Monday, 17 September 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is addressed to the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Would the minister advise the House why Australia joined Canada, New Zealand and the United States last week in declining to ratify the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? Is the minister aware of any other approaches and what is the government’s response?
In response to the member for Solomon, in simple terms we did this because it is in Australia’s interest. It is in the interest of all Australians that we all get treated equally under the law and under the Constitution—that we are one under the national flag. In fact, the rights that would have been conferred upon some Australians over others as a result of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would have done more to split Australians, to damage reconciliation and to put one group of Australians in a privileged position over and above others.
Let me demonstrate, Mr Speaker: this declaration would provide a particular group with the right to veto decisions of a democratically elected parliament. This is not something that the Howard government would countenance. Secondly, it would provide rights over land that could override legitimate interests in land held by others and open up the question of compensation. Thirdly, it would place customary law in a superior position to national law. This is the very reason that New Zealand’s Maori Affairs Minister also said that the declaration was not compatible with New Zealand law. Nor is it compatible with Australian law.
I was asked if there were any alternative approaches to this issue. There clearly have been many alternative approaches to this position by the Leader of the Opposition and by his spokesperson, the member for Jagajaga. In the Weekend Australian on Saturday we saw that the member for Jagajaga committed a Rudd government to making Australia the 144th signatory to the protocol. In other words, Labor supports these very divisive measures that would split and provide one set of rights for one group of Australians against others. I thought at the time ‘How long would it take before the member for Jagajaga was again pulled back into line and that we would see a lack of leadership on the Labor Party’s side as they went backwards and forwards—flipped and flopped—between one position and another?’ I did not have to wait long because here on Monday the Australian newspaper reported that the member for Jagajaga said that Labor, if elected, would probably not draft the laws needed to support the declaration—more they were aspirational.
What does that actually mean? It means that you are trying to be all things to all people. Real leadership, not new leadership, is when you have a position, you take it and you argue it in the nation’s interest—in the interest of all Australians. You do not form a committee. You do not form a task force to report some time later. You do not have one position on Saturday and another one on Monday. You have a position, you stand by it and you argue it in the nation’s interest. Labor seems incapable of doing it. New leadership is not weak leadership; it is not indecisive leadership. What we have from the other side is no leadership—no leadership whatsoever on the issue of Indigenous affairs. Over the last 12 months, we have seen the Labor Party in one instance vote against the government’s legislation in the House. They opposed the crimes amendment bill which removed customary law as a mitigating factor in bail and sentencing hearings in Commonwealth matters. That was just one year ago. Last month they reversed that position by supporting the Northern Territory intervention legislation, which included the ruling out of customary law as a mitigating factor.
Then on Saturday, we had the member for Jagajaga saying on behalf of the federal Labor Party that the Labor Party would endorse this UN declaration and ratify the rights of Indigenous people, which would have put customary law above the law for all other Australians. Then today, Monday, we have yet again a different position being cast. They are casting around trying to be all things to all men and walking both sides of the street. Real leadership is something that only the Howard government has demonstrated when it comes to Indigenous affairs.