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Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2679


Mr COHEN (Minister for Home Affairs and Environment)(4.02) —We have just seen one of the most pathetic performances by a Leader of the Opposition that I have seen in all my time in Parliament. All the sheep have been herded in by the whip, all giving their bleats in a chorus like a bunch of schoolgirls at a football match. It is absolutely pathetic. It is an example of just how desperate the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) is to hold his position. With the former Treasurer breathing down the back of his neck he has had to whip up this pathetic issue today in an attempt to try to bolster his leadership. If ever we have seen a beat-up to match the performance of the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory it is the one over the Ayers Rock issue. Talk about the greatest non-event in political history! I have seen some rippers in my time in this Parliament but nothing to beat this one. The Opposition is really desperate; 'strewth, this just leaves everybody absolutely aghast. Talk about being short of an issue for an election campaign!

Mr Everingham has claimed that the Commonwealth Government has acted without consultation in granting land ownership of Ayers Rock and Uluru to the Aboriginal people. He has claimed that it will deny other Australians access to one of the most popular tourist attractions in Australia and that it will place at risk Yulara village, a $150m project commenced, incidentally, by the Whitlam Government which, I notice, no honourable members bothered to mention. There could be absolutely nothing more dishonest than this ludicrous assertion. We are told that all of this comes as a great shock, a bolt out of the blue, to the Leader of the Opposition. Let me point out that this decision is stated Australian Labor Party policy and was enunciated prior to the election and reiterated by both the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) and me during our number of visits to the Northern Territory. I said it on a radio station program when I was in Alice Springs not so very long ago. On those grounds alone Mr Everingham cannot claim that it has come as a bolt out of the blue that we would grant land rights to the Aborigines at Uluru National Park. However, more importantly than it being ALP policy it also happens to be Mr Everingham's policy. I quoted before to honourable members what everyone seemed to find highly amusing. I will quote again.


Mr Hodgman —The full 10 points.


Mr COHEN —I will certainly quote the whole lot if the honourable member wants to listen to it. None of the other eight points in the package in any way interferes with the fundamental truth about these two points. I ask leave to have the whole of this paper incorporated in Hansard.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) -Is leave granted?


Mr Anthony —Give us a look at it.


Mr COHEN —It is your own Chief Minister's document.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Could I suggest to the Minister that he table the paper? The Speaker has made his views fairly clear on the matter.


Mr COHEN —I will table it. If I read the whole document I would not get a chance to answer some of the silliest assertions made by the Leader of the Opposition. It is tabled. Point 4 states:

The Northern Territory Government will enter into negotiations with land councils for the granting of titles to national parks subject to claim.

Point 5 states:

Such negotiations will include two unsuccessful land claims over Uluru and Alligator River II. These areas take in Ayers Rock and Mt Olga in central Australia, and a portion of Kakadu National Park in the north.

Let me quote from a letter by the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Mr Everingham, to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), which damns the Chief Minister for all time in regard to this debate. The letter, dated 3 June 1983, states:

. . . we are willing to provide perpetual Aboriginal land title to the area, under Territory law, at the same time as provision is made for the National Park to come under Northern Territory management.

That is referring to Uluru-Ayers Rock. That is very gracious of him, but it is not his land to give away. The principle of it is the same. He was willing to grant Aboriginal title to the land and we have done that because the land is not his to grant; it is ours. It is Commonwealth land. We have granted title to the Aboriginal people. The nub of the question is not ownership, anyhow; it is access. That is where Mr Everingham is not only dishonest but also downright mischievous and positively evil. The whole of his hysterical outburst is based on striking fear into Northern Territorians and Australians that somehow they will suddenly not be permitted to visit Ayers Rock and the Olgas. The Government decision-Mr Everingham has that decision-inter alia, states:

A grant of Aboriginal freehold title be made to an Aboriginal land trust in respect of the Uluru National Park and a lease back arrangement be negotiated with the relevant Aboriginal land trust to ensure the construction of the park.

The one was dependent on the other. The Northern Territory Government knows full well that it never owned the land. It has always been Commonwealth land. It is now a Commonwealth national park. A condition of the grant of title is that the areas will be leased to the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service for continuation as a national park. Tourism will not be affected in any way, shape or form. Mr Everingham knows that and is deliberately trying to create unnecessary fear in people's minds for his own grubby, little political ends.


Mr Hodgman —You would not say that to his face.


Mr COHEN —I will say it to his face any time.


Mr Braithwaite —You have avoided him so far.


Mr COHEN —I have not avoided Mr Everingham. I have seen him personally in my office and spoken to him once or twice on the phone.


Mr Sinclair —That is consultation, is it?


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) — Order! Will the Minister please speak through the Chair?


Mr COHEN —I have spoken to him. Whenever Mr Everingham has sought to speak to me , either personally or by phone, I have been available to talk to him.


Mr Porter —But you were initiating this action, not him.


Mr COHEN —Mr Everingham, as I have told the Opposition over and over again--


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will resume his seat. I suggest to the House that as the Leader of the Opposition was heard in silence on this issue members extend to the Minister the same courtesy.


Mr COHEN —There was no issue upon which we were divided. If he was willing to grant title to the land and we wanted to do so, that meant that we were in agreement; there was no problem on the issue. He has known that this issue has been around for ages. He has discussed it with people. Suddenly, when the matter was passed-a fairly simple matter to be passed-he was hysterical. We know that that was because he needed an issue for his election campaign. He will look awfully sick. We have heard already today the statement by the Central Land Council and the Pitjantjatjara Council, which was referred to by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The statement read:

The CLC and Pitjantjatara Council are extremely concerned that the enlightened gesture of the Commonwealth Government in granting Aboriginal people title to Uluru National Park has already been distorted by the Northern Territory Chief Minister Mr Everingham for perceived political advantage.

Before the facts are further muddied in the NT election campaign, it is essential that the position of the traditional Aboriginal owners is clearly stated.

The Aboriginal people have always recognised the legitimate tourist interest in the national park.

They have always supported the concepts of leasing back the park to the Commonwealth.

They have consistently asserted that the park will always be available for the benefit of all Australians.

Further, the statement continues:

Any rare and limited restrictions necessary for ceremonial purposes are likely to be confined to those sites already registered as sacred by the NT Governments own Sacred Sites Authority (and already subject to restrictions).

Such ceremonies should be respected as a vital part of traditional Aboriginal life.


Mr Fisher —Who signed that?


Mr COHEN —It is from the Central Land Council. The honourable member should listen to what is going on instead of having his fingers in his ears all the time. Mr Everingham knows very well that the same arrangements have been working very satisfactorily throughout Australia, and in the Northern Territory in particular. They have been working in Kakadu National Park. He put on the same performance when the Aboriginals were granted title to that area of the Kakadu National Park, and maintained that Australians, Northern Territorians in particular, would be denied access to Kakadu National Park. He knows that that has not happened. The land was leased back to the Commonwealth and the scheme has worked beautifully. Through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which is part of my Department, there has been a gradual growth in tourism. Superb facilities have been established in the park. If honourable members opposite will contain themselves for a few more days, they will hear about further developments in that area which will increase the-


Mr MacKellar —Have you consulted with the Northern Territory Government?


Mr COHEN —Yes, we have. As a matter of fact I had discussions with Mr Tuxworth some months ago about the development of Kakadu National Park. We will be having further discussions when we have made our announcement. Despite the Northern Territory Government's claim that we do not discuss, we have had a number of talks with it on a number of matters, including Kakadu National Park.


Mr Hodgman —Another Canberra takeover.


Mr COHEN —It might come as a surprise to the honourable member-I know the way he thinks about his own State and the way he carries on-but before I am a New South Welshman, I happen to be an Australian. This is an Australian Parliament and we all ought to think like Australians before we think of our selfish parochial interests. This is a national interest, a national park and a national concern. It is about time that the honourable member showed some interest in the Aboriginal people, instead of being such a renowned racist in his attitude towards the Australian Aboriginal people. The arrangement with regard to the Kakadu National Park is working satisfactorily. It has worked in the interests of the Aboriginal people; it has worked in the interests of Kakadu National Park ; it has worked in the interests of the tourists. As I said before, in a few days time we will be making some announcements which will, I am sure, have the approval of the House and of the Northern Territory.

That covers the main thrust of the points raised by the Leader of the Opposition. He raised the question of the Alice Springs to Darwin railway. I point to the fact that for the 30 years in which the Liberal-National parties, which have such a shabby record with regard to the railway, were in office not a sleeper was laid.


Mr Reeves —Not an inch of rail.


Mr COHEN —Not an inch of rail. The Opposition is great at talking, but is short on delivery. The Tarcoola-Alice Springs line is a stage in this network which was begun by the Whitlam Labor Government and it is now completed.


Mr Sinclair —Rubbish. It was not begun by that Government. I began it.


Mr COHEN —The Tarcoola-Alice Springs line was. In 1980 the Fraser Government promised $10m for the survey and design work on the Alice Springs-Darwin connection. By 1983, only half of that amount had been spent. Labor, in its first year in office, will spend as much on the connection as the Fraser Government spent in the previous three years. It will spend $5m in 1983-84 to complete the preliminary planning and design of the project. The final environmental impact study is being prepared. We have agreed to release for public comment the draft environmental impact study on the project. In the 1983- 84 Budget the Commonwealth offered to construct the railway on a 60-40 joint funding basis. An alternative offer was also made to upgrade the Stuart Highway between Alice Springs and Darwin and to upgrade Alice Springs facilities to give a high standard road-rail link between Adelaide and Darwin. That is only a part of the measures. In the recent Budget a whole spate of measures for the Northern Territory was announced.

Payments to the Territory from the Federal Government this year total $841.8m This represents an increase of $124m over last year's Budget allocation. In real terms it represents $64m over and above the rate of inflation. We now hear a lot of bleats from the Opposition about its sudden newly found interest in the Northern Territory. The people of the Northern Territory thought so little of the previous Government's performance with regard to the Northern Territory over the last three years that they threw out the previous sitting member and replaced him with the present member for the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves), the best member that the Northern Territory has ever had. He will speak later in this debate. During the last 15 minutes we heard from the Leader of the Opposition a pathetic performance aimed at boosting his stocks with his back bench.


Mr Peacock —Are you still on the same theme?


Mr COHEN —I started on it and I will finish on it, because that is the major problem of the Leader of the Opposition. We have seen this afternoon a pathetic attempt to cover up for Mr Everingham's disgraceful performance in trying to scare the people of the Northern Territory and Australia into believing that somehow or other they have lost access to Ayers Rock. He has made a mistake and he will finish up, when this is properly explained, as it will be over the next few days--


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) — Order! The honourable member's time has expired.