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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 9306


Photo of Keating, Paul

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 to 11/03/1996

More information about Keating, Paul on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 05/08/1994

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 9306

J: Prime Minister, what are your comments on Mr Downer's statements
on land rights over the past twenty four hours?
PM: Well, despite all the comic fumbling, as entertaining as that has been,
the harsh reality is that at the end of it, what does it mean for
Aboriginal people? What he says he will do is that he will repeal a
Commonwealth Native Title Act and replace it with some other act
which is confected between himself and the States and in the case of
the Northern Territory, that he will rewrite the Northern Territory Land
Rights Act which must mean that the unfettered right of the veto which
Aboriginal people now have would be taken away. That's what it
means. So, people may be amused by the fumbling and the stumbling, but the
hardness underneath it is he would repeal the Commonwealth's Native
Title legislation and has not resiled from that. Will replace it with
something that he puts together with the States while at the same time
knocking around the unfettered veto that Aboriginal people enjoy
under the NT Land Rights Act. That's the hard news of it. And, of
course, when he was pressed about why he had made all these
policies stumbles he then said ' I was pretty tired and pretty emotional
and I made a slip'. Well, when you hear me say that you can write me
off. Say ' that's the end of Keating. He said all these things, just write
him out of the action.' I mean, I would be ashamed to say something
like that. But, the thing about Mr Downer is he doesn't express any
such sense of shame about not knowing his work, but in stumbling
through it, keeping the thread of the hard message in tact. And, that
is, in the end there will be less rights for Aboriginal people.
J: Do you write him off now as Opposition Leader?
PM: No, no, I don't write anyone off in this game. No, no.

J: But, can you understand that he might have been a little bit overcome
being actually out there with the communities and going to a
corroboree and things like that?
PM: You either know your work and have your principles set or you don't.
The fact is he went out there after having said on the week-end he
would repeal the Native Title Act which provides a title to Aboriginal
people who have a traditional association with the land. Now, there
can be only one point in that. That is to deny them land. You see, the
old Liberal refrain, they get out there talking about health and
education and/ or not and/ or but, or land. And, the truth is it is
health, education and land. They want to say it's health, education or
land and that's where, I think, the callousness of Mr Downer's view
J: Do you think he has learnt anything from the trip?
PM: Well, I think, he has probably learned that you need to have a defined
position about where you see the rights of indigenous Australians.
How you see their role in society in this country, their role in the social
compact that we have, the unwritten one we have. And, Mr Downer
regresses back to those views held by the conservative rednecked
part of his party.
J: a complete lack of understanding?
PM: Well, I don't think it's a lack of understanding. I think it is a callous
disregard of their interests. I think he understands what it means. I
mean, if you go and say to an Aboriginal person, ' you now enjoy a right
under the Native Title Act which you may not in the future enjoy when
we repeal it or you have a right of say over development on your land
in the Northern Territory which we will take away.' I mean, he
understands that.
J: Mr Keating, have you actually visited the Aboriginal communities
PM: I have visited Aboriginal communities over the years in various parts of
coastal New South Wales and western New South Wales, but more
than that I put my money where my heart is in the years I was
Treasurer and Prime Minister. Last, of course, with the response to
the Deaths in Custody Royal Commission where we made an
enormous further contribution to funding for Aboriginal people. Now,
that's what it is about. I mean, it is about knowing where your values
are and where your principles are and putting them into effect.
J: Prime Minister, Justice French's remarks suggest a prima-facie case
that the Mabo law, the Native Title Act is somewhat flawed.

PM: No, look, if you look through the property law of Australia get the
property law of Victoria out or of New South Wales it will be a
massive set of volumes. Writing a large piece of property and cultural
law from a clean sheet of paper, which is what we did with Mabo, was
an enormous undertaking. Like any major piece of law it will change
over time and need to be fine tuned, but the principles won't change
and the Government won't entertain changing the principles. So, for
those who are working in the system, working with it, we'll listen to
what they have to say, but I'm sure nobody working in it will want to
change its principles. And, were anyone working in it recommend to
the Government that it's principles should be changed well, of course,
the Government would resist such a change. Thank you.

Transcript 9306