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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3232


Mr BLANCHARD —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, I present the report of the Committee entitled `Return to Country: The Aboriginal Homelands Movement in Australia', together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the Committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.


Mr BLANCHARD —by leave-This report is about one of the most significant features of Aboriginal affairs in the last 15 years, the movement of Aboriginal people to homeland centres or outstations. In my tabling speech I will not attempt to summarise the report but instead highlight the most important aspects of the movement, the approaches which governments should take in relation to the movement and some of the wider implications of the movement for policy in Aboriginal affairs. The Committee found a strong desire on the part of many Aboriginal people living in remote Australia to return to areas of spiritual and economic significance to them and settle on a relatively permanent basis in their homeland areas. The movement is very much an Aboriginal initiative, as Aboriginal people seek to establish more autonomous and satisfying lives for themselves in their homeland areas. The movement also reflects the tremendous dissatisfaction with life in the former settlements, reserves and missions into which Aboriginal people were encouraged to move from early in the twentieth century to as recently as the mid-1960s. These artificially created communities had great social problems which Aboriginal people have sought to overcome by moving to homeland centres.

As a result of the strong Aboriginal desire to return to homeland centres which the Committee has identified, the Committee sees a long term future for the homelands movement. In some areas, homeland centres have now been established for as long as 15 years and show a great degree of permanency. In other areas, however, the homelands movement is just getting under way and it can be expected that in the next 10 to 15 years homeland centres in some of these areas will develop. In the Committee's view, homeland centres, with their associated resource centres, will form the most important residential pattern for Aboriginal people in remote areas and will provide Aboriginal people generally with a more satisfactory life than was available in the central communities.

To date government at all levels has not responded in a sufficiently positive way to support the homelands movement. There are a number of reasons for this. The funding of the homelands movement has been seen by governments to be very costly. Governments have also tended to see other areas of Aboriginal funding as being of greater priority. In particular, the Committee would point to the continuing priority which many governments accord to funding the central communities despite the continuing social problems which exist in these communities. The lack of funding to the homelands movement has also been a result of the desire of governments not to be overly intrusive in their support for the homelands movement in recognition of the degree of autonomy which Aboriginal people have sought in moving to homeland centres.

The Committee considers that a more positive response from governments to the homelands movement is required. The Committee considers that the funding of the movement should not be enormously expensive and when the tremendous social and other benefits which will flow from the movement are taken into account the funding of homeland centres should be seen as a valuable long term investment.

The Committee considers that the funding of homeland centres should be seen as a priority area because of the extent to which the movement reflects Aboriginal initiative. The Committee is concerned that the allocation of priority to other areas, particularly the funding of major communities, may tend to reflect policies which in some senses are outdated and discredited. It is also the Committee's view that the provision of facilities and services to homeland centres, if done in a way which accords with the needs of homelands people, will not be intrusive. Inevitably, the Committee considers that support for the homelands movement is going to mean increased expenditure for both Commonwealth and State and Northern Territory governments. The Committee considers that an appropriate division of responsibility for the funding of the homelands movement is for the Commonwealth Government to assume largely a seeding role in relation to the movement while State and Northern Territory governments should be responsible for the basic facilities and services which they provide to all their citizens.

The role of the Commonwealth Government, then, should include initial establishment funding for new homeland centres, the funding of out-station resource organisations and the funding of special programs which will provide greater economic independence for homeland communities. Special Commonwealth funding could also be provided in particularly expensive areas of service provision in education and health areas.

The Committee is strongly of the view that State and Northern Territory governments should be funding the provision of water supply and reticulation, roads and airstrips, housing and shelter and education and health services in homeland centres. These are basic responsibilities of the State and Northern Territory governments. The Committee sees no reason why Aboriginal people living in homeland centres should not receive an equitable share of State funding for these basic facilities and services.

Within this overall approach which governments should be taking in the policy and funding support of homeland centres the Committee has identified the following priority areas: There are a number of homeland groups without secure tenure over the land on which they are living or on which they wish to live, and priority must be given to obtaining secure tenure for these groups. This is a particular concern in relation to a number of groups seeking excisions from non-Aboriginal owned pastoral properties in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The Committee considers that the motivations for these groups wishing to establish themselves on pastoral properties are similar to the motivations of other Aboriginal people returning to their homeland areas and that these groups should be considered as part of the homeland movement. Security of tenure over land is essential if facilities and services are to be provided to excision communities.

The Committee has also given emphasis to measures which will improve the environmental health conditions on homeland centres. These include the provision of adequate quantities of good quality water to all homeland centres, the provision of housing and shelter which meets the needs of homeland communities, and the provision of ablution facilities and sewerage disposal systems. These are areas which should largely be funded by the State and Northern Territory governments.

The movement of people to homeland centres also offers the opportunity for them to achieve a greater degree of economic independence and self-reliance which is not available to people in the major communities. The extensive land base which is available to many homeland communities has enabled homelands people to tap traditional subsistence resources and engage in a range of other projects which contribute to their well-being. The autonomy of homeland communities has also placed them in a position to make decisions about their future economic situation and to assert a substantial degree of economic independence. The Committee considers that this economic independence and self-reliance needs to be encouraged and supported and has made a number of recommendations to provide this support. The Commonwealth Government has an important role in this area. Education and health services also need to be extended to homeland communities to a much greater extent than is currently the case, but it is essential that these services accord with the desires of homeland communities and are largely controlled by the communities. They should not become imposed services unrelated to Aboriginal needs.

The experience of this inquiry has been a gratifying one for Committee members. The homelands movement is a demonstration of the desire of Aboriginal people to take control of their future and an indication to governments of Aboriginal priorities. The Committee sees it as essential for governments to respond to the priorities which Aboriginal people have shown by providing strong support for the homelands movement.

Finally, I would like to thank my fellow Committee members, the Deputy Chairman- the honourable member for Bradfield, (Mr Connolly)-the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron), the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell), the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Gayler), the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) and the honourable member for Lowe (Mr Maher), for their co-operation and assistance and support during the inquiry. I would also like to express my thanks to the staff of the Committee who assisted during the inquiry. I am glad to see them in the chamber. I thank the Secretary of the Committee, Mr David Elder, whose enthusiasm and dedication greatly assisted the Committee in its work. The Research Officer, Mr Bert Penders, and the Steno-secretary, Mrs Mollie Cranswick, also deserve our thanks. I make particular reference to the Committee's first Aboriginal secondee, Ms Andrea Collins, who worked with the Committee on this reference. Ms Collins's personal attributes ensured that her appointment was a great success and the Committee will be seeking to appoint Aboriginal secondees to work on its future inquiries. The Committee also thanks Mr Ron Morony of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, who was attached to the Committee for a three-month period. It gives me great pleasure to commend the report to the House.