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Prime Minister's failure on Mabo

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John Hewson

MEDIA RELEASE Leader of the Opposition

75/93 9 June 1993


The failure of today's Council of Australian Governments meeting to agree on a co-ordinated national response to the Mabo High Court decision is an indictment of the processes pursued by the Federal Government and an abrogation of leadership by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister has had over a year to lay the groundwork for a joint Commonwealth/State response to the implications of the Mabo decision.

On all the issues flowing from Mabo (on which clearly there was no general agreement or even understanding), the Prime Minister needed to take the States into his confidence on a gradual step-b; -step basis.

He chose not to do so.

Instead, he publicly raised Aboriginal and other expectations without adequately consulting the States about their concerns.

The Prime Minister believed that in one grand, dramatic initiative he could railroad the States to sign on to his plan and claim an "historic" achievement. Although the Prime Minister apparently made some concessions to the States, he did so on a "take it or leave it" basis.

The breakdown of today's meeting shows that marathon sessions aimed at forcing an agreed position on issues as important as those raised by the Mabo case are no substitute for quiet, effective and measured consultations.

Mr Keating has failed to understand, and respect, the basic requirements of our Federal system.

But more. than that, the outcome of today's meeting constitutes an abrogation of national leadership by the Prime Minister.

A minimum requirement for today was to settle on an agreed process for legislative validation of existing titles. The uncertainty generated by the Mabo decision is potentially very damaging to investment and to the national economy generally.



The Prime Minister's failure to achieve that minimum requirement is clearly contrary to the national interest. Far from being reduced or eliminated, the uncertainty created by the Mabo decision has been increased as a result of the failure of today's meeting.

A year that should have been put to good use in reconciling differences has been wasted. The expectations which the Prime Minister raised have been cynically manipulated by him.

The failure of the Melbourne meeting was not inevitable but was the result of the Prime Minister's arrogance of power. Australians will now live with the consequences of his failed approach.