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Canberra University, 22 January 1997: transcript of doorstop [Wik decision]

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, the Wik summit has broken, apparently no conclusions. Can I ask your reaction?

BEAZLEY: Yes, we've heard that, too. I'd say a couple of things about it. I think it's very important that the Prime Minister takes his time and he evidently is doing that. I would suggest, perhaps, given that he has already put in the House a set of amendments to the Native Title Act, he might like to set those aside and reconsider them in the context of the Wik judgement, and see whether or not anything further ought to be done in relation to them. And I think that would be a good thing if he chose to go down that road. I do think it's important for the Prime Minister to emphasise, for the pastoralists, the basis of the High Court judgement. Again, iterate it again. And that is, there is no purpose for which the lease is let for which the lessor does not have the capacity, or the person who has the lease does not have the capacity, to do anything on it that is associated with the purposes of the lease. So roads, dams, all the sorts of activities that a pastoral lease would logically entail are capable of being pursued and have a prior right over any rights of Aboriginal access. I think those are important points to get across. The Prime Minister cast some doubt on that this morning. His legal advice? Well, as far as the legal advice I've seen, that is what the High Court decision means. If he says something different, well we'd be very happy to enter into discussions with him at any point of time, privately see their advice, they're discussing things with us now privately, and see if there's any way we can set those matters clear and clarify it for ourselves.

JOURNALIST: When he returned from his holidays, John Howard said this was the top of his agenda. Therefore, should these talks have possibly continued into the afternoon? Was it wrong to call it off so early?

BEAZLEY: Well, I think he's got a lot of talking to do, not just to Premiers, they're not the only stakeholders in this, the Aboriginals are stakeholders, the pastoralists and miners are stakeholders. He needs to talk to a lot of people. And I guess a lot of water is going to flow under the bridge before this reaches a conclusion.

JOURNALIST: You welcomed his recognition this morning of just how important native title is to Aboriginal people and what would be the consequences of just arbitrarily extinguishing ...

BEAZLEY: I think that that's very important. I think that the consequences, both in terms of the reputation of the nation and the pocket book of the taxpayer, would be enormous if you went simply down the road of extinguishment, and I think the Prime Minister understands that.

JOURNALIST: But isn't that what was in the preamble of the Native Title Act, as written by Paul Keating?

BEAZLEY: The Native Title Act as written by ourselves is also qualified by remarks that Paul Keating made and what Paul Keating was talking about in the instance of pastoral leases. It did contemplate the possibility of traditional access, which is a different thing from land ownership, as we know it, and in his remarks to Parliament at the time, Paul Keating made that absolutely clear. And any extinguishment that went on, went on within the framework of compensation, in the framework of a whole range of other activities that were taking place in the Act, and with agreement of the Aboriginal people. So it was a very different ambience to the ambience of, say, Richard Court's extinguishment, which was overthrown by the High Court. And it'd be very unwise to slip that in by the back door. In this context, the cost would be massive.

JOURNALIST: Are you attracted to the proposal that's now gaining currency of replacing the Native Title, the legal Native Title, with some statutory right of Aborigines to walk upon this land, if not exactly owning it? Do you think that that could solve the problem?

BEAZLEY: I think the problem with that is that you're trying to codify common law rights and they're going to be different in different parts of the country. Traditional Aboriginal usage in Western Australia, in parts of western Australia, are different from other parts of Western Australia and different from Queensland. It's not so easy to do that. I mean, these are very complex matters. That's why you need time to think them through. I don't think codification is the way to go in this matter. I think that simplifying the negotiating process is very important. It's why we've offered to be of assistance to the Government as it's gone through the process of trying to devise amendments that simplify processes and getting to regional arrangements instead of a whole lot of cross counter claims that have emerged in some of the applications so far. These things are important and they're the right way to go and, as I said, we are offering cooperation with the Government in trying to work these things through.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, what did you take from the Prime Minister's remarks that a solution may not please everybody?

BEAZLEY: Well, that's always possible that a solution won't please everybody. But I'd like to see a solution that makes absolutely certain that everybody feels secure in their rights, both the pastoralists and the miners on the one hand, and the Aboriginals on the other, and that they get access to a fair and efficient process. Now, if we can get that outcome, and I believe we can, then it's going to be a good thing for the country as a whole and a good thing for certainty. If we don't get that outcome, you've got to comprehend that there is ample room, and it's been demonstrated already, for endless litigation. It means that where you think you've created a certainty but it's only an illusion, and the next case upsets that and you've got to go down some other legislative or whatever road when you discover that. So, I think the Prime Minister's caution reflects the fact that this is far more complicated than immediately meets the eye and, does not necessarily lend itself to an easy solution. So what you've got to do is approach it with good spirit, and the good spirit has got to contemplate that the pastoralists and the miners have got to have their rights attended to and looked after, and so do the Aboriginal people. If you have that motivation and you're not trying to make some political point out of it, then you will succeed in the end.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a solution in mind?

BEAZLEY: Well, the solution is there through the Native Title Act. I look at what Century Zinc did. There was some doubt over aspects of their titles so Century Zinc put themselves under the operations of the Native Title Act, virtually voluntarily, put themselves under the operation of the Native Title Act and is so confident with their processes they got a very good price for their product at the end of the day. So, you've got to look at the practicalities there as well and sometimes those practicalities are working.

JOURNALIST: Can I just get your response to the bushfires in Victoria? I gather you've been quite distressed at suggestions that some of the fires might have even been deliberately lit.

BEAZLEY: That is appalling and those suggestions have been made and they seem to be reasonably well founded. And that activity has to be condemned utterly. It's a piece of idiocy and vandalism of the most terrible physical consequences and consequences to life. And I hope that the police catch anybody who's a perpetrator and they're prosecuted in the full extent of the law. That's one point I'd make. The second point I'd make is what a great job the SES and the emergency services are doing again. We're in their hands every summer and every summer they come to the party and they're doing as good a job as they can down there.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask on euthanasia? A third person has just died, or died on Sunday, but it's just been announced in the Northern Territory that a 69 year old man has become the third person to die under voluntarily euthanasia laws. Can I ask your reaction?

BEAZLEY: I'm very sorry, of course, for the family of the person who's died. Their sense of bereavement must be very great indeed.

JOURNALIST: Does this show the momentum of this euthanasia debate, considering that we've had three in only a couple of months?

BEAZLEY: No, I don't think it shows any particular momentum, in that regard. The Senate will consider the euthanasia bill in due course and a final consideration as to whether or not the Northern Territory processes will be intercepted will take place then.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it gives impetus to Tasmania, who are also debating the issue?

BEAZLEY: I think it's a sad thing. I'm not a supporter of euthanasia, as you know. I'm a believer in palliative care and in properly funding it. And I do think there are an awful lot of pressures on old people and we go down this road, we'll end up with something very close to the Dutch experience, and I think that would be bad.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the local by-election, what sort of reaction are you getting from people?

BEAZLEY: Very good to Steve. I think we've actually hit upon an excellent candidate, via our processes, and I've just been going around the university where Steve has been working on behalf of the employees of that university, the non- - academic employees, for a very considerable period of time and I can see he's a much loved person.

JOURNALIST: Why are you spending so much time in Canberra when it's a fairly safe Labor seat?

BEAZLEY: Well, because it's so hard in a by-election where people have a multiplicity of choices and because it's an opportunity to send a message. And I'd hate Canberra people to miss out, given that they've suffered so much individually, and their land prices individually, and access to employment individually, in terms of their access to decent education opportunities. To miss this opportunity to send the message in the middle of Budget considerations, would be very unfortunate indeed.

JOURNALIST: But because of that, surely you must be confident that you will win?

BEAZLEY: Well, I don't ever approach an election with confidence. You know me. I've every reason, in my own personal experience, never to be confident about elections and so I'm not. And I'm pleased to see that Steve is running just as scared as I always have.

JOURNALIST: ... challenge out to John Howard, saying that if you were Prime Minister you'd live in Canberra.

BEAZLEY: Absolutely. The Lodge was put there for Prime Ministers to shift their families to, and I do think that that's something of an expectation on the part of the general public around Australia, particularly in States like mine, Western Australia, who often feel themselves discriminated against that the States' settlement is properly accorded recognition - and that is that there's a capital in Canberra, not in the capital city of some other State.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think he doesn't live here?

BEAZLEY: Well, ask him the reasons why he doesn't live here. I just think he should .

JOURNALIST: On behalf of WIN in Wollongong, apparently allegations of branch stacking over there. Colin Hollis -


BEAZLEY: In where?

JOURNALIST: In Wollongong.

BEAZLEY: Oh, Wollongong. OK.

JOURNALIST: Colin Hollis, maybe Steve Martin, may be forced out at preselection. Do you have any thoughts on that or are you aware of that?

BEAZLEY: Well, Steve Martin and Colin Hollis are both very good Members of Parliament and I would certainly hope that they maintain their preselection.

JOURNALIST: But are you worried that ethnic groups, it seems, are trying to rig ...

BEAZLEY: The Labor Party's a pretty broad church and it welcomes participants in it from all sections of Australian society and our membership is going up and up. That may have something to do with being in Opposition and the fact that there are people with grievances and who join the Party as a result. And that's to be welcomed, that we're experiencing a substantial increase in membership. Organisations within branches, within Party executives, within Party forums for preselections, I think have probably been a phenomenon of the last 100 years, and I suspect it will be a phenomenon of the next 100.

JOURNALIST: So there's no threat ...

BEAZLEY: Well, I don't know the circumstances to which you refer but if there's a threat to Steve Martin and Colin Hollis, I'd be sad about it.