred ritual and or ceremonial site which is of importance or of special significance to persons of Aboriginal descent.


Mr West - What did the Museum say about that?


Mr VINER - The interpretation of the Western Australian Museum is that areas of influence come within that definition, either as an area of sacred ritual or a ceremonial site or as an area of special significance to persons of Aboriginal descent. Therefore, the essence of the question is: How does one protect the Aboriginal interests while allowing development of the prospective natural resources on the Noonkanbah property?' The Western Australian Government proposes to amend its Act. I hope and I know that Senator Chaney hopes that the amendment will not simply clarify - whatever that might mean - the provisions of the Western Australian Act but give adequate machinery for protection by Aboriginals of their traditional interests.

The honourable gentleman has sought to criticise the Prime Minister and to assert that in his statements he has shown no interest in Aboriginals. I wish to put the record straight because it is important to do so. The Prime Minister met an Aboriginal delegation at Derby on Tuesday, 1 July 1980. In answering a question from Jimmy Beiundurry, the local National Aboriginal Conference member, the Prime Minister said:

On the question of sacred sites, as I understand it, I do not know of any difference between the Aboriginal people, the people of Noonkanbah, the Western Australian Government or the Commonwealth Government. There has been an absolute commitment on the part of the Premier, Sir Charles Court, that sacred sites will be protected and that of course is the view of the Commonwealth and the view I am quite certain that you want us to adopt . . . sacred sites must also be protected, and there must also be rules that protect a particular community - in this case, the Noonkanbah community rule for access and I know that there is no disagreement between governments on that point.

Later, answering another question from Jimmy Beiundurry, the Prime Minister said:

Having in mind that sacred sites are to be protected and must be protected, it is my firm belief that drilling for oil must not be impeded. This is a pastoral lease and it is in conformity with pastoral leases in Western Australia to enable mining or drilling for oil to take place. And therefore I think it ought to be allowed to do so.

In order that the record remains straight, I ask for the whole of the passages from which I have quoted to be incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

Jimmy Bieundurry

Again, I would like to ask Mr Fraser about - in Western Australia as you know, and everyone else knows, and just cross the border, which has been introduced by the Federal Government in Northern Territory we have land rights and haven't got any ownership we are missing some of these and haven't got any ownership we are leasing some of these places and our own name and our Aboriginal name or whatever the organisation, so we can really say, this is where we belong to and this is what we want to own. Your policies are quite simple and have recognised the land rights in the Northern Territory and the only difficult land rights situation in Western Australia and the States where Aboriginal people would have, or buy land, or to have business enterprise of any sort of development then is set up rather than just in communities and you know, all sitting together- 300, 400 people sitting in one place just getting social security service, but we want to spread out and set up our own thing and this is the kind of thing, one or two families, three families, wanted to get at, and are looking at on the issue regarding to, in relation to, land rights. So, I think that in some cases we want, we would urge to ask and taken you aside and ask some ways of assistance.

Prime Minister

The Commonwealth policy in the Northern Territory has been operating for some time and I think it has worked quite well. Senator Chaney and Ian Viner before him have expressed the policy of the Commonwealth in relation to these matters. We believe in the principle behind the policy, the principle in relation to land rights. But at the same time, it is a matter in which we believe that the States themselves should make a decision in relation to the States, and that of course, is important in relation to Western Australia. There are leases here which are the same as the kind of possession that can be available to other people but part of what your question was about as I understand it, was not just sitting down in a community and receiving social service payments but being able to get up and do things and being responsible for themselves. I think that is an admirable and a proper objective. There are two things I would say about that.

The Development Commission itself would have a role in assisting aboriginals to do things to establish enterprises on their account, and so, we as a Government, look to it as a significant one of the initiatives, and I hope it is looked at in the same way by the aboriginal people. I think that that is the important thing. I do not know at this point that there is much more that I can say about it because there are some things which do need to be determined within a State and by a State. The policies in relation to those matters need to be determined. If they are not, I think that no matter what the Commonwealth might do, the policy will not work harmoniously and well 'to the advantage of aboriginals themselves. So, I would hope over time the policies that have worked in the Northern Territory can become an example . . . (inaud) . . . to the wider sphere in Australia.

Jimmy Bieundurry (reading a letter from the Noonkanbah Community handed up by George Bell) 'Canberra Government has the power from the 1968 Referendum to make laws and help Aboriginal people. We want them to use this power to stop Charlie Court making the road public and taking the drilling area away from the Noonkanbah lease and also to stop any drilling on sacred land'. The problems I would like to stress on that one is about the Federal Government. In the 1967 Referendum when the Government refused to take to . . . (inaud) overrun it and whatever the development is. That is the State Government has more power and also the Federal Government has more power to overrun us on this because of the 1967 Federal Referendum. I would like to hand that over to you to think about it and take it up in your Parliament time on behalf of the Noonkanbah Community.

Prime Minister

Thank you very much. There are just one or two things I would like to say about this problem which I know is a matter which has concerned a number of people. It is not a matter which can be resolved today. But I would like to say one or two things which are I think important - to state the principles which I think guide this particular matter. On the question of sacred sites, as I understand it, I do not know of any difference between the Aboriginal people, the people of Noonkanbah, the Western Australian Government or the Commonwealth Government. There has been an absolute commitment on the part of the Premier, Sir Charles Court, that sacred sites will be protected and that of course is the view of the Commonwealth end the view, I am quite certain, that you would want us to adopt. There is also agreement, as I understand it, on the need for proper rules for access so that the community would not be disturbed by other activities, so that the community would be properly protected by it. But I do want to put it to you that Australia is short of oil, that the drilling that is intended to take place at Noonkanbah is drilling for oil, and this is an important national objective, an important objective for all Australians, including of course, the Aboriginal people. Many of you drove long distances to come here today, and a good deal of the oil we have to use comes from overseas. It is important that we try and build up our own reserve and make Australia as a nation more independent, more self sufficient from suppliers overseas.

That cannot happen if drilling for oil all around Australia is to be stopped or is to be held up. Having in mind that sacred sites are to be protected and must be protected, it is my firm belief that drilling for oil must not be impeded. This is a pastoral lease and it is in conformity with pastoral leases in Western Australia to enable mining or drilling for oil to take place. And therefore I think it ought to be allowed to do so. Having in mind again what I said, sacred sites must also be protected, and there must also be rules that protect a particular community- in this case, the Noonkanbah community rule for access and I know that there is no disagreement between governments on that particular point.

There has been a good deal of publicity about matters at Noonkanbah and at this point there is only one other thing that I would urge on all the people at Noonkanbah, indeed on any community - whether it is an Aboriginal community or any other. But, especially perhaps in matters of this kind. I think in matters of this kind where there are strong views, and sometimes, sharply held views, it is very important for a community to look to its elders; to look to those in the community with great experience and with wisdom in guarding that community's affairs.

I think if that happens in the Noonkanbah community, it will assist in making the resolution of this matter more easy. I know there are matters in which members of the Noonkanbah community feel strongly. But, where there is a need for consultation, discussion and negotiation, I believe that that is something that should occur with the traditional elders and seniors of the Noonkanbah people. I do not think there is very much else that I can add to this problem at the moment, except to remind you that there are national objectives and there are important Aboriginal objectives which are not in dispute. Perhaps the only other thing which I feel I should say is that the problems to which we all seek to address ourselves, one of the reasons why I am here today to listen to you to hear your views, one of the reasons why we have the National Aboriginal Conference, why we have the Development Commission and (it is going to be run by Aboriginals for and on behalf of the Aboriginal people) is because we believe that these matters need to be determined sensibly, having in mind all the interests that must be taken into account in Australia, and that there needs to be consultation, as there has been, there needs to be understanding, as I believe there has been, but there is a need for national objectives also to be pursued.

Everything that I have said is against the background that it is a firm commitment of the West Australian Government which has obviously the strong support of the Federal Government to see that sacred sites of Aboriginal people are properly defined and properly protected. That is a firm, and total commitment of the Premiers and of the Western Australian Government. Against that commitment, I would have thought it should be possible for the matters which stirred some people in relation to Noonkanbah to be solved and settled without difficulty. But I again would urge that the people of Noonkanbah should listen to their elders in relation to these particular matters, and turn aside from any path of confrontation or something that might lead to difficulty in that way. (general clapping of approval).

Peter Yu

I don't really think your answer on Noonkanbah is satisfactory. If the State Government had kept its word about protecting sacred sites, there would have been a resolution by now. They have completely ignored the views of the Noonkanbah people which are that the elders are the ones who are making the decisions. You are implying that it is somebody else giving advice to the community. You are not recognising the intelligence of the people and the level of intelligence of the elders at Noonkanbah to be able to make their own decisions. What has also happened in another incident at Argyle was that the Western Australian Museum, an official body recognised by the State, carried out a site survey on the C.R.A. mining tenement who were not supposed to work within one kilometre of a particular site. We go there and at that site, find there was a big hole in it.

Prime Minister

I am glad to hear you say that the problem is one that involves sacred sites only, because on some of the reports, there had been other issues put as being matters that had been raised in relation to Noonkanbah and to have you confirm that it is a question of the sacred sites, and only a question of the sacred sites, is, I think, a very useful thing. I am also glad to hear you say that it is indeed the elders who are governing this matter for the people of Noonkanbah because, against the commitment that Sir Charles Court has made, that sacred sites will be protected and I do not believe that there is anyone in the whole of Western Australia who would ever say that Sir Charles, if he gives his word on a matter, then that's it, and that it is kept, and kept absolutely.

The State Government is totally committed to the preservation of the sites. The Commonwealth Government has total commitment and support of the State Government in that, and Noonkanbah people want the sacred sites protected. Now, against that background, I would believe that it ought to be possible to resolve this particular matter, and I am glad to have you say that there are not other issues which, could or had in fact, been raised in the past in relation to it.


Mr VINER - A few days later- on 6 July- at the State Conference of the Western Australian Liberal Party in Perth the Prime Minister, in addressing that conference, said:

It is important that matters of principle be preserved; and for the aborigines - the important matter of principle of their sacred sites and the protections of their own community. For Australia and Australia's national interests the important principle is being able to drill for oil where that is necessary and it is important that that be preserved. But it is important for all of us- aboriginal and for all other Australians that we have a capacity to resolve these matters by consultation and negotiation.

Again, for the correctness of the record, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the total passage from which that quotation is taken.

Leave granted.

PRESS OFFICE TRANSCRIPT OF INTRODUCTION TO SPEECH AT THE STATE COUNCIL PERTH

Sunday 6 July 1980

Prime Minister

Sir Charleshad made sure that I was accompanied by various State Ministers for different parts of the visit and I appreciate that. The Acting Premier was with me at Derby. I would just like to mention there that there was, as I believe, a constructive, useful and friendly meeting with a number of people from the aboriginal community who had come from many different places- some of them 700 or 800 kilometres from Derby. Noonkanbah, obviously was raised and I made it plain at that particular meeting that on the Commonwealth's part, we stood as one with the State, in firmly believing and supporting the State in a State commitment to preserve sacred sites. Also I indicated that the support of the State and its determination in the national interest, that drilling must, at the appropriate time proceed; but went on to say that those at Noonkanbah should listen to their elders and that 'it was my firm belief, and it remains my firm belief, that it is a matter that can be resolved by negotiation and consultation. As a result of discussions that I have had with Senator Chaney and which the Acting Premier has also had with Senator Chaney - those consultations with the elders at Noonkanbah are likely to take place. It is important that matters of principle be preserved; and for the aborigines- the important matter of principle of their sacred sites and the protections of their own community. For Australia and Australia's national interests the important principle is being able to drill for oil where that is necessary and it is important that that be preserved. But it is important for all of us- aboriginal and for all other Australians that we have a capacity to resolve these matters by consultation and negotiation. I was encouraged and I think the Acting Premier was also encouraged by the tenour and the tone of the meeting and the discussion at Derby that it was capable of being achieved and concluded in that way. And the Commonwealth will certainly co-operate with all its resources in helping to achieve that objective.


Mr VINER - That principle which the Prime Minister enunciated was precisely the principle which the Commonwealth and the Aboriginals of Arnhem Land had to face with regard to the Ranger project. It was resolved there by long, patient negotiation and consultation, but that consultation and negotiation required one thing to succeed. It required the participation of all parties, and I emphasise that. I shall nominate the parties which must be involved. Firstly, the company concerned must be involved. Here, of course, it is Amax. It must be directly involved in the negotiations. It cannot be involved through an intermediary. It cannot be vicariously involved; it must be directly involved.

Secondly, the Aboriginal people themselves must be involved on a basis of integrity and trust so that they are met on common ground, not denying to them the intelligence to be concerned about and to look after their own interests, nor denying to them the capacity to make their own judgments, quite apart from those who are described as outsiders, stirrers and the like. I met those kind of people over Ranger, Aurukun and Mornington Island. Thirdly, the state Government must be involved. Fourthly, the Commonwealth must be involved. Only when those four parties get around a table together is there any hope of resolution on the basis that I have suggested.

Above all, it must be acknowledged by both sides of the House that solutions imposed upon Aboriginal communities are not acceptable to them and can rarely be acceptable to the community as a whole. The Commonwealth does not believe that in situations such as Noonkanbah solutions imposed on the State Government would be lasting. Clearly the most effective solution is one in which, as I have said, all parties are involved and which all parties accept and are prepared to work together towards achieving and one in which the interests of all parties are respected. That is what Senator Chaney has sought to achieve. He has worked diligently and very hard. In many places he has received a good deal of criticism for his efforts. Much of that criticism was made not to his face but behind his back.

Again, if there is one thing that we learnt from Aurukun, Mornington Island and Ranger and from introducing land rights into the Northern Territory, it was that where Aboriginal affairs are concerned no side wins from an act of political warfare. Within the Australian Federal political structure we do have States and we do have a Commonwealth. Each has its own responsibilities and its own jurisdiction. Whatever the solution at Noonkanbah, the people of Noonkanbah must live with it because they live in Western Australia and within the social, economic and political life of Western Australia. Therefore a solution must be found which gives them an equal place in the social, political and economic life of that State, one which as I have said and as the Prime Minister has said, protects the Aboriginal interests.







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