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Wednesday, 3 November 1976
Page: 2275

Mr RUDDOCK (Parramatta) -There is a great willingness by members on both sides of the House to come to grips with this important problem that the Aboriginal people have. I think there is a recognition that the sins of the past are now being visited upon us as a generation. There is a general view that a party which has been in government for a short period of time cannot be blamed for the problems that have beset a people for generations. There is a general recognition in the House that some of the things done by the former Government have had a considerable beneficial effect in coping with Aboriginal health problems. Some of us, perhaps only on this side of the House, might be prepared to say also that because some of the programs were not sufficiently well thought out and because some of the spending was so generous there could have been a detrimental effect upon the Aboriginal people and their health simply because of the way in which the moneys were made available.

The points at issue and mentioned by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) are twofold They are these: Firstly, is there a commitment on the part of this Government to deal with the elimination of these diseases and health problems from the Aboriginal community? I would say, as the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has said, that there is a commitment absolutely and in every respect to deal with Aboriginal health problems. The second point relates to the manner in which the Parliament ought to involve itself in these matters. We have already heard that there is a committee of the Parliament charged especially to look into matters relating to Aboriginal people. The question arises whether we need an additional com- .mittee of the Parliament to examine one aspect of the problems that face our Aboriginal community. It is my view that it would be most undesirable to have a further committee to look selectively at one aspect.

While the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs which I chair at this time has a responsibility and a reference from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) to examine alcohol problems faced by the Aboriginal race, it does not look at those problems in isolation. The Committee recognises the wide range of matters that affect Aboriginal health and exacerbate the drinking problem. It recognises the importance of housing, the importance of living conditions, the importance of education, the importance of good health. It recognises also that in many cases where good housing, employment and so on have been provided the problems brought about by alcohol have not been overcome. The Committee, which is a nonparty committee, has considered this situation at length and only a matter of weeks ago brought into the House an urgent report entitled Alcohol

Aspects.In the opening paragraph the Committee said- I will read it again because I and the members of the Committee consider this matter to be of the utmost importance:

Alcohol is the greatest present threat to the Aboriginals of the Northern Territory and unless strong immediate action is taken they could destroy themselves.

The Committee did not consider these matters in isolation. It went to Alice Springs, to Darwin, to outlying remote Aboriginal communities. It saw all of the matters about which the honourable member for Fremantle has spoken. It saw many of the people to whom he referred. The Committee has highlighted the effect of alcohol in tribal communities and the way in which it breaks down their way of life and their ability to cope with the problems which come simply from the pressures that we put on them. It has recommended certain action, and the Minister has said that consideration of it will be undertaken with the utmost expedition. But this is not the first inquiry of the Parliament and health has not been mentioned only by our Committee at this time. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs in the last Parliament examined Aboriginal health in the south-west of Western Australia and dealt with many of these matters. Each of the diseases to which the honourable member for Fremantle has referred were mentioned, in addition to some others, including tuberculosis, gastro-enteritis and respiratory problems from which these people suffer. It referred also to the need to improve infant and child nutrition. It noted that government programs were designed to achieve this.

There is a further committee report. The Senate Select Committee on Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders presented a report entitled The Environmental Conditions of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the Preservation of their Sacred Sites. The health and physical environment problems of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were considered in depth- at page 79 of the report. Each of the problems mentioned were covered in some detail. The honourable member for Fremantle referred in passing to this report also.

A great deal of consideration has been given to this matter by the Parliament. As a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, I know what has been done in this area. I refer the honourable member for Fremantle to the Hansard report of the Committee's meeting in Derby on Friday, 1

October, 1976. That report is now a public document and I understand is available in the Parliamentary Library. Evidence was given by Dr Spargo, who is a regional health officer for the West Australian Government. He spoke of the problems of alcohol and its relationship to health. I direct the honourable member's attention to the questioning by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) about the other health problems, such as venereal disease, that are important. I can assure the honourable member that health and health problems are receiving the utmost attention in the inquiry that we are conducting at the moment. We believe that our report on alcohol problems has to be considered in conjunction with the health of the people themselves and the effect that alcohol perhaps has in bringing about such conditions. This is a very vexed problem and is not one that is capable of easy solutions.

May I mention some of the problems. If we encourage Aboriginal people to move away from European centres of population and into outstations, how are we to provide the sophisticated health care that will enable us to control the situation generally? How are we to provide that sophisticated health care in fringe camps when people are moving around? How are we to prevent people from moving around from one place to another when they believe that if someone has died in a particular location they must move their home? How are we to overcome the neglect of children- the problem of children not being fed because their parents are drinking extensively, so much so that they cannot provide the care that is needed? These problems are real and the solutions are not easily provided. There is no doubt that this Government and the former Government had these problems very much in mind. The efforts of our Committee are centred upon coping with them. I believe that our Committee could sufficiently widen the scope of its current inquiry to ensure that these aspects are covered in greater detail. I think it is best that we consider these problems in conjunction with our present inquiry which, as the Hansard record of the Committee shows, is taking us around Australia. I submit also that such a course would save a considerable amount of taxpayers' money as it would avoid unnecessary duplication.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles -Order! The discussion is concluded.

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