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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3849

Mr HOLDING (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)(11.23) —I wish quickly to dispose of some of the issues raised. Let me deal first with the allegation that this Government has not consulted with Aboriginal communities. That is entirely false and entirely specious. The simplest thing I could have done, and the simplest thing the Government could have done, would have been to go to the Northern Territory and said to the land councils: `Righto, whatever you want, we will do'. Or we could have gone to the Northern Territory Government and said: `Whatever you want, we will do', or alternatively we could have gone to the miners and said: `Whatever you want, we will do'. The fact is that I, as Minister, and the Australian Labor Party's Caucus committee have spoken endlessly to all the organisations involved. The honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Everingham) says that there is criticism of the land councils by Aboriginal people. Of course there is, but there is not as much criticism by Aboriginal people of land councils in the Northern Territory as I hear about the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) from some of his colleagues on the back bench. So, of course, there is criticism of the land councils, and that is why the Caucus committee and I not merely went to the Northern Territory to confer with the land councils but deliberately went out to remote communities, and those communities that we knew were critical, in order to get a balanced view. I do not believe that the honourable gentleman would have spent as much time with those communities, with land councils or with the leadership of Aboriginal people as the Caucus committee has on this issue.

The honourable member for the Northern Territory and the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), have undertaken a very simple exercise. They have grabbed the views of the Northern Territory miners and the views of the Northern Territory Government-those views are very close indeed-and have said that they represent the views of the community. To them, that represents consultation. The coalition has an Aboriginal affairs policy committee, so let the shadow Minister tell the chamber what communities were involved in discussing the merits of Senator Kilgariff's proposals; tell the chamber how often they sat down not merely with the land councils but with Aboriginal people who may be critical of the land councils and what results they got from those discussions. The fact is that that information will not be forthcoming because the honourable member for the Northern Territory and I both know that there was no discussion of any significance at all with Aboriginal people and Aboriginal communities.

Of course it would be easy for the Government simply to accept the recommendations of the miners but I remind the honourable member for the Northern Territory and the shadow spokesperson that on 17 occasions the very propositions put to us by the Australian Mining Industry Council were put to the Fraser Government-after all the principal legislation is Fraser Government legislation-and on 17 occasions they were rejected. So they cannot talk to me about Peko-Wallsend Ltd. The letter that the shadow Minister referred to was the subject of further correspondence by Peko to two Ministers of the Fraser Government-Senator Peter Baume, who responded to it, and the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson), who would not even see Peko. He would not even grant Peko an audience. In order to try to break through this nexus, I visited Peko at its headquarters in Sydney and spent several hours with Mr Copeman in order to see whether there was any kind of negotiating position which would break through the situation that existed. If those two Ministers in the Fraser Government had felt so deeply about this issue, they could have excised these areas. They did not, and it is a matter of record that they did not.

So when we hear the bleeding hearts for Peko in this chamber, let us ask what the views put forward represent. They represent not any lack of principle on this side in trying to resolve these problems; they represent the considerable shift to the right in the coalition and its abandoning of principles and policies that it once held. It is accepting the view that, when one is dealing with Aboriginal land rights, the only people one is not concerned to talk to, the only people one is not concerned to consult, are the Aboriginal people.

The honourable member for the Northern Territory is full of specious humbug on this issue. He knows and I know that he has not had any serious discussion with any Aboriginal community on the amendments that were simply picked up by Senator Kilgariff, who put them together in conjunction with the miners and sections of the Northern Territory Government, and brought in here as if we had to treat them in the same way as the Jewish people treated the tablets when they were brought down from the mount. What absolute rubbish. It is the prerogative of this Government to determine what aspects of its policy it will deal with. This question is still under negotiation, because very clear conflicts are involved. There is a clear conflict at this stage-I think we are close to resolving some areas of it-between the miners, the Northern Territory Government and Aboriginal hopes and aspirations. It is not a simple issue. It is not for the shadow Minister to say: `We all know that circumstances have changed'. There has not been an independent inquiry or assessment in which the Australian Mining Industry Council has not put these arguments time and again. There was such an inquiry less than two years ago. Those arguments have been rejected by--

Mr Connolly —But you backed off from the issue.

Mr HOLDING —We have not backed off from the issue. The fact is that this Opposition has become an opposition which will lie down and let the miners walk all over it. Yet honourable members opposite come in here and purport to talk--

Mr Connolly —I hope to see you bring your amendments into the House next year.

Mr HOLDING —If the honourable member were the shadow Minister for Resources and Energy I would not have any objection to his position; I would say that that was fair enough. But he should not come in here and tell us that the views he is putting represent any consideration or discussion that he has had with Aboriginal people. He has not had such discussions. The Opposition's amendments represent nothing more than a hotchpotch of submissions that have come from the miners and its political colleagues in the Northern Territory, and they are rejected for that reason.

Question put:

That the proposed new clause (Mr Connolly's amendment) be inserted.