By Stephen Robson
"It's excellent. It's the best outcome in the face of the government's intransigence", Greens (WA) Senator Christabel Chamarette told Green Left Weekly following the decision on November 28 to establish a Senate select committee into the federal government's Indigenous Land Corporation and Land Acquisitions Bill.
The Greens (WA) senators combined with the Coalition and conservative independent Brian Harradine to defeat Labor and the Australian Democrats in establishing the committee.
Aden Ridgeway, the executive director of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, also welcomed the select committee decision.
"The government does not have the support they so desperately declare ... there is an overwhelming ground swell of opposition to the original bill", Ridgeway explained. The NSW Aboriginal Land Council indicated that Aboriginal groups across Australia will mobilise networks amongst the churches and unions to deliver the message "little justice is no justice at all".
However, the Kimberley Land Council is opposed to amendments, moved by the Greens (WA) and the Coalition, to the government's bill. This puts it at variance with many other land councils around the country which have welcomed the amendments.
"The federal opposition has been resolute in its intention to scuttle the entire land fund bill. The WA Greens, through their short-sightedness and utter naivety, have supported this effort. Where is the Greens' accountability?", asked Peter Yu, the executive director of the council.
"At a time when the government's primary focus has been to work toward Aboriginal reconciliation, the Greens and Coalition have seized opportunities to obstruct and undermine the process", Yu claims.
The seven-member all-party committee will include Christabel Chamarette. Meeting for two weeks in January, the committee is expected to hear submissions primarily from Aboriginal groups. It will also hear views on the 50 amendments to the legislation successfully moved by the Greens and the Liberals in the Senate but rejected by Labor in the House of Representatives.
The committee's terms of the reference allow it to determine whether:
- the 50 amendments achieve the aim of making the legislation "a more effective instrument to assist those Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders who will be unable to assert native title rights and interests to acquire land and manage it effectively";
- any of these amendments need to be further modified by "alternative amendments, in order to reconcile disagreements among Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders".
Also included in the review will be the Greens (WA) request for an extra $3 million for administration of the bill. The committee will report to the Senate on January 31.
Labor has threatened that setting up the committee gives it grounds for a double dissolution and an early federal election. This appears to be bluster rather than a considered view, since another piece of legislation, the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No 3), has already been voted down in the Senate by the Australian Democrats, the Greens (WA), Brian Harradine and the Coalition, providing the first possible grounds for a double dissolution.
February 27 is the first day that the land fund bill can be voted on a second time, making April 1 the earliest a federal election could technically take place.
Ridgeway attacked the "trivialisation" of the debate into whether it would result in a double dissolution. "The political intentions of any of the parties is beside the point. The majority of Aboriginal people are demanding justice and we do not care who delivers it", he said.