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Thursday, 27 March 1980
Page: 1175

Senator CHANEY (Western AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - Senator Keeffestarted his speech by saying that he would not detain the Senate long. On this occasion he did not. He also did not raise very much that was different from what he put before the Senate on Wednesday last. Therefore, in the main I will refer honourable senators to the reply

I made to the Senate on 19 March, which appears in Hansard and which, I think, starts at page 842. That, I think, deals with the questions raised by the honourable senator in the latter part of his speech.

However, I wish to deal with a number of smaller matters of detail which came up in Senator Keeffe 's speech tonight. I start by correcting a quote he read from his speech of last Wednesday, when he attributed certain words about Sir Charles Court to some of the principals involved at Noonkanbah. In fact, the words he quoted tonight he made clear last Wednesday were words which were to be attributed to a number of Australian Labor Party members, including him, Doug Everingham, Clyde Holding, John Dawkins, Senator Cavanagh and Gordon Bryant. Just as a matter of accuracy of the record, I draw the Senate's attention to Senator Keeffe 's following quotation:

Sir CharlesCourt has deliberately aggravated the situation with his threats to withdraw exploration leases from mining companies which seek negotiations with Aboriginal communities.

Apparently, that is a quote from the Labor members I mentioned and not from anybody from Noonkanbah. I refer also to the matter of Widdell, which already has been addressed in this Senate. I have made my views on the matter clear although, as I said in the Senate before, I have not made much comment on it because I believe that Widdell will be brought before the courts. Of course, his behaviour, which was witnessed by many people around Australia on the program to which the honourable senator referred, was disgraceful behaviour and, I am sure, was repugnant to most Australians.

The question which arises is whether he, in addition to deserving those appellations, has done anything illegal. As I previously indicated, the police report submitted to the Attorney is to the effect that neither a breach of the Commonwealth Electoral Act nor a breach of any of the legislation relating to reserves has occurred. As I previously indicated, the State Attorney has sent the matter off to the Crown Prosecutor in Western Australia. He has undertaken to confer with me when the report of the Crown Prosecutor is available. The State Attorney has indicated that he regards the behaviour as behaviour which ought to be illegal. He has drawn attention to the legislation passed by the State Government which enables Aboriginal communities to control the entry of alcohol and has affirmed his view about the behaviour of Widdell. I cannot remember his exact expression, but it was certainly of the nature of disgraceful.

The honourable senator made a number of references in his speech to Amax having been aided by the Commonwealth Government. No detail was given on the form in which that aid was given. I am at a complete loss to know what the honourable senator's reference is in that case. Senator Keeffe again raised the question of my use of the word 'doctoring' with respect to the report published by the Aboriginal Legal Service relating to the sacred sites at Noonkanbah. I made the matter clear in the Senate on 19 March 1 980. I refer any interested honourable senator to page 842 of the Hansard. Let me quote my words in full. I said:

That report is, in part, doctored because the legal service indicates, according to the newspaper, that there are sensitive parts of it which are not to be released. That is consistent with the view which the Western Australian Government has advanced -

At that point Senator Keeffe took a point of order. I then made it quite clear, that I withdrew any suggestion that doctoring in any sinister sense had occurred. I said:

I certainly did not mean that if that is the view that the honourable senator took.

I went on to quote the words used in the report, namely:

The copy had several small sections deleted on the advice of an anthropologist. The deleted sections dealt with sacred objects and ceremonies that the Aboriginal community might not wish to see published.

After the long association I have had with the service I would be concerned at anything appearing in the record which suggests that I am accusing it of doctoring a report in a sinister sense.

Senator Keeffereferred to the Lusaka declaration. This Government has consistently taken an anti-racist stance. In the particular instance, however, we are dealing with the special requirements of a particular racial group in Australia. In a sense we are dealing with that exception which is contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and which is acknowleged in the Racial Discrimination Act. It permits special provision of a beneficial kind to be made for a racial group. I find the logic of the honourable senator's references to the Lusaka declaration a little hard to follow.

The fundamental point which is at issue in the Noonkanbah matter- I will repeat very briefly the matters which I canvassed on the matter on 1 9 March- is not whether as a matter of principle the sacred sites of the Aboriginal people should be protected but rather what is meant by the principle and what sites are to be protected and how they are to be identified. As I mentioned at the time, the problem is one of distinguishing between specific sites and broad acres. The difference which has appeared between the Western Australian Museum and the Western Australian Government lies in that distinction. Since the debate of last Wednesday night I have had several lengthy sessions with both anthropologists and museum officials. The point of view which I put forward about the need for the distinction has become even more clear in my mind. Since the debate my attention has been directed to trying to find some way in which that distinction can be drawn to the satisfaction of the Aboriginal people.

Noonkanbah is important not merely because of the admirable community which is living on that station, which stands as a very good example of why pastoral leases have been purchased for Aboriginal communities, but also because what is happening there- the conflict between mining and sacred sites- will occur in other parts of the Kimberleys. The Kimberleys, as is well know to all honourable senators, is the subject of intense mineral exploration. It is also an area where a substantial number of Aboriginal people who have maintained traditional associations with the land live. This conflict will not happen only once. It could happen elsewhere in the future. From that point of view I believe, as I have said publicly before, that it is vital that rules be devised which avoid the difficulties which have been found at Noonkanbah by establishing just what sites are to receive the protection of the law. I think that is the premier thing to be sought in the instant case.

Noonkanbah is attracting a great deal of attention. I do not believe that tonight a lot of new material has come before the Senate. I have tried to deal with the matters which have been raised by Senator Keeffe. As I concluded last week, let me say I am continuing to give this matter close attention in the hope that the difficulties we face at the moment will be avoided in the future.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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