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Frank Brennan responds to Paul Keating

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Paul Keating's credentials are gold standard when it comes to legislating for native title. With Labor and the Greens poised to control the Senate, it is timely that he call for a revision of the 1998 native title amendments passed by the Howard Government with Senator Brian Harradine's support. 

Back then, Harradine negotiated significant improvements to the lamentable Howard package. The key plank of the improved package was drafted by lawyers for the National Indigenous Working Group.

Though the Catholic Keating warns against 'the zealotry of professional Catholics in respect of indigenous issues', I commended Harradine for his wily improvement on the Howard proposals because, third time around, he managed to deliver in spades on the compromise previously accepted behind closed doors by key Indigenous leaders and their advisers.

At the time, Noel Pearson said: 'It looks, on the face of it, in this penalty shoot-out situation, Brian Harradine's won four-nil. Full credit to Senator Harradine for having promised us that he was going to hold the line. He's surely held the line. He's held out on a stubborn position.'

Admittedly, things later went pear shaped. I will happily commend Labor and the Greens should they now follow the Keating legacy and challenge, improving the package even further. I don't claim any divine guidance for this, only a commitment to good policy, transparent process, and sound principles, regardless of who is in power, and regardless of who controls the Senate. It's called politics.


Frank Brennan is professor of law at the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University. This letter appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday 2 June 2011, in response to comments made by Paul Keating on 1 June. More more detail about the background to this saga, read Fr Brennan's Traumas of Law lecture, 2004.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Paul Keating, Native Title, Sydney Morning Herald, Harradine, Indigenous Working Group



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Existing comments

Sadly being Catholic does not presume the capacity to do the christian thing re Native Title . The night prior to the large Grazier meeting held in Longreach Qld ,during the Howard "reign " ,Howard & his deputy were homestead guests of the then President of the National Party .Next morning Tim Fischer ( catholic & now our Vatican Ambassador)promised the pastoralists "bucketfulls of extinguishment"& as we know they delivered . Of course the NP President was well versed in stealing country for when Qld State president had his friend Joh legislate to grant 20 year lease extensions to the <44> living area pastoral leases his family held .Traditionally on expiry of such leases the majority of such land would have been balloted to enthusiastic young rural people ,thus giving them the opportunity enjoyed by many Qld grazing families in previous times . These facts were published in "The Canberra Times "& Qld " North West Star "at the time .

John Kersh | 03 June 2011  

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