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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1812


Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (17:34): This bill is an admission of defeat. Clearly, it is an admission of defeat, and all the government can do is just try to suppress the symptoms. That is what is happening here. Unfortunately and sadly, I have had to preside over a town, my own home town of Mount Isa, where we have had 25 suicides—and I think that 21 or 22 of those were first Australians.

In the forum that we had—and we thank the Prime Minister very much for sending up the relevant minister—the locals said that whenever they have a person at risk all they have to talk to are some whitefellas who are entirely foreign to them in every way. They are not people the locals are going to open up to or feel comfortable with. They are not people from the local community. A huge amount of money is going to these people, money that really should be going to the local people. They are not trained, because I do not think that it is an area in which you can be trained. It is an area in which, if you have an ability to relate, it can be of some advantage.

I was quite staggered when I heard about the last two suicides as they were very much middle-class people. They were not people who had come in from the community areas, driven out by the liquor laws into the very bad rabbit warren areas in all of our towns and cities in North Queensland. I asked a person about the problem, a man whom I greatly respect—and I do not know whether I should mention his name, but I will—Chris Squelsh, who works in this area in North Queensland. Chris said, 'If you are a young mother and you get a knock on the door from the police sayingthat your son has been accused of throwing rocks through windows'—and Chris was not referring to any mother but just quoting numerous cases that he had had over the last two or three years—'or if you are a young mother and you have QBuild knocking on your door because you have not paid your rent and giving you one week before they throw you out into the street and your children are crying as they have no food because your husband took all the money and blew it on grog, gambling and everything else, or if you are a young mother and the children's services'—and this is very relevant to this bill—'turn up and say that they are taking the children off you because they are not being properly looked after, what would you do in that situation?' Chris said, 'What would you do when your husband is bringing all his drunken friends over for a party at the house with all the ills that follow on? Would you be out of your mind with terror?'

This bill gives power to further terrorise these poor people. Are we addressing the problems that exist there? If I had the power, I could fix this thing up in 10 seconds in that town. It is simply a matter of separating the 15 people living in a house with everyone getting on each other's nerves and a complete lack of anywhere to sleep even within the house of a night, no air-conditioning and absolutely unbearable heat because the house they built was enormously inappropriate.

All of the land around Mount Isa is pastoral lease land. The government can resume it at any time they feel like and divide it up into one-hectare blocks or smaller. There is no curbing and channelling or sewage required or anything. We are talking about maybe $20,000 at the outside. Then they can build their own houses with CDEP money. Sometimes I feel that I must be a very ineffective person because I have come in here and logically, again and again, put up simply what the people asked for. I was a minister in Queensland. I cannot claim any credit for this. Let me be very specific. Greg Wallace at Napranum said, 'We will get people to work for the dole.' Extraordinarily, he got people to voluntarily work for the dole. He got on 60 minutes, such was the reaction. It is the only time that 60 minutes did two programs on the one issue within two weeks. Noel Pearson's brother Gerhardt—and I should not identify him that way because he is a person in his own right—as CEO of Hope Vale rang me up and said, 'Why can't we use CDEP money to build houses?' Gerry Hand said, 'That is a great idea.' I am not here to denigrate the minister, but I put this idea to the minister again and again. When I put it to Gerry Hand, within two weeks we had the CDEP money mobilised to build the houses. Gerry said, 'What a great idea,' and I cannot help but add that he said, 'That is a brilliant idea; it could not have come from you.' I said: 'No, it did not. It came from a bloke called Gerhardt Pearson, CEO at Hope Vale.'

But that was not the end of the story. I name with great pride my late and great friend Lester Rosendale, one of the most prominent people in Aboriginal affairs in Australia. One of my staff got a job with him because she also had very great respect for Lester Rosendale. Lester and Eric Law, who was effectively head of the department that I was responsible for, got an agreement that all houses would be built by exclusively local Indigenous labour. I was very angry because it was a fait accompli. I was not even consulted. These two senior public servants just took it in their own heads to go off and do it. One was a Hope Vale boy and another one a Cherbourg boy, but both were very senior-ranking public servants. I as the minister was very angry that I had not even been consulted. I said, 'What are you going to do: ask people who cannot even read or write to build their own houses?' They went ahead with it. They ignored me and boxed me into a corner and we built the houses.

That is still not the end of the story. Donnie Fraser, the Mayor of Doomadgee, rang me up and said,' Why can't we build our own blocks?' I had a terrible fight with him which he won. I said, 'All right, 'I will put one or two in as a pilot,' and they were tremendously successful. When we were up at TI a few days ago they said, 'Why can't we access the blocks from the block-making machine at Bamaga?' I said: 'I don't know if it is still going. I think I put it there and that was an awfully long time ago!' But then they produced their own blocks. We only had enough money to build 600 houses, but as a result we ended up building over 2,000 houses from not paying a king's ransom to white contractors. I am not denigrating white contractors—some of them are good mates of mine—but they have to pay people to come in, they have to pay their board and accommodation and, because they are away from home, the people have to be paid a fortune in travel costs. It is week on, week off in half these cases. They are going backwards and forwards all the time at enormous cost. If you do not work with local labour, you double the cost simply because you are flying people in to build the homes.

People will take great pride in their homes. Mossman Gorge is still one of the leading tourist attractions in North Queensland. When I went there every single home had graffiti and worse on the sides and the windows smashed. Some of them were fibrolite and you could look straight in because the fibrolite had been broken as well. The grass was waist high. When they started building their own homes there was not a single mark of graffiti, and they tell me there is still not a single mark of graffiti. All of the lawns are mown down to almost manicure status. They went out and got their own tourist operation. Again, I emphasise that I had nothing to do with it. I say to the minister for the 400th time and I tell the House for the 400th time that there are two simple things that you can do. The people of Australia gave you the power in 1966. And if there were any doubt the High Court gave it to you again in the case of Mabo, Passey and Rice and the Queensland government. They gave you the power to issue title deeds.

I went up there to do a bit of campaigning and, most of all, I desperately needed to know what the position on title deeds was in the Torres Strait. I did not speak—it is pretty rare for me not to get a word in—because people were jumping for the microphone to say they needed title deeds. We did not initiate the discussions; at the two public meetings they initiated the discussions. One meeting was called by the trade union, but they all came along and talked about title deeds. This is so simple. If you issued title deeds at Yarrabah they could borrow money and build their own homes. After all, it is the Yarrabah people's land. People say it is not as simple as that. I found it was as simple as that. I simply sat down. Lester Rosendale had already done it at Hope Vale, and I simply copied what Lester had done at Hope Vale. They said that the only title deeds there, the only privately owned land that is not owned by people of European descent, are because of title deeds issued in that brief period. Everyone thought I would be there forever and these laws would be there forever. Everyone was on island time and they did not do what they should have done, which was to get in and take up the title deeds when they were on offer. Some of them did and that is what they were talking about the other day.

Having returned from the Torres Strait, I cannot speak today without saying—and I have to choose my words very carefully—there is a race of people there that have diabetes in epidemic proportions. I have had discussions with Professor Wronski about this as he was the first person to tell me about it. I went there as minister until 1990 and every meal I had was locally produced: fruit, vegetables, dugong, turtle or fish, with fish being the predominant one. They have fish traps there et cetera. When I went there for closing the gap, I could not work out if the minister goes up there. People were screaming out in rage about closing the gap; the gap is widening into a gulf. We went there on a closing-the-gap delegation—what a joke. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed to return there. Not a single thing has been implemented or done to overcome the problem. Joey Masbi from York Island screamed out and his brother or cousin Thomas who runs the bus said: 'Joey is dead right. AQIS is starving us.' By AQIS he means the Fisheries Management Authority and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority which are enforcing things to please the Greens and get the support of the Greens. It would be nice if Minister Macklin would listen to what I am saying, but I do not suppose she listens to any of the first Australian people either.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Kennedy is reflecting upon the minister. I call him to account.

Mr KATTER: The minister is not interested in listening to these people who are dying of diabetes because they have no fresh fruit and vegetables. There is no employment there. You will not let them build their own houses. You will not give them the title deeds so they can do it for themselves. (Time expired)