PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: Earlier today we rightly reflected upon the life of Dame Margaret Whitlam, who tragically passed away quite recently. In doing so, we also reflected upon the life of her husband, Gough Whitlam. When you think about Gough Whitlam and some of the enduring images of his tenure as Prime Minister, one of those images was from when he was out in the Northern Territory at Wave Hill Station pouring the local dust out of his hand into the hand of the local elder Vincent Lingiari. It was symbolic of the beginning of land rights for Aboriginal people, and an important piece of legislation was passed a year subsequent to that. Today, Mr Lingiari’s brothers from Queensland could well come back to this place with that sand and pour it into the hands of Julia Gillard. Such is the nature of the wild rivers legislation, which winds back the clock in relation to Aboriginal land rights.
People have been fighting for land rights for decades. They have been fighting for land rights, and I emphasise the term ‘rights’ because it is not just about having possession of the land but also about having use of the land and full ownership of the land, with all of the rights which go with it. The wild rivers legislation diminishes those rights. It is the first piece of legislation for a very long time in which those rights have been diminished and it is a disgrace that it is coming from this Labor government.
The motion in front of us here that we are debating is simply asking that we have a vote on a bill which says that no river will be declared wild unless the traditional owners of the land give their consent. That is all we are asking for. We are just asking for a vote to be held. We are not rushing the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill at all. In fact, this bill was introduced into this parliament over two years ago. In that two years we have had no fewer than five inquiries into this bill. This is not a long piece of legislation. It is only five pages and there is only one substantive piece to the five pages. That substantive piece says that if a river is to be declared wild, which has the effect, therefore, of reducing the use of the land in that river basin, that declaration must first have the consent of the traditional owners. It is a very simple proposition.
It is a very simple one to understand. We are talking only about Aboriginal land itself here, so what is the problem with this piece of legislation? What is the concern from the other side of this chamber in relation to giving traditional owners consent, giving them a say over what they want to do with their land? Are those opposite seriously concerned that, after 50,000 years of looking after their land, tomorrow they are going to destroy it? Is that what they are concerned about?
If that is their concern, they should come in here and state that. Even if Aboriginal people do want to develop their land, why should they not have that right, just as we have the right to develop our land? Why should they not have that right? That is what those opposite have fought for over the last few decades. That is what Gough Whitlam was doing when he passed the sand into the hand of Vincent Lingiari. It was symbolising that, ‘Mr Lingiari, you and your people now have possession and have the full rights of this land.’ I think that if Gough Whitlam were looking down on this chamber today he would be disgusted by the acts of the Labor Party, because they stand for nothing. For decades they fought for the land rights of Aboriginal people, but today they wind back the clock and discard those values. The reason they do so is the grubby deal done with the Wilderness Society for preferences in Queensland in the upcoming state election. So when it comes to a challenge between the interests of the Labor Party and the interests of the most disadvantaged people in our community, who does the Labor Party side with? They side with the Greens and they side with their own grubby interests. It is a disgrace. We need to have the vote now.