Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017; Second Reading
Since our last sitting, and the first time we started the debate on this issue, 3 June marked the 25th anniversary since the High Court brought down the landmark Mabo decision, which paved the way for native title legislation to pass the federal parliament the following year and become law on 1 January 1994. The recent anniversary enabled someone who was in high school at the time to refresh himself with the political circumstances. Senator Dodson, just a moment ago, spoke about this as well. At the heart of the High Court decision was the rejection of terra nullius. I express my admiration for Eddie Mabo and others who pursued their legal rights against such adversity. The anniversary also reminded us of the commitment of the Prime Minister at the time, Paul Keating, to ensure that the High Court decision was codified into law through the Native Title Act. Recently, I wrote an op-ed in the The Courier Mail in response to Senator Canavan's effort to criticise Labor's deliberations on this bill. I pointed out that Labor has acted appropriately. Senator Dodson and Labor insisted on consultation and a proper process. It has been the incompetence of Senator Brandis that has been responsible for this bill not having passed the Senate. Indeed, Senator Brandis, even responded to my op-ed in The Sunday Mail but it was so inadequate I did not bother to respond to it.
Here we are, 25 years later, debating native title again in the Native Title Amendment Bill (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill following a decision of the Federal Court known as the McGlade decision. What was the practical impact of that decision? Currently, under section 24 of the act, all persons in the native title group must be parties to an ILUA. If there is a registered native title claimant, for the purposes of the act, the native title group consists of that registered native title claimant. A registered native title claimant is defined under section 253 as 'a person or persons whose name or names appear in the entry of the Register of Native Title Claims'. This enables a person or persons to enter into agreements as authorised by the native title group.
The decision in McGlade found that an ILUA could not be registered unless all members of a registered native title claimant were parties to the agreement—that is, unless all registered native title claimants had signed the area ILUA—hence creating the uncertainty as a result of this decision. But what has changed in the 25 years since the Mabo decision? You can always rely on the dinosaurs of the Queensland LNP to make a memorable contribution to this debate, and Senator Dodson alluded to their efforts in the 1990s. Senator Macdonald, unsurprisingly, was at the forefront of this, and this is what he said at the last sitting:
Small business in the towns that I mentioned in my home state of Queensland are desperate to see the Adani mine go ahead, and the only thing holding it up at the moment is the uncertainty on the native title issue …
Well, Senator Macdonald, on 5 June Adani made their final investment decision. Senator Macdonald was probably even in the room to see firsthand how ridiculous and over-the-top his rhetoric has been on this issue. He has a few friends, though, and Senator Canavan has been happy to attempt to turn this debate into a vote on Adani as well, all to play political games.
Effectively, the company themselves highlighted the deceit of the LNP argument by making the decision that they did on 5 June. Ironically, the company now say that the only uncertainty they face revolves around the NAIF loan that the company have applied for and Senator Canavan and Senator Macdonald frequently champion.
It is not unusual for the LNP to play these sorts of games on native title—they have a long history of it in this country—but this debate has seen a new entrant into the ranks of political opportunists on native title, who decided to outdo the rhetoric of the LNP and shamefully turn this debate into an anti-Adani issue: an opportunistic and low-rent effort from the Greens, who used to operate on principles but now resort to lowest-common-denominator politics with complete disregard to the fact that many native title groups from across Australia support this legislation to provide certainty to native title.
Let's look at some of the contributions from the Greens. This is from Senator Waters:
I rise to speak on the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017, which is also known as the bill to ram through the Adani coalmine against the wishes of the local Wangan and Jagalingou people. It is known as the bill to give certainty to big miners whilst subjugating the rights of our First Australians.
That is a disgraceful misrepresentation from Senator Waters. Then we had Senator Hanson-Young:
There are fundamental issues with the bill. We know we need to consider it in proper detail. Instead, all the government gives a damn about is giving a free pass to the mega coal company Adani. It is not even an Australian company.
Again, Senator Hanson-Young is prepared to ignore the advocacy of land councils to fix this issue—with some added xenophobia at the same time. And today we have seen speeches from Senator McKim and Senator Whish-Wilson that in their mind were taking the high road but in reality were disgraceful efforts in base politics.
It is perfectly legitimate for the Greens to oppose the Adani project, but for them to use this legislation about native title to further that cause does them no credit. Is it a reflection of their desperation, irrelevance and poor leadership? Indeed, the Greens have stooped to a new low, and there have been plenty of people—prominent people—prepared to argue that case. In a speech last week Professor Marcia Langton highlighted the actions of the Greens with this bill:
The Green movement extremists and the media have misrepresented this very important, but mainly technical issue, in order to bolster their campaign against the Adani project.
The Greens in this chamber have played an active role in the project that Professor Langton described in her speech last week. What we have seen from the Greens is a disgraceful attempt to play politics with native title amendment and the need to create certainty around ILUAs.
Labor has a proud record over generations when it comes to native title—significant achievements by working with Indigenous people. Labor supports this legislation and will continue to work with Indigenous groups to ensure that native title is progressed in this country.