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Thursday, 26 October 1978

Dr EVERINGHAM (Capricornia) - With qualifications which I will briefly outline, the Opposition supports the concept. As the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) has acknowledged, many of these principles have been put forward for some time by members of both sides of the Parliament. We are concerned that the creation of an Aboriginal Development Agency should not be just a cosmetic operation to kid Aboriginal and Islander people into believing they will have real selfmanagement, if the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is to retain the power of veto in significant areas. We are particularly concerned that a veto could operate for an indefinite time and at several levels and that the Department and the Australian Aboriginal Development Agency will be frozen in their rather impotent stance vis a vis the States, particularly Western Australia and Queenland where it seems that State controls over Aboriginal affairs are repeatedly given priority.

There are many questions left unanswered in this brief statement and it is probably not appropriate that a great deal of information be provided at this stage before the consultations with Aboriginals envisaged in the Minister's statement have taken place. There are particular points that I think need clarification. First of all, the statement seems to imply there will be three sources of funds. This is not strictly correct because the Land Fund Commission is normally regarded as being incorporated in the Enterprise vote in any case. The Minister is talking about $ 10.6m, some of which is already committed to enterprises which are currently operating under the Enterprise vote. The Minister does not guarantee that he will continue funding even at present levels. He says only that additional funding will be considered in the next Budget. Qf course, we know that already.

I admit that Aboriginal consultation and decision making should take some priority before the Government is committed. But we think that it is high time that some commitment was made whether the rather planned disaster areas floated by while so-called experts such as the turtle farming, the crocodile farming, the emu farming and the oyster project which are currently operating, should continue to eat up the funds of the Enterprise vote despite the setting up of an Aboriginal controlled agency. That has not been spelt out.

There have been cutbacks in the amounts available to Aboriginals for almost every purpose, if we allow for inflation, since the Hayden Budget of 1975. The Minister's statement is in Une with the Government's practice of saying that it will do something and then consulting with Aborigines after the event. We would like to be assured that some consultation will take place beforehand. The Opposition acknowledges that these principles have been put forward, to a large extent, by Aborigines. Nevertheless, it is dangerous to be committed too far before it is acknowledged that these statements and proposals have come from the grass roots level. A typical example, of course, is the Ranger negotiations, which resulted in a complete reversal following prolonged, difficult and detailed negotiations, because the grass roots involvement was not present at the beginning. I trust that early steps will be taken to see that when the Minister and the Department consult with the bodies he mentioned- the National Aboriginal Conference, land councils and so on- feedback is accepted right down to grass roots level and that it comes back, particularly in the continuing development of this Agency. The feedback from the grass roots level should be heeded and should have effect because if it does not Aborigines will continue to cop out of the decision-making processes as has been their traditional role, taught to them by bitter experience over the years.

We would like to know that there will be some continuing commitment to funding, at least at the present level. We believe that when the Government is planning development projects of an ongoing kind, it should realise that this Agency deserves some sort of commitment, at least on a rolling triennium basis such as has been adopted for education commissions and research authorities. The Minister mentioned cooperative efforts with sources of income other than Federal. He mentioned particularly the Aboriginal Benefits Trust Account. We would like to know whether this means more government control over the Aboriginal Benefits Trust Account or is this co-operation to be completely voluntary? We would like to know whether the Agency will have any independence in raising loan funds and negotiating borrowings, comparable to the independence of State governments, local governments or semi-government institutions. I think that it is high time that the Government started to look closely, if it has not already looked closely, at the question of a treaty of commitment such as has occurred with indigenous people on other continents- a commitment to provide at least for several years, possibly 20 years, a defined percentage of gross national product or mineral income, or both, as a recognition of the need to repay the indigenous people for the priceless assets that we have taken from them in the pursuit of profits, destroying the land which is the basis of their culture and their social structure.

In the past, there have been some fairly scandalous delays in allocating Aboriginal Land Fund Commission funds. The Government appears to be very reluctant to give this Commission priority over mining interests or any other interests that they want to purchase, for example, a pastoral lease. This is evidenced by the years of delay in approving the purchase of the Bing Bong pastoral lease until the occasion when -

Mr Viner - That is not true.

Dr EVERINGHAMThe Department knew about it at least two years before it was purchased by Mt Isa Mines Ltd. It failed to acquire it before the mining company bought it. To me, that is a scandalous delay that has not been explained by the Government.

There is also a growing queue for housing funds. The number needing Aboriginal housing is growing faster than the houses are being provided. It may be that extra funding in this particular field in the Budget may overcome the backlog but I am very dubious about that. Many people are not putting their names on the waiting list because it is so long. The moment that need is met at a faster rate, it is quite likely that more people will put their names on the list. We wonder whether playing around with current funds for the Aboriginal Loans Commission also will lengthen waiting lists for urgent needs. Some commitment might have been made to giving sympathetic consideration to Aboriginal requests which I have no doubt will come very early in the piece for prompt delegation of administrative authority to local communities and councils. This could be negotiated and discussed with the Aboriginal bodies within particular limits or levels for particular communities just as, for example, the States are given funds of which certain proportions are allocated to local authorities.

In the same way, some Aboriginal agencies should be able to delegate the use of funds to other organisations without having to get detailed approval in every case from the Department. For example, it would be nice to know whether the Government would prevent this Agency setting up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Panel which the Government dissolved this year against the wishes of Aboriginal organisations. It was against the wishes of just about every organisation with which I have consulted or had contact and against the wishes and the advice of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. It was no doubt discontinued as a money-saving exercise but the evidence seems to be that it will have the reverse effect because this was a highly economical procedure.

We would like to know whether more or less Aboriginal freehold land will be acquired. Will the land councils be recognised and funded in North Queensland and in northern Western Australia?

We would like to know whether Aboriginal co-operatives will be fostered further and helped to become more self-sufficient, to widen their activities and to undertake, eventually, local government functions and decision making in the educational and vocational fields and in health services supervision. To what extent will this be helped, inhibited or co-ordinated with the new Agency? These are questions that cannot be answered in advance. At least, we would like some government commitment to the principal of self-management, self-determination and an Aboriginal majority on the organs which make these decisions.

In summing up, we would also like to be assured that consultation with Aboriginals will not be confined to their representatives in European-designed organs such as the National Aboriginal Conference, the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and the Aboriginal Loans Commission, as was the case with the first Ranger negotiations. We would like to know that this is not just a cosmetic exercise, that the Agency will have real power and that in fact powers will be transferred from the Department. The Public Service Board structure is so rigid that it actually destroys Aboriginal confidence and very often is counter-productive. We hope that the present system will be phased out rapidly in favour of this Aboriginal-controlled exercise and in line with the concepts of commission which the Labor Party in office used very widely to achieve progress, community participation and feedback from the grass roots level. Such commissions which came within the responsibility of my portfolio at the time were the Hospitals and Health Services Commission, the Australian Capital Territory Health Commission and the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission. Other commissions which did not come within my responsibility were the education commission. Of course, in years gone by, we have seen similar involvement with housing commissions and all sorts of bodies that are not constrained by this terribly stifling departmental procedure or mechanism. The Public Service Board hand too often has killed Aboriginal selfmanagement, Aboriginal self-confidence, the development of their independence and the restoration of their dignity and self-respect.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bourchier) adjourned.

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