Keating caves in to mining companies on Mabo
By Peter Boyle
The Keating government has pulled the rug from under Aboriginal people in the post-Mabo negotiations by agreeing to help state governments validate all land titles granted since the beginning of European colonisation of Australia in 1788.
The federal Labor government had been pressured for weeks by mining companies and the Queensland Labor government to head off the Wik people's claim for "native title" to their traditional lands in Cape York by validating the leases and permits of Comalco, which mines bauxite around Weipa. Similar action had been promised in April to protect the McArthur River mine in the Northern Territory. However the federal cabinet decision on August 19 went far beyond this and will significantly undermine attempts by Aboriginal groups make any gains from the High Court's Mabo decision.
Prime Minister Paul Keating said that Aboriginal groups will still be able to seek to establish their native title through the courts but even if they were successful they would not be able to reclaim any land already the subject of another land use title. They might be able to gain some compensation and mining companies would still have to negotiate with native title holders.
However, the North Queensland Land Council has pointed out that this effectively undermines the negotiation position of Aboriginal people. Human rights commissioner Mick Dodson, a representative of the Aboriginal national Mabo negotiating committee, has condemned the decision.
Meanwhile support is growing for the Aboriginal movements claim for a just national land rights settlement in response to Mabo in the trade union movement and among aid organisations.
On August 8 the Western Australian Trades and Labor Council adopted a resolution supporting the demands made by Aboriginal representatives at their historic Eva Hill meeting on August 3-5 and the eight demands earlier presented to the Keating government by an Aboriginal negotiating committee on April 27 — also called the Mabo Peace Plan.
The WA TLC condemned the anti-land rights position adopted by the Court government of WA, and the mining and pastoral industry organisations. It also rejected the "campaign of hysteria" waged by these forces and the argument that negotiations with Aboriginal communities over the use of their land will lead to paralysis of economic development.
A month before the Victorian Trades Hall Council had also voted to support the Aboriginal negotiating committee demands. Both bodies also resolved to press the ACTU to make representations to the federal government along these lines. Community Aid Abroad, one of Australia's leading aid organisations is also campaigning in support of the Aboriginal negotiating committee's "Mabo peace plan". CAA director Jeremy Hobbs told Green Left Weekly that 80,000 message postcards demanding federal government action along these lines had been distributed to its supporters and regular donors. A similar campaign in defence of government spending on overseas aid had resulted in 10,000 cards being sent to the government.
"We see land rights as a human rights issue for all Australians. It is a non-Aboriginal issue as much as an Aboriginal issue", said Hobbs.
CAA has also published a booklet title Mabo — its meaning for Australia. It contains contributions by Peter Yu, executive director of the Kimberley Land Council; historian Henry Reynolds and David Malcolm, chief justice of WA.
Hobbs said that CAA was developing a broad policy on Aboriginal rights in consultation with Aboriginal people. CAA supported the Mabo decision, preferred that federal tribunals should decide on native title claims, that new grants of land use over traditional Aboriginal land should not extinguish native title, support Aboriginal veto rights over uses of their land and supported a broader compensation arrangement for Aborigines who couldn't establish native title under the Mabo ruling because of the destruction of their society in the process of colonisation of Australia.