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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 43

Mr COTTER (Kalgoorlie) - Today we are talking about a very emotional subject which has great and deep meaning to a lot of people throughout Australia. I believe that the way in which this matter has been approached by the Opposition with mounting passions, in advocating confrontation and in talking of acquisition will do nothing at all to solve this problem. There will be nothing--

Mr West - I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I ask you to ask the honourable member to withdraw that statement which he just made that we are advocating and engendering confrontation.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - There is no point of order.

Mr West - The fact is that it is these people and the Western Australian Government who are causing the confrontation.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - There is no point of order. The honourable member will resume his seat.

Mr COTTER - It is quite clear, as today's Hansard will disclose, that the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) in fact quite clearly advocated acquisition of land in Western Australia as a means of solving this conflict. Now he is trying to deny that he said that. The truth of the matter will be shown in the copies of Hansard tomorrow. The honourable member for Cunningham and the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins) have been mounting passions on this matter. They have been advocating acquisition. They have been advocating confrontation in order to solve the problem. I believe that this will not solve the problem at all. A few things have to be made quite clear on this matter. There was talk by the honourable member for Cunningham and by the honourable member for Fremantle that a sacred site is about to be drilled or is being destroyed in Western Australia. It is clear from all the anthropological evidence, from other expert evidence and from evidence from the Aborigines themselves that the sacred sites are not about to be drilled or destroyed. The drilling and other activities in that area are taking place about 1 .25 kilometres from the nearest sacred site. They are approximately 3.5 kilometres from Pea Hill which a lot of people have been saying is the site about to be destroyed. There is no question that a lot of mythology surrounds these sacred sites. It is very interesting to note that the honourable member for Cunningham and the -honourable member for Fremantle are talking clearly of land rights.

In all the negotiations between the Aboriginals of Noonkanbah and the State and Federal governments, the Aboriginal people have been talking of sacred sites. To expand this talk to embrace land rights is completely wrong and is a complete myth. The honourable member for Cunningham has moved his position from the destruction of a sacred site to a land rights claim embracing a much greater area. It is that very point which was made clear by the Prime Minister when he spoke to the Aboriginals in Derby. For the information of the honourable member for Cunningham, I inform him that it was not at Broome! would like to correct that myth held by him. The Aboriginal people of Noonkanbah said in the clearest terms that their concern was for their sacred sites and for the deep effect that those sacred sites would have upon their lives. Only one man who was not a Kimberley Aboriginal - a Mr Yu - expanded that concern immediately to embrace a land rights claim. The Prime Minister took him up on it and made that difference very clear at the meeting with the Aboriginals.

Let us be quite firm on what we are talking about. Are we talking about the protection of sacred sites? Are we talking about drilling in an area which might have some deep religious significance to these people or are we talking about the much broader land rights claim of Aboriginals in Western Australia? There are two distinct areas and both areas must be negotiated. We cannot turn our backs on those areas or walk away from them. We must negotiate with the Aboriginals on them and talk about them. But let us not confuse the separate issues; let us not confuse the drilling of a hole at Noonkanbah with a much broader land rights claim. There are reasons why we should be talking about land rights and sacred sites. In this case, when one mentions Noonkanbah, the Noonkanbah people are concerned that their sacred sites will be destroyed or drilled.

From time to time the Federal Government has made its position quite clear. Very recently it has reaffirmed its position. The Commonwealth Government has put to the State the view that procedures must be developed to resolve conflicts between mining interests and Aboriginals and has proposed discussions to this end. A conflict situation cannot solve these conflicts. It will only make matters a lot worse. The people who will suffer in a conflict situation are the Aboriginal people of Australia. Members of the Opposition are losing sight of the fact that it is the Aboriginal people who will suffer. The honourable member for Cunningham and the honourable member for Fremantle will not suffer this great damage or personal hurt. They will not suffer from this tremendous traumatic situation confronting the Aboriginals. It will be the Aboriginal people who will suffer.

Mr West - Of course they will.

Mr COTTER - The honourable member for Cunningham says: 'Of course they will. Let us have this conflict.' Those are his sentiments. He says: 'Let us have a conflict and damage the Aboriginal people'. A conflict will not solve this problem in any way. It is interesting to note that the Australian Labor Party - if it is talking of land rights - had its chance to grant land rights, to acquire land and to carry out all of these actions that it says we should be carrying out at present, when it was in power between 1972 and 1975. The Australian Labor Party failed to do anything. When it had power to acquire the land and to carry out these actions about which it is talking, it failed the Aboriginal people miserably. It will fail the Aboriginal people again and again.

The Australian Labor Party is talking of conflict. It is promoting a conflict. It has talked about mounting a union picket on the road to Noonkanbah. In the heart land of unionism in Western Australia, the Australian Labor Party was able to get 1 5 miserly union conveners on the road. That was the sort of picket and support that the Australian Labor Party was prepared to give to the Aboriginal people. It disregarded them. It has no deep feelings for the Aboriginals of Australia. It has done nothing for the Aboriginal people and will continue to do nothing. The conflict and the confrontation that have been promoted by the Australian Labor Party will not solve this problem. They will only hurt the Aboriginal people of Australia. I sincerely believe that we must set guidelines and find a place for negotiation so that we will not have this horrible conflict that will destroy the people we are trying to help.

We have been talking about people's emotions. The emotions that have been aroused by the honourable member for Fremantle and the honourable member for Cunningham are beyond description. Mention has been made of another confrontation that took place at Noonkanbah. I want to make it quite clear that that confrontation also was arranged and orchestrated to a large extent by outside forces. Mr Don McLeod, who is a well known activist and confrontationist, claims that he speaks for every Aboriginal in Western Australia. He claims that in 1941 he was given power to disown any government in Australia and to speak for every Aboriginal. Today there is hardly an Aboriginal alive in Western Australia who recognises the authority of Donald McLeod. The Aboriginal elders of Noonkanbah have expressed very serious and sensible approaches to this problem. They have told me and the Prime Minister--

Mr Howe - When did you go there?

Mr COTTER - I have been there. It is a lot more than the honourable member for Batman has done. I have been there and have spoken to the Aboriginal elders on several occasions. They have said to me quite clearly: 'We recognise that drilling should take place. We are concerned that our sacred sites must be protected. We think we can find a way to do both these things'. I believe that is the answer. Drilling should proceed. The sacred sites must be protected. The Commonwealth and State governments have given very clear undertakings that the sacred sites will be protected. If we are talking of land rights, then we are talking of another subject and should sit down and talk very seriously of land rights as a separate issue.

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

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