The Guardian June 28, 2000


Native Title:
Qld Government takes a backward step

It's one thing to walk across a bridge in support of Reconciliation. 
It's another matter when it comes to the reality of native title 
rights.

Queensland's State ALP government has moved to introduce a series of laws 
resembling the Howard Government's Wik native title legislation.

The Wik legislation allows each of the States to pass their own laws with 
regard to native title, interpreting the Federal legislation as it sees 
fit. The proposed Queensland legislation, like its Federal counterpart, 
favours existing landowners, mineral exploration and mining companies over 
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people claiming or holding Native 
Title rights. The proposed Queensland legislation would remove the right of 
actual and potential native title-holders to negotiate with mining 
companies at the beginning of mineral exploration. In this, and other 
respects, it is thought to breach the UN Convention for the Elimination of 
Racial Discrimination.

The Wik legislation prevents the Australian Senate from scrutinising future 
State native title regimes. However, the Australian Democrats have tabled a 
Senate motion to disallow the Queensland legislation from proceeding. 

Queensland Democrats Senator, John Woodley, commented that: "So far it 
appears that State governments are attempting to use State native title 
regimes based on the Wik legislation to water down native title rights. 
Reducing native title rights will not promote prosperity and racial 
harmony. We can only proceed with real reconciliation by recognising the 
legitimate rights of native title holders and proceeding in good faith on 
that basis."

The Democrats point out that the issues involved in the Queensland 
legislation are the same as those involved in the previously-proposed 
Northern Territory's native title legislation, which was opposed by the 
Federal Labor Party.  The Democrats have called on Labor parliamentarians 
to vote in favour of the disallowance motion, which would place the Federal 
ALP at odds with the Queensland State ALP machine.

Which side?

Senator Woodley concluded, "Labor must not side with the Howard Government 
against indigenous people. In the current climate of reconciliation I call 
on Kim Beazley to examine his conscience and do the right thing by the 
indigenous people of Queensland."

There is still no clear indication of which way the Federal ALP will vote. 
However, the motion must be decided by August 14.  The Democrats have 
agreed to a Labor Party request that the matter not be dealt with before 
this date, to give time for Federal ALP to consider its position and to 
negotiate with the Beattie Government.

Watch this space!

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