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Tuesday, 7 October 1986
Page: 1588

Mr CONNOLLY(10.33) —The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies was established by a former coalition Government in 1964 as a statutory authority under its own specific Act of this Parliament. Section 6 of the Act sets out the functions of the Institute. They include:

(a) to promote aboriginal studies;

According to the Act, `aboriginal studies' means anthropological research and study in relation to the Aboriginal people of Australia, including research and study in respect of culture and languages. The further functions of the Institute, according to the Act, are:

(b) to publish, or assist in the publication of, the results of aboriginal studies;

(c) to encourage and assist co-operation amongst universities, museums and other institutions concerned with Aboriginal studies; and

(d) to assist universities, museums and other institutions in training research workers in fields relevant to aboriginal studies.

The Act goes on also to identify the function of promoting Aboriginal studies primarily by giving financial and other assistance to the carrying on of those studies under the auspices of universities, museums or other institutions, et cetera.

It is a matter of great concern to me, therefore, as a member of the Council of the Institute, which is a responsibility put upon me by this Parliament, that at a meeting of the Council last Thursday a sum of $72,589 was proposed to be spent as a grant to an historian, Dr Peter Reid, to write a political biography of Charles Perkins, who is currently the Secretary to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. As I said, this Institute was established to foster genuine research into Aboriginal history. In the Act the function of anthropological research, the study of Aboriginal people and so forth is quite explicit. Accordingly, it is difficult to see how a political biography of Charles Perkins could possibly meet the above definition.

It is also improper and, in my opinion, a gross misuse of public funds and of considerably dubious merit that a political biography, paid for with public funds, should be written while Mr Perkins is still actively involved in Aboriginal politics and, equally significant, is a senior public servant. The grant not only is contrary to the stated objectives of the Institute but also is being made at a time when the Institute's funds have been reduced and a substantial number of worthy research projects cannot be supported. The proposals that were put to us last week were for a total research budget for 1986-87 of $200,000. Eighty-six applications were considered; 42 were recommended for funding; and funding was provided for a mere 19. That works out at an average of $10,526 each. Yet the Perkins book proposal, funded over two years, was to involve a total of $72,589.

It may benefit the Parliament to know that applications for funds for many worthwhile programs have been received, such as the South Australian Aboriginal language survey, historical research of the Walgett area, social impact assessment in the east Kimberleys, survey of Aboriginal sites on Christmas Creek station, bibliography on Queensland Aborigines, the Fleurieu Peninsula archaeological survey, economic viability of Aboriginal grants to secondary education and cross-cultural training for Aboriginal community development. It is in that context, therefore, that I take grave exception, as I am sure will other members of this House, to the fact that, at this stage when the Institute has received a letter from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) setting out the need to cut back real funding by 3 per cent in the next three years, it is prepared to make funds available for projects such as this.

As a result of the strong disagreement of some members of the Council, including me, it was agreed to fund the author for only 12 months and to review the progress of his work thereafter. Nevertheless, I strongly object to the use of the Institute's funds for this purpose. It is highly irregular to use public funds for a biography of a public servant. If the project had merit, the author should have applied for funds from other sources, such as publishing houses, the Commonwealth Literary Fund, the Literature Board of the Australia Council or the Australian Bicentennial Authority, as the book was supposed to be published in 1988 and as it is apparently supposed to have some impact on Aboriginal attitudes towards the Bicentenary. I strongly suggest that the Secretary to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Charles Perkins, re-examine his involvement in this proposal. His credibility is at stake, and credibility remains a matter of supreme importance in any leadership role for any community. The Aboriginal people need far more than political biographies.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.