Senate debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee; Reference

7:00 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia I speak to Senator Hanson's motion, which I'll read for clarification. It states:

That the following matter be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 4 June 2024:

(a) the establishment of a sunset date in relation to submission of claims of native title, after which no further claims of native title can be made; and

(b) the effectiveness of the operation of the native title system, options to improve economic development resulting from native title, and options to improve certainty over the claim process.

We want an inquiry.

Since the concept of native title was accepted by the High Court in the case of Mabo there have been mixed views from Indigenous and non-Indigenous commentators as to the benefits that have flowed to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The extent and nature of these was spelt out in the now rather complex Native Title Act 1993 and some further decisions of the High Court, including the Wik case in 1996. The act sets out a bundle of rights, some exclusive and some non-exclusive. Some exclusive rights relate to traditional activities, including the rights to fish, hunt and gather within the determined claim area—and I note as an aside here that Minister Plibersek's latest piece of legislation seeks to take that away from Aboriginals, according to Aboriginals in northern Australia—but those rights cannot be transferred or on sold. Native title is extinguished by subsequent freehold and suppressed by leasehold, although that may revive at the expiry of the lease. Recent figures from the Native Title Tribunal indicate that determinations comprise more than 50 per cent of Australian land mass, more than half of our country.

One of the features of the Native Title Act is the attempt to balance the rights of all parties. The use of Indigenous land use agreements is a way of establishing possible land use, including mining leases and other means of gaining some commercial benefit, registered for the traditional owners. These can be varied at some later time through the National Native Title Tribunal.

When we were last in Cooktown we met with a local community leader, an upstanding man, who shared with us his views on native title and its impacts on his community and on many communities across Cape York. He said that native title was important from the aspect of recognition of the Indigenous perspective of their relationship with the land and recognising that Indigenous people were the first inhabitants of Australia and that they have inherent property rights in the land. His view was that the Native Title Act was not providing Indigenous people with something tangible, because they could not use native title to advance any individual interests. Land under native title cannot be mortgaged to help build a home or be used as collateral to support a business loan. The land is essentially locked up and not used to support small projects.

It's really about seizing the land, holding it and not giving it to anyone to use. It's no wonder that we see the words 'United Nations' so frequently in the Native Title Act preamble. This is a land grab and the Aboriginals are not benefiting. Because the land is not freehold, nobody is able to work towards owning their own home because the property is now locked away out of reach. No-one is getting this land. The Commonwealth government are able to reclaim native title land and convert it to freehold, and some compensation is then paid to the traditional owners, but this does not benefit any individuals. People in the cities think that this was all fixed years ago. They don't realise that the No. 1 complaint in remote Aboriginal communities across the north of Australia is that they can't get access to land to have their own houses and their own businesses. With land ownership prevented, there is little incentive to work towards beneficial goals. My friend said that he wished to own his own place in this community. He cannot own his own place in the community. He wishes to build up and expand his small business as a shop owner but he cannot buy the premises. He must hope that he can lease the shop from the local traditional owners.

These comments were echoed right across the cape by constituents, council mayors and council members, and in the Territory and, we've heard also, in Western Australia. It was universal. Not one person to whom we spoke had a good thing to say about native title, other than that it provides some recognition of them as First Australians.

When asked about the government's closing the gap policy, he made the telling comment that the government was not serious about closing the gap because that would be contrary to the white and black Aboriginal industry that thrives on keeping Aboriginals dependent. With the exception of two Aboriginal members of parliament, Senator Nampijinpa Price and Senator Kerynne Liddle, Aboriginal senators—the other nine—don't talk about the white and black Aboriginal industry that consists of lawyers, consultants, activists, academics, politicians and bureaucratics who are living parasitically off the money that is given to Aboriginal communities. They've stolen it from the Aboriginal communities. The billions of dollars that are poured into solving the problem are siphoned off by those supposed to be assisting, and little of the money and other handouts makes it to those in real need. That's what's going on in this country. It's important for many people to keep the gap wide open.

I listened to a councillor on Badu Island, up in the Torres Strait, about closing the gap. I've been across the cape twice, and to some communities three times. In every community we asked, 'What about closing the gap?' Some people said, 'What's closing the gap?' Others said, 'It's useless.' When we asked this particular councillor on Badu Island, he said to me, 'Malcolm, the point about closing the gap is that it will never be closed because there are people feeding off the maintenance of the gap.' The parasitic white and black Aboriginal industry are feeding off closing the gap.

My friend went on to say that one of the biggest problems in communities was the lack of decent community housing. There were 19 people living in one of the local houses, and many people were homeless. In his community, 70 per cent of the residents were receiving welfare. Many were not coping. Mental health issues were climbing. What my staff have seen on Mornington Island is disgraceful. It's caused by the white and black Aboriginal industry. They perpetuate the misery so that they can get the funds. As I said, this was a common comment across the cape and up into the Torres Strait.

Further north, a mayor told me that the problems also involved how grant moneys were divided up between the various interest groups, and again highlighted the housing and employment crises. There were no jobs and there was not enough housing.

Why will only two Aboriginal members of this Senate discuss the white and black Aboriginal industry? I have to commend Senator Nampijinpa Price for doing so with vigour. She points out that that white and black industry is destroying accountability, and things in Aboriginal communities won't change without accountability. The people in the communities that I've listened to are hungry for autonomy and accountability. They want it.

I understand that in 1998 John Howard, as Prime Minister, attempted to amend the Native Title Act by putting in place a sunset clause. John Howard, I'm advised, moved to put in place a sunset clause. As Prime Minister, what advice did he get on the legality? Senator Cash would get some answers to clause (a) if there was some form of inquiry. What's wrong with having an inquiry? Why do you keep blocking Senator Pauline Hanson wanting simple inquiries into basic, fundamental questions?

As I understand it, before Cook arrived the Torres Strait Islands had some form of property rights, handed down from generation to generation, where the holder of the land was clearly recognised. But the mainland not so, I'm advised. We were reminded by Senator Rennick that the High Court decision on Mabo was very close: four to three. We need an inquiry to see how it's working and to go back to fundamentals. 'Thirty-one years,' Senator Rennick said. 'We need an inquiry. We're the house of review.' I concur with Senator Rennick.

Senator Ayres raises the point about Aboriginal Warren Mundine possibly entering the Senate. I don't know, but does Senator Ayres not want Aboriginals in the Senate because of their views? No-one tonight has offered a solution to the native title problem of land locking, although revisiting Indigenous land use agreements and considering leases for individual housing projects may deserve further consideration.


No comments