Abbott shows the way after a grubby deal

By: Tony Koch

ON August 16, 1975, Gough Whitlam handed the deeds to 3300sq km of Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory to Aboriginal people, demonstrating he was serious about eventually giving land rights to Australia's original inhabitants.
When doing so, the prime minister famously bent down, picked up a handful of Daguragu soil and poured it into the outstretched hand of Gurindji elder Vincent Lingiari.
``I put into your hands part of the earth as a sign that this land will be the possession of you and your children forever,'' Whitlam said. It was a significant moment, a powerful statement. But more than that, it was an act of grace.
In contrast, the Queensland government before last year's election entered into an agreement with the Wilderness Society that ensured Labor would secure Greens preferences. That agreement entailed the Bligh government continuing the duplicity of the Beattie government in declaring rivers in remote parts of the state as ``wild rivers'' needing ``protection''. Last year, it was the turn of Cape York. The shabby deal was struck and the legislation delivered. When challenged by Cape York traditional owners, the Bligh government trumpeted loudly that it had ``consulted widely''.
That was bunkum. And as much as the government might have selectively ``consulted'', it never at any stage received any consent from Aboriginal people to introduce legislation that severely restricted their rights to use their own waterways now and in the future -- particularly to establish business opportunities.
It has been one of the grubbiest political deals in Queensland since Tony Fitzgerald gutted corruption in the state in the late 1980s.
That Tony Abbott has seen fit to introduce a private member's bill to protect the fragile rights of Aborigines is something to be commended.
The Opposition Leader is unique among politicians in that he has actually spent time in Cape York communities teaching children in schools and helping wayward boys get direction in their lives through establishing real work opportunities.
It is intriguing that an opposition leader has to show the way to a government and a prime minister who, hand on heart, vowed to ``close the gap'' in the accumulated disadvantage of indigenous Australians compared with the rest of the population.
It is to be hoped that Abbott's actions bring about a reversal of the appalling Queensland legislation, and that the continuing backhanded treatment of remote-dwelling Aborigines ceases once and for all.
The Whitlam example should be the model followed, instead of the arrogant jackboot-attitude apparently preferred by Labor in Queensland.