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Thursday, 17 March 1966

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) .- Mr. Speaker,I wish to raise in the Grievance Debate today the question of expenditure on Aboriginal welfare in Queensland with a view to asking the Commonwealth Government to make a grant under section 96 of the Constitution or to take other appropriate action to help in this field. I make passing reference to the fact that now that the decision has been made to postpone the referendum in which was embodied proposals that would enable Aborigines to be counted in the next census, the position is that Queensland will be denied in the future the increase in taxation reimbursement which will accrue to it when Aborigines are counted in the census figures. This being so, we have the position where the Commonwealth directly assumes all the responsibilities in connection with expenditure for Aboriginal welfare in the Northern Territory and makes a sizable contribution through the Commonwealth Grants Commission to expenditure on Aboriginal welfare and in many other social welfare fields in Western Australia. But at this point in time, the Commonwealth makes no contribution in respect of the problem in Queensland.

Referring to the last available edition of the Commonwealth " Year Book " I found that Queensland in 1963-64 spent £852,500 in this field from Consolidated Revenue. Western Australia spent £774,854 from Consolidated Revenue while in the Northern Territory £1,522,608 was spent in this field from Consolidated Revenue also. Comparable figures for the current financial year show that the expenditure in the Northern Territory will be £1,759,000 and in Queensland £1,008,000. The "Year Book" shows also the comparable Aboriginal population in each of the States. We recognise, of course that there are great difficulties, because of the census position, in estimating the number of Aborigines in Australia.

The matter that I wish to place before the House is this: The Queensland Government in its wisdom has brought down new bills which, when assented to, will replace the present Aborigines Protection and Preservation Act and also the Torres Strait Islanders Act. The new legislation which will be proclaimed shortly envisages introducing new horizons in the field of Aboriginal welfare in Queensland. A number of the restrictions previously placed on Aborigines and Islanders will be removed by this legislation. It is obvious that the Queensland Government is now bringing its views up to date and is anxious to make an increased contribution in this field. We find that not only is it increasing the financial appropriation in its budget but also the staff of the Native Affairs Sub-Department of the Department of Health in the present financial year has risen from 1 83 to 250 when compared with the previous financial year. It follows that if the new legislation is to be carried out not only in sentiment but also in actual practice Queensland will be required to meet a greatly increased expenditure in this field. Because the proposed referendum is not being submitted now and because Aborigines will not be counted in the next census, Queensland will be denied funds which would otherwise have come to it.

I should like to give to the House a few examples of the sort of problems that have to be solved. I realize that these are not all problems which can be charged to Consolidated Revenue because some of them, 1 imagine, would quite properly be charged to the Loan Fund. Queensland has a great number of Aboriginal reserves and settlements. A serious problem exists in this regard. The problem is to create a system of incentives on these reserves and settlements. We must provide the people with decent housing and gainful employment and create a system under which those who are prepared to work can be given the proper training and can be settled in a rewarding occupation. This will mean the abolition of a lot of the practices which exist at the present time. For example, the Aborigines in these settlements are now provided with accommodation and with a ration hand out, and those who are able work for 32 hours a week for no payment, in return for the accommodation and ration provided for them.

It now follows that the desirable practice would be to pay these people award wages, charge them rent lor their homes and give them the free choice of going to stores, butcher shops and so on set up on the reserves, so that they may be properly prepared to take their places in the Australian community and can be brought up to the standards of our society even if they choose to remain in their own settlement.

There is also the problem of developing the reserves so that they may be brought into full production. For example at Cape York a great deal more could be done in the pastoral industry. The Jardine River could be dammed, proper roads could be built and other capital improvements effected on the reserve over a period.

We in this Parliament have paid much attention to northern developments but I do not visualise that any scheme of northern development can succeed while so many Aboriginal people who are living in the north and arc capable of making their contribution to northern development are denied an opportunity to do so because of the wage structure, neglect of education facilities and so on.

I am not saying that the position is not being improved. In recent decisions of the Arbitration Court, recent decisions of the State Government and recent decisions of of the Commonwealth on matters such as social services, repatriation benefits under the Native Members of the Forces Benefits Act and so on the whole tendency has been to effect improvements. But while giving credit for what has already been done I want to record in the House the fact that a great deal remains to be done and this can only be done in Queensland if the Commonwealth comes to the assistance of the State financially to a greater degree than it has done in the past. No Commonwealth money is spent for this purpose in Queensland, yet we know that Commonwealth money is spent in Western Australia and the Northern Territory in the ways that I have previously outlined. I ask the Government which has stated that there is no discrimination against Aborigines in Australia and which has taken 'the view that the present disability contained in paragraph (xxvi) of section 51 of the Constitution does not prevent the Commonwealth from helping to promote the welfare and advancement of Aboriginal people to look now at the question whether under section 96 or elsewhere, it can assist Queensland with funds from Consolidated Revenue or loan moneys to enable that State to carry out improvements in Aboriginal welfare which I feel would have the support of every member of the House.

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