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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 8 Hansard (26 August) . . Page.. 2484 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

Mr Stanhope in his remarks made reference to the considerable disadvantage which is still experienced by Aboriginal Australians today. We can only reflect with sadness on the reality of those statistics. It is true that mortality, morbidity and lack of access to decent housing, education and employment opportunities are still real factors that Aboriginal Australians have to deal with. That is a profoundly sad fact and one which we, as a community, collectively need to work on.

There is, however, another element which I think it is vitally important to address in a debate like this one - Mr Stanhope did touch upon it - and that is the question of the use and ownership of land and its importance as a basis on which to move forward on the process of reconciliation. In the reality of the invasion, if you like, or the occupation of what was previously Aboriginal land by non-Aboriginal people nothing is more fundamental to the original indigenous owners than the loss of indigenous land. It was a fundamental reality of life 200 years ago as white settlers moved across the landscape and settled larger and larger parts of the Australian countryside. Today it is an inescapable fact for many Aboriginal people who are learning more about their past and who are reflecting on the loss of their land and the traditional way of life that went with that land.

Mr Speaker, for the ACT's part it is essential that we be able to address the question of Aboriginal relationship to the land if we are to take forward in the context of the ACT community reconciliation with our indigenous citizens. That is why the Government a few weeks ago made what I believe is a significant offer of a lease over most of the Namadgi National Park to those people who are representative of the Ngunnawal community in the ACT. That offer has attracted a number of comments, some supportive and some critical. I note with great appreciation the expression of support from the Leader of the Opposition today, because I think it is essential if such an offer is to be taken up that it appears to be, and is, an offer made by the entire ACT community to the entire indigenous community of this region, that is, the people who traditionally represent those who were owners of this land.

Despite differences of view about how that might occur, it is vital at the end of the day, if reconciliation on this issue is to be achieved, that we do so as a whole community. In particular, that means showing leadership within the Assembly on this question and being able to offer a basis for genuine agreement with the Ngunnawal people about that matter. A lease is the most that the ACT can provide and it cannot provide it over all of the Namadgi National Park. That may change, however, if there is an acceptance on the part of the Commonwealth Government that we are entitled to deal with this issue in terms of the whole of the land and a more formal title to the land. Perhaps in the fullness of time there will be some expansion of that offer on the basis of some shift in the Commonwealth's position on that matter.

But that is only part of the process, naturally. Although it is probably true to say that traditional owners of this land living in the ACT are less disadvantaged than Aboriginal people in other parts of Australia, there are still serious issues to address in the context of the ACT, issues about unemployment, issues about contact with the criminal justice system and also, I suspect, issues about health and education. We have to deal with those issues at the same time, but I simply express the view that I think that reaching

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