Thursday, 16 February 2017
Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017; Third Reading
We have seen Labor agree to a gag on this Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill. They came in here this morning and said that there is a whole list of speakers and this should not go through, but now we are pushing this bill through quickly. This bill is going through now, today. This bill is going through today when we have said that there has to be proper scrutiny. Members of this place should not be asked to vote on this today.
Why then are we proceeding to the third reading immediately? Members should not be asked to vote on this today. We can come back and debate it when the parliament resumes, as would be the normal process. But instead we have this agreement cooked up that says that this bill is going through this House today. Why is this bill going through this House today? Why are members of parliament being required to vote on this today?
The Leader of the House interjects and says that there are no more speakers. Exactly. Why are there no more speakers? Why were there members willing to put their hand up to say that they wanted to speak but are now not going to speak?
This is an outrageous way to conduct this parliament about such an important piece of legislation. The government introduced the bill yesterday and brought it on today. Usually you would wait longer than that, because that is what the standing orders require to give members of this place time to read the bill and consult with their communities. To now have a backdoor arrangement that sees this bill progressing through at 12.30 pm when it was brought in here first thing this morning is an insult to the way this place is meant to operate.
There are 150 people who sit in this chamber. Those 150 people have diverse communities and many of those communities have different interests. We deserve the time to be able to talk to those communities about what is in this bill before we decide our final position on it. Instead, we are moving to the third reading straight away. The government is saying, 'Let's get this through here.' The government is saying, 'Let's get this through this place today before question time.' Well I am not having a bar of it and I am very disappointed that the opposition are having a bar of it.
This bill should not be proceeding through this place today. The ordinary process would be that it comes back in the next sitting week. The Leader of the House knows that and the Manager of Opposition Business knows that. By pulling speakers off the list and by moving to the third reading straight away the normal processes of this House are being abused and we are proceeding to a vote the day after the bill was introduced, and that almost never happens in this place. So everything we heard this morning about standing up to the government and demanding proper process counts for naught, because this bill will go through. This bill will just go through because the old parties have agreed on it.
I cannot recall any other recent time where there has been an agreement to stop the full debate of a bill. Other members of the crossbench saw this bill yesterday. Not everyone in this country votes for Labor or Liberal. Not everyone sitting in this chamber is a member of the Labor, Liberal or National parties. Members of the crossbench got this bill yesterday. In the ordinary way this place operates, the members of the crossbench would not be asked to come back and debate it today. They would have a few sitting days to go and consider a bill and consider their position on it, which means we would come back next sitting week. This government, with the opposition's support, has denied them that opportunity. You have said: 'Well, we've got the numbers. It doesn't matter what members of the parliament say. We've got the numbers, so we're just going to push it through.'
You are doing it in a way that means people cannot even go back to their communities, find out what their communities think, and then come back here and report on it. They may have come back and supported the bill. The Greens may have come back and supported the bill, because it might be the right mechanism in response to the Federal Court decision. But to say that we do not even have the chance to go away and read it sets a very dangerous precedent indeed. For Labor and Liberal to gang up and say they are going to use their numbers to introduce a bill one day and then pass it the next so that no-one even has the time to read it, let alone get advice on it, is a very dangerous precedent for this place.
There are calls that the opposition has not agreed to it. Well, the opposition could have objected to the third reading being moved today, but they did not. The opposition could have had all those who lined up to speak come up and speak, but they did not. Everyone knows what is going on. You are running dead on this so it can get through this place today. That is what the opposition are doing and they know it. Despite the valiant attempts of the Leader of the House to defend the opposition, that is exactly what is happening. So I do not grant leave and I oppose the suspension of standing orders, because ordinary process—a thing called democracy—should apply in this place.
The government did not even have the courtesy to make a case as to why standing orders should be suspended. The government has not even bothered to explain to this parliament why this bill is so urgent that we cannot go through the usual process of coming back here next week and debating it. The Leader of the House thinks, 'I don't even have to explain to the members of parliament who haven't had a chance to read this why this is so important, because I've got the numbers.' Labor and Liberal have got together and they have the numbers. Well, that is contemptuous of members of this parliament. For the Leader of the House to not even put an argument about this being so urgent but to just say, 'I'm going to move a suspension and you can lump it,' suggests that democracy is now hanging by a very thin thread in this place. Democracy is hanging by a very thin thread if legislation can pass because the opposition pulls speakers and because the government wants it to happen very quickly.
If it can all happen within a day, then what is the point of having members of parliament? We might as well just hand over all power to the government if this place is not going to do its job and allow every one of its 150 members to go back to their diverse constituencies, ask their constituents what they think about the bill and then come back here and debate it. There is a reason that standing orders contain a provision for a gap of time between a bill being introduced and when you can debate it. It is a very good reason. It is called democracy. It is called finding out what your constituents think, having a think about the bill and then coming back and putting your view.
When the government and the opposition together say, 'It doesn't matter—we're not going to allow that normal process to operate,' then that is a very dark day indeed, and it will have repercussions for the future, because the crossbench in this place is growing. There are 25 per cent of people around this country who did not vote for either of the old parties or their coalition partners. That is because they are sick of this place being treated as a rubber stamp. They are sick of this place being one where the government just comes in and says, 'We've got our riding instructions from someone else, so we're going to push it through.' Every member of this place deserves a chance to sit and read a bill and talk to their constituents about it.
The fact that no case has even been made as to why standing orders should be suspended suggests that the Leader of the House agrees. The government know that what they are doing is wrong, which is why they cannot even come in here and mount an argument for it. They cannot even put one single argument as to why standing orders should be suspended, because they know that they are silencing and short-circuiting the right of every member of this place to go and find out what their constituents think and come back here and put a reasoned argument.
I would hope that everyone who is watching and scrutinising what is going on now knows this for what it is: this bill is being rushed through, despite all the sound and fury. All the sound and fury this morning was sound and fury signifying nothing, because this bill is going to get through, presumably. The opposition did not object to the third reading been moved immediately. Maybe they will object to the suspension of standing orders to cover themselves a bit, but they could have objected to this bill being rushed through. They could have had all their speakers come up— (Time expired)
I suggest that the member for Melbourne leave it to Donald Trump to present alternative facts. What we just heard in that speech, and the characterisation of the Australian Labor Party, was extraordinary and without foundation at all. Labor could not have been clearer both during the conduct of this debate and in the argument we brought to the House this morning that we object completely to the way the government has handled this debate; we object completely to being put in a situation where we are expected to be able to make a case on a final position on this legislation without being able to conduct consultation. That puts us in a position where the speeches that you would want to make on this native title bill can only be made by a number of members who will present the problems that we face, but not one of us is able to speak on a final position.
When parliament comes back in a couple of weeks time we would have been in a position to do that, because the consultation would have occurred—and that consultation would have been real. But for the member for Melbourne to have looked at the predicament that we are in and say that somehow that means we are siding with the government is extraordinary. If he wants to do the 'full of sound and fury' quote from Macbeth, why not quote for himself the words that come before it—'a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more'—because that is exactly what we got from the member for Melbourne. Do not start quoting the wrong section of that soliloquy when it is you who is going to demonstrate the words that come before it—that is what the member for Melbourne just did.
The member for Melbourne, in the presentation he just gave, also sells short to the Australian people the frustration that is felt in this room today with the behaviour of the government of Australia, sells short to the Australian people just how many of us there are who are furious at the way this government is treating a serious issue on native title. Let us not forget: when the Native Title Act was introduced, the House of Representatives debated it for 17 hours. A few years later it was amended, and the House of Representatives had 14 hours of debate. Today, let us not pretend we have had even one hour of debate, because we have not. It is not debate when one side of the chamber has not yet been able to conduct the consultation required to arrive at a position at all. If the member for Melbourne or anyone else thinks that somehow we are having a proper debate in the course of proceedings in this chamber today, they are sorely mistaken.
Native title is a critically important issue for this nation—a critically important issue for this nation—and it should receive the opportunity for proper debate. It is an atrocity that we are in the circumstance now where that debate will be left only to people who have been elected to the Senate. We have been put in that situation because the government sought to bring this bill on for debate today, and from the moment that was clear the Labor Party was on its feet, at 9.30 this morning, calling on the government to not take that path. But it is not simply whether or not a vote happens today—there should not have been any debate on the issue today. That would have been the correct course. Make no mistake about the outcome of this being pushed through today. The outcome of this being pushed through today is that it will then go nowhere, because the next week that we sit Senate estimates is on anyway. So we could have debated this in the House of Representatives when the parliament returns and it would have made no difference at all to the timing of the bill—absolutely no difference at all.
I made clear in my speech—in fairness to the member for Melbourne I think he was moving to the chamber while I was on my feet—the challenge members of the opposition face in speaking on a bill when we have not had the chance to arrive at a final position. Of course that means that what has gone on in this chamber today has not been a debate on legislation—it has been a debate on process, because the government's process has been a disaster and on native title and consultation with the first Australians that process matters. We will be voting against the procedural motion and we trust that the government will think carefully about the appalling process that has been followed today. (Time expired)
We are not keen to delay the process of the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill through the House, but I think it is important that the government respond to some of the things that have been said in this debate and explain why we do need to deal with this bill in an urgent way. This bill does nothing more than restore the status quo that was understood before the decision that was handed down by the Federal Court. Importantly, it is important to note that this decision was only handed down by the Federal Court on 2 February. The government clearly saw the decision, and realised that we needed to respond and respond in an orderly and also timely way—and we need to do that because we are required, when dealing with such fundamental issues as land title, to provide certainty both for the claimants and for industry and others who will be affected by this.
It is also very important to note that, as far as I am aware, there is no significant stakeholder that has concerns with what is being proposed here. The National Native Title Tribunal—
How do I know? Because they have been putting out statements asking the government to deal with this bill in an orderly and timely fashion. Let me read the media statement of the National Native Title Council, representing all claimants around the country, to enlighten you: 'The National Native Title Council is urging the parliament to support the passage of the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreement) Bill 2017.' That was issued today, 16 February, and they represent all of the claimants around the country. They are urging this parliament to act, urging this parliament to provide the certainty that they require. This bill does nothing more than restore the status quo as it was understood.
The opposition is concerned about the consultation process that has taken place. We have moved as quickly as possible to inform the opposition about what the government is proposing here. A briefing was provided to the shadow Attorney-General and also to Mr Clare and Senator Dodson last week, and we provided the bill to the opposition as soon as we could, on Tuesday morning. We drafted this bill as expeditiously as possible, noting the fact that we needed to deal with this matter as quickly as possible, and once the government received the bill we consulted with the opposition and the most timely way possible. We have acted in good faith here. I think that everyone should understand that there is a requirement to deal with this bill in a timely manner.
There is a rationale for what the government is doing here. Yes, it is an unusual process, but sometimes the parliament needs to act. Once this bill passes the House it will go before a Senate committee, which will have a month to consider it. They will be able to have appropriate consultation with affected parties. That will allow the opposition, the crossbenchers and the government to do the consultation that is of course important when we are making important to the native title arrangements.
I would again remind the House that we need certainty in relation to land title in Australia. When that certainty is called into question the parliament needs to act decisively and it needs to act to restore that certainty. All parties in this debate are calling on the government to do that—including Labor premiers, by the way. I would urge the parliament to pass the bill.
Minister, you have no idea what consultation means: talking to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country. The claims that have been made by the minister are patently false. Forty-two per cent of my electorate are Aboriginal people. I will guarantee that not one of them is aware that this bill is before the parliament today or what is in it. Yet we are expected to believe that somehow or other this decision is being made based on informed discussion with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Minister, you treat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with absolute disrespect with the way in which you are trying to get us to go through this legislation today.
We understand that this court decision has made some issues for us. We appreciate that and we understand there is an issue about validating acts and agreements which have now been potentially invalidated as a result of the court decision. But that does not obviate the need for us to talk to people and consult properly.
I ask the government: you have a committee of this House which was actually meeting an hour ago, so why wouldn't you have charged it with the responsibility of doing some work and then coming back to this House before the next sitting? Why not? Is it because you think only the Senate does work around here? What do you think we do here? Do you think I should go back to my electorate and go around the community asking people what they think of this legislation and its importance, and getting the views of people who may want to express it to me?
We know that the native title rep body sees some significant issues around this, but we also know they have a responsibility, as we do, to talk with and represent the interests of native title holders wherever they might be around this country. We cannot be said to be doing that by rushing this legislation through this parliament today. We cannot be said to have done that.
As I have said in a previous contribution, I doubt that the Minister for Indigenous Affairs feels enlightened by what is going on here or, indeed, believes it is a great idea. I am sure he would believe—without wanting to put words in his mouth, of course—that there needs to be proper consultation before we hurry this legislation through any chamber of this parliament, let alone passing it through here. The minister has just admitted that there has been no consultation prior to this bill being put before the parliament. He is saying that the consultation is going to happen after the fact—that post the passage of this legislation in this House there will be consultation.
The government Leader of the House says it is rubbish. Let me ask this question: who do you think has been consulted? You have had a media release from a person who represents a peak body for the native title rep bodies. Does that mean the native title rep bodies have talked to their native title claimants or the people who have been involved in the agreements?
Minister, you have no idea how this place operates or how they operate. Do you think native title holders say, 'Listen, we'll give the peak body the right to represent our interests on all things and they can talk on our behalf even though we don't know what they're talking about—we call that informed consent'? I don't think so!
In the years I have been in this place, every time we have had an issue around Aboriginal issues—I can refer to ATSIC. In getting rid of ATSIC there was no consultation. They say, 'We get in here and we want to amend this law without consultation.' Labor has a proud tradition of sitting with and listening and learning from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Let me say this: it might well be that we have cause to support elements of the government's legislation or indeed the whole piece of legislation. But until we have had the discussion with the people who may be affected by it, how can we make that decision, let alone have an opportunity to talk in caucus about these issues? It is time for us to take stock here in this place and to start treating people properly and not with the ignorance that is being done currently by this government. (Time expired)