The Guardian September 13, 2000


ALP sells out Queensland Aboriginal people

The deal reached recently between the Federal and Queensland branches of 
the Australian Labor Party has downgraded the legal rights of Aboriginal 
people to resist or influence mining incursions on land subject to native 
title law.

Under the Howard Government's revised Wik legislation, the various state 
governments are entitled to enact their own variations of the law relating 
to native title. That aspect of the legislation is designed to weaken 
native title overall.

This was demonstrated in Queensland, where the State ALP proposed to 
completely overturn federal ALP policy by enacting legislation which would 
have stripped traditional owners of the right to negotiate with mining 
companies over mining exploration proposals.

This was in contravention of federal ALP policy on exploration, formulated 
only last month, which endorsed the principle of the rights of traditional 
owners to negotiate with mining companies.

Rather than standing firm on Federal policy, a demonstrably weak Federal 
ALP leader Kim Beazley immediately negotiated a compromise which would 
allow unimpeded access for mining companies wanting to carry out "low 
level" exploration  at the expense of traditional owners.

An enraged Geoff Clark, Chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait 
Islander Commission (ATSIC), pointed out that only the day before the deal 
was struck the federal ALP was distancing itself from the Howard 
Government's tantrum over UN criticism on Aboriginal issues.

The next day, he said, "the opposition is endorsing a Queensland native 
title regime based on Federal laws found by the UN to be racially 
discriminatory."

ALP federal spokesman on Aboriginal affairs, Darryl Melham, took a more 
courageous and principled stand on the issue than the federal ALP 
leadership, and resigned in protest.

As anticipated, the deal will have immediate repercussions at state 
government level.

The conservative Northern Territory Government, which had earlier had pro-
mining native title legislation rejected in the Australian Senate, is 
expected to resubmit revised legislation based closely on the Queensland 
model.

Not that any of this satisfies the mining companies. Queensland Mining 
Council chief executive Michael Pinnock described the compromise as having 
"gutted the law".

He said the new law would only "free up" one in five of the current 11,000 
mining exploration applications in Queensland.

Mr Clark, however, pointed out that the areas affected by the now approved 
legislation would affect some 60,000 square kilometres of land currently 
affected by native title legislation.

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