Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:04): Any fair-minded, independent Australian who heard the speeches of Senator Scullion, Senator Xenophon and Senator Brandis could not help but agree on the importance of this bill, the Wild Rivers (Environmental Manage_ment) Bill 2011, and the necessity for this parliament to pass it. I again appeal to Senator Fielding, whose vote will be crucial to the future of Indigenous people not just in Cape York but right throughout Australia, to reconsider his stance to date on this bill. I ask Senator Fielding to consider seriously the things that Senator Xenophon raised, the issues that Senator Brandis raised and the comments of both Senator Scullion and Senator Boswell. This bill will unlock opportunities for Indigenous people.

I have to say about the Labor Partyand I am careful not to say this about indi_vidualsthat it seems to me that the actions of the Labor Party across the board show that the Labor Party want to keep Indigenous people on welfare forever. Why they would want to do that I cannot possibly understand, but all of their approaches to Indigenous people treat Indigenous people as second-rate citizens, as people who are incapable of looking after themselves. That is what the Labor Party does, whereas those of us on this side have a completely different view. Indigenous people are as good as, if not better than, those of us in this chamber, for example. They have the same rights as we have. They have the right to look after their own land and property and to deal with it. I challenge Senator McLucas and Senator Fielding: if a government was going to do something with their house, with their property, wouldn't you want to have a say in it Wouldn't you think it is your right to say to a government, 'This is my land; I want a say in how this is dealt with' Of course Senator McLucas would. She would be the first on her feet screaming and yelling if a government tried to do to her house and land what the Queensland state Labor government is doing to Indigenous people with the wild rivers legislation. I think it was Senator Fieldingit might have been Senator Furnerwho said to get approval you need the consent of the owner. Welcome to Australia! What a strange thought that you should not ask the owner of the land what it is all about. I think it was Senator Furner who said you need to get the consent of 11 different groups of people.

Let me go through the bill and point out these 11 different groups of people. It means, for Aboriginal land under the Aboriginal Land Act, grantees of Aboriginal land under that act. That is the first lot whose approval has to be sought. There are Aboriginal people who have rights under that act. How unsurprising is that Owner means, for land where native title exists, native title holders. Again, it is not unsurprising that they should have a say. It means, for a lease under the Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders (Land Holding) Act, the lessee. Under that act, some Indigenous people have got land as a lessee. This requires them to be consulted and their approval sought. How unsurprising that It means, in relation to a deed of grant in trust which Senator Boswell spoke about under the Land Act granted for the benefit of Aboriginal people, the grantee. So they have been given land and the Labor Party are saying you should not ask them or seek their approval if you are going to lock up their land.

The definition of owner goes on to be defined in relation to a reserve under the Land Act for a community purpose which includes Aboriginal purposes the trustees of the reserve. They have been given a reserve for Indigenous purposes, and this bill requires their approval too. What is so wrong with that

For freehold land or land held in trust for an Aboriginal person or an Aboriginal corporation under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act, owner means the registered proprietor of that land. Again, land is given to someone and this bill requires their consent. What is wrong with that Senator McLucas would want to give her consent if it were her land being taken, but she does not afford the same right to Indigenous people.

For completeness, owner also includes, for a term lease or a perpetual lease under the Land Act held by or in trust for an Aboriginal person or an Aboriginal corporation under the Corporations Act, the lessee. Again, Indigenous people having been given that right should have the right of veto, quite correctly. Finally, for the Aurukun Shire lease, under the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act, of course, the Aurukun Shire Council have to consent. Why wouldn't they

I again challenge Senator McLucas and Senator Fielding: if you were going to do to their house and land what this bill does, wouldn't they demand a right of veto They would want it but they do not want to give that same right to Indigenous people. I repeat that it seems to me that the Labor Party, for whatever purpose, want to keep Indigenous people on welfare forever, whereas we on this side want to support Indigenous people's right to be Australian and to have the same opportunity as every other Australian.

I repeat, for Senator Fielding's benefit particularly, the scene that Senator Brandis described as to why this legislation came into being. I would like to hear from Senator Brown on this and see if he challenges it. It is a well-known fact that this legislation on wild rivers by the Queensland Labor government came into play in a dirty deal done in a West End cafe by the then Queensland Premier with the Wilderness Society. The Labor government desperately needed Greens preferences, so to get them they sold out Aboriginal rights. They sold out the Aboriginal people just to get preferences from the Greens political party at that particular state election. That is the only reason this legislation came into being. I would like Senator Brown to deny that.

Senator Xenophon quite clearly pointed out that, if you want to preserve and look after the biodiversity and environment of any of these lands, there are 12 or 13 other pieces of state and federal legislation that can do exactly that. But they do it in a way and by a process that does respect the rights of the owners, in this case the Indigenous owners. This bill adds nothing to that. For all of Senator Furner's speech that he read from, for all his words, he did not want to address the fact that any protection that might be needed for this very special land can already be given under other pieces of legislation. I ask Senator Fielding: why introduce this new piece of legislation when all of those protections are there

I briefly descend to the level of Senator Furner when he cast aspersions on those of us on this side who have the real interests of Indigenous people at heart. For Senator Furnera Johnny-come-lately to this placeto suggest that I and others fly in and fly out to these areas is very offensive. I have spent my life since I have been in parliament driving on the road in remote parts of Queensland. He seems to think that because he has done it onceand I suspect he flew in and flew out anyhowhe is something special. I say this because he will not say it himself, but our leader, Tony Abbott, has actually made a practice of going and living in Indigenous communities and has done for some years. I know he has done it in Cape York. I found out by mistake almost, because when he goes there, unlike the Prime Minister, he does not take a team of media people with him; he goes and does some work and understands the Indigenous people, particularly the Indigenous people in Cape York. That is where this bill in this parliament, the Scullion bill, actually originated, from Tony Abbott's deep understanding of and involvement with Indigenous people, something that the Prime Minister and most of those on the Labor side would never understand.

Time is going to run out. I know Senator Heffernan also wants to say a few words on this bill. I want to point out what a witness, Balkanu, said in evidence to a Senate committee about the impact of a declared wild river:

_a community vegetable garden within a High Preservation Area is only permissible if it does not involve clearing vegetation. It is difficult to imagine circumstances on Cape York where a community vegetable garden could be established without some clearing of vegetation.

They went on to say:

High Preservation Areas have in almost all declarations been declared to the maximum of 1km either side of the declared wild river and its major tributarieswith no scientific justification.

Obviously, as they go on to say:

The best soils for community gardens are within th is area.

Last week I was in the Gulf Country of Queensland. Of course, this does not just apply to Cape York; this has been extended now into the Gulf rivers and extended down into the Lake Eyre Basin. If it has not gone to Lake Eyre yet it is on the way, by the Queensland government, because there is an election coming up and the Queensland government again need the preferences of the Greens political party. What has the Queensland government got to sell They have sold almost everything else in Queensland. They do not have much to give the Greens political party for their preferences anymore, so they agreed to take in the Lake Eyre rivers.

Having been in the Gulf Country last week, I can tell you people up there are petrified for all of their development plans, their proposals for their communities and their peopleIndigenous and otherwisepeople who want to make a living for themselves and who want to be taken off welfare. They are petrified that additional rivers in the Gulf Country are going to be declared because there is an election coming up and the Labor Party under Anna Bligh desperately needs Greens political party preferences again.

Senator Boswell: I don't think that will even save it this time.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Perhaps it will not even save it, but the Labor Party in Queensland are pretty desperate. That is why Senator McLucas and Senator Furner, two Queensland senators, are here in this chamber trying to knock off this bill so that the preference deal in Queensland can go through. I highlight again that this is all about Greens preferences. It does nothing for protection of the land that could not be done by other pieces of state and federal legislation. As Senator Xenophon rightly pointed out, those of us who have been to the cape and the Gulf Country with open eyes, without a preconceived position, can feel, see and count that most Indigenous people are totally opposed to the Queensland wild rivers legislation as it exists. They want to have some say in their own land. This bill gives them that say, and I think any genuine legislatoranyone in this chamber who has the real interests of Indigenous people at heartshould support this bill.

Back to List