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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2189


Senator TEAGUE(7.22) —By coincidence, the two honourable senators who have spoken in the adjournment debate tonight raised matters relating to Aboriginal communities. Senator Kilgariff spoke about Kakadu in the Northern Territory and Senator Reynolds spoke about Aboriginal and island affairs in Queensland. I wish to speak for a few minutes about the National Aboriginal Day Observance Committee, National Aboriginal Day and National Aborigines Week which will be held in July or September of this year. On 9 May I asked a question in the Senate of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs ( Senator Ryan) in her capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding). I drew attention to the flood of 4,000 complaints which the National Aboriginal Conference had received from Aboriginal people about the action of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Holding, in arranging for the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee to postpone National Aborigines Week from July to September apparently chiefly to avoid a clash with the Australian Labor Party National Conference. The issue that arises is the method by which that decision to change the date was foisted upon the Aboriginal communities of Australia.

I have enormous sympathy for what Senator Reynolds had to say in support of the Queensland Minister for Northern Development and Aboriginal and Island Affairs, Mr Katter who, like Senator Reynolds, me and many of us in the Senate, has a genuine commitment to Aboriginal self-determination. But the Federal Government has made a gigantic blunder in respect of National Aborigines Week. In my question I went on to ask:

. . . did the Minister consult any Aboriginal communities before urging the change and, if so, which communities?

Senator Ryan had a brief in her hands which was given to her by the responsible Minister, Mr Holding. The brief, which was very carefully worded and mostly accurate, indicated that the decision had been announced by the National Aboriginal Day Observance Committee itself in mid-April. It was announced as its decision that National Aborigines Week would be celebrated this year, for the first time in 30 years, in September and that there had been growing discussion amongst Aboriginal communities for a change of date because of the weather. It was argued that it would be too cold to bring, for example, Aboriginal dancers from the north to the southern cities if the National Aborigines Week activities were held in July.

I was not convinced by the answer that Senator Ryan gave. She even said directly that the extension from July to September of this year rather than in 1985 may well have been because the Australian Labor Party National Conference was to be held in July and that this arrangement would avoid a clash. Her answer was crisp and very carefully worded, but I was not convinced. A few weeks have gone by since that answer was given. Yesterday I received a copy of a letter written by the Chairman of the Australian Capital Territory NADOC Committee to the Minister, Mr Holding. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a copy of the letter of yesterday's date which was given to me personally by the Chairman and which is addressed to the Minister. I have shown the letter to the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button), who is at the table. I also seek leave to incorporate an attachment to the letter which is a telegram sent by John Moriarty, the National Chairman of NADOC on 30 March to the ACT Chairman and other NADOC State representatives. Finally, I seek leave to incorporate a letter dated 11 May written by the Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Charles Perkins, to an Aboriginal community group in the Australian Capital Territory and to many other Aboriginal communities.

Leave granted.

The documents read as follows-

The ACT National Aboriginal Day

Observance Committee 1984

P.O. Box 619

Woden, ACT 2606

The Honourable Mr A. C. Holding, M.H.R.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs

Parliament House

Canberra, ACT 2600

My dear Minister,

re: NATIONAL ABORIGINES DAY CELEBRATIONS 1984

The ACT NADOC Committee requests that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs asks the National NADOC Committee to retain the July NADOC program of 1984. A telex sent to State Co-ordinators on the 30 March 1984 states that a request to change the date was made by you to Mr Moriarty. (Copy attached). This request must have influenced Mr Moriarty, National NADOC Chairman, in his decision to support the change of date from July to September 1984, not 1985, as was decided at the Perth National NADOC Committee meeting in March.

We believe that NADOC is for Aboriginal people. The decision to change the date has caused a strong backlash from the Aboriginal people and a considerable amount of conflict and confusion.

On Wednesday 16 May 1984 a meeting was held in Canberra with Mr John Moriarty, the general feeling of the people was to retain the July date. A further meeting with the Canberra community was called for Monday 21 May 1984. Twenty five people attended, a vote was taken at that meeting by a show of hands-

19 voted in favour of July

3 voted in favour of a change of date

There were 3 abstentions.

A letter from your Department was sent to Aboriginal organisations stating that NADOC functions held in July will not be funded, but that ''the Commonwealth Government is committed to fully supporting National Aborigines' Week in September and has agreed to provide additional funds and resources to assist Aboriginals in organising the celebrations''.

This is seen as an ultimatum issued to the Aboriginal people. Many committees are relying on funds to celebrate NADOC.

The National NADOC Committee should not rely on the Department of Aboriginal Affairs approval for the allocation of funds. If the Commonwealth Government believes in self-determination and is committed to fully supporting National Aborigines' Week, and to providing funds and resources to assist Aboriginals in organising their celebrations, it should be done without fear or favour.

To ensure a successful NADOC 1984 the July date should be supported by your Department. Funds should be released immediately to enable Aboriginal communities to finalise their arrangements. Furthermore, access to the Department's Public Awareness program should be available to all local NADOC committees to publicise July NADOC 1984.

NADOC was developed by Aboriginal people, for Aboriginal people, therefore any proposed changes should be made in consultation with the people before implementing any decision.

Enclosed is a copy of the telegram sent to State National Co-ordinators and the letter from your Department to Aboriginal organisations.

Yours sincerely,

FLO GRANT

Chairman, ACT NADOC Committee

Tel: 89 3427 (W) 31 4504 (H)

29 May 1984.

URGENT MISS S GRANT

INFORMATION SECTION DEPT SOCIAL SECURITY

POBOX1 WODEN 34

I HAVE BEEN REQUESTED BY THE MINISTER (CLYDE HOLDING) TO HAVE THE DATES FOR NADOC CELEBRATION THIS YEAR PUT BACK FROM JULY TO SEPTEMBER STOP AS YOU ARE AWARE, WE HAVE AGREED TO MOVE TO THE SEPTEMBER DATE NEXT YEAR STOP THE MINISTERS REASONS FOR REQUESTING THE CHANGE ARE 1. NADOC WILL BE CLASHING WITH THE BI- ANNUAL LABOR CONFERENCE, WHICH INCIDENTLY WILL BE HELD FROM 9TH TO 13TH JULY IN CANBERRA STOP THIS WILL EFFECTIVELY TIE MINISTERS AND GOVERNMENT POLITICIANS TO CANBERRA FOR THE WHOLE WEEK STOP 2. PUBLICITY WOULD BE GREATLY REDUCED AS EMPHASIS WOULD BE GIVEN TO THE LABOR CONFERENCE, 3. THE MINISTER CLAIMS THE EXTRA TIME WILL ENABLE NADOC TO HAVE GREATER EMPHASIS ON PUBLICITY AND FUNDING AS IT WILL INVOLVE A NEW FINANCIAL YEAR STOP I AM IN FAVOUR OF THE MOVE THIS YEAR, EVEN THOUGH THERE MAY BE SOME SHORT TERM DIFFICULTIES IN OUR COMMUNITY ALTERING ACTIVITIES FOR THE NEW DATES STOP I LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR URGENT RESPONSE ON THIS ISSUE, AS I WOULD NEED TO INFORM THE MINISTER QUICKLY STOP DO NOT HESITATE TO PHONE ME IF YOU WISH STOP

J MORIARTY

NATIONAL CHAIRMAN NADOC

COL URGENT S POBOX1 NADOC JULY SEPTEMBER SEPTEMBER 1. NADOC 9TH 13TH JULY 2. 3. NADOC NADOC

SECRETARY DEPARTMENT OF ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS M.L.C. TOWER, PHILLIP, A.C.T. 2606 78 /2241 11 MAY 1984

Dear Sir

I am writing to you and your organisation concerning arrangements for celebrating National Aborigines' week in 1984.

The decision to change the date was made by the National Committee of NADOC and not by anybody else.

The National chairman of the National Aborigines' Day Observance Committee, Mr John Moriarty, announced recently in a press release that the National Aborigines' Week would be celebrated this year around Australia from Monday 10 September to Sunday 16 September with National Aborigines' Day on Friday 14 September. As Mr Moriarty said in the attached press release, there had been growing pressure from the Aboriginal community to change the date from the depths of winter to a time when the weather in the southern parts of Australia is milder to ensure wider community participation. There was a lot of discussion on this point over a number of years, and many felt that September was an appropriate time to hold National Aborigines' Week.

I can well understand that some Aboriginal people may be concerned at this new change of date, especially as some arrangements may have already been made, and some events scheduled for July may not be able to be deferred. I would suggest you carry on with commitments already made but unfortunately the Government cannot provide funds for such events. However, I can assure you that activities held in September of this year promise to have the widest support and coverage yet at national, state and community levels through the network of NADOC committees.

The Commonwealth Government is committed to fully supporting National Aborigines' Week in September and has agreed to provide additional funds and resources to assist Aboriginals in organising the celebrations.

The resources of all Aboriginal Affairs portfolio organisations will also be available throughout Australia. The Government recognises National Aborigines' Week as a special opportunity for the community to better understand and appreciate Aboriginal culture.

This year provides the best opportunity yet for Aboriginal people to highlight activities which can act as a bridge between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities to help build understanding and awareness of the lives of Aboriginal people, and the role played by Aboriginals in Australia's past, present and future.

I seek your understanding and support for the change of date for National Aborigines' Week as September is really a better date for outdoor celebrations as well as indoor activities. Your participation in activities to make this a truly meaningful and successful occasion would be appreciated.

Yours sincerely

CHARLES PERKINS

Aboriginal Welfare Unit,

Social Welfare Division,

Department of Social Security,

22nd Floor Tower,

WODEN A.C.T. 2606.


Senator TEAGUE —The information contained in these documents has already been supplemented by my own direct conversations following receipt of the letters. The upshot of the matter is this: the Australian Capital Territory NADOC Committee is overwhelmingly still in favour of holding National Aborigines Week activities in July as it had originally determined. The situation is exactly the same in respect of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. The NADOC committees in those three States and in the Australian Capital Territory have said: 'Whatever the Minister may have sought to manipulate and whatever has been subsequently issued by the Chairman acting alone in terms of the change of date, we are sticking with the decision of the National Aboriginal Day Observance Committee meeting in Perth in March of this year, which was that in 1984 the observance would be as usual in July but that in 1985 the date could be changed to September.'

There is more to this matter than that. The first signal of the change was the telegram that was sent by John Moriarty. As I said in my question in the Senate on 9 May, and I repeat it now, I am not directly critical of John Moriarty or of any Aboriginal person but rather of the Minister. John Moriarty sent his telegram of 30 March 1984, only a matter of days after his Committee had resolved that July would be the continuing date-the same date as had been determined by, amongst others, Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls back in the mid-1950s . For 30 years it had been held in July. The Perth meeting resolved to hold it in July. Then, on the last day of March, the following telegram was sent: I have been requested by the Minister (Clyde Holding) to have the dates for the NADOC celebration this year put back from July to September.

It goes on:

The Ministers reasons for requesting the change are 1. NADOC will be clashing with the bi-annual Labor conference, which incidentally will be held from 9th to 13th July in Canberra. This will effectively tie Ministers and Government politicians to Canberra for the whole week. 2. Publicity would be greatly reduced as emphasis would be given to the Labor conference. 3. The Minister claims the extra time will enable NADOC to have greater emphasis on publicity and funding as it will involve a new financial year.

So it goes on. That telegram has been incorporated in Hansard and can be read in full. The answer given by Senator Ryan, the answer that has been made available to the public, is that the decision was made by the NADOC committees. But it was not. It was made behind the scenes by the Labor Minister. He manipulated one leader to make a decision for them all and poor John Moriarty was the meat in the sandwich. What has happened since then is that the offence has been added to with financial threats being made. The Government said: 'If you do not have National Aborigines' week in July, but have it in September, you will have ample financial support and all the Aboriginal portfolio organisations such as statutory authorities and government agencies will be fully available to help you. If you persist with having it in July, there will be not a razoo, not a cent. You will not get any financial support at all'. That was spelt out in a letter that has been incorporated under the hand of the secretary of the Department. I quote one relevant part:

I can well understand that some Aboriginal people may be concerned at this new change of date, especially as some arrangements may have already been made, and some events scheduled for July may not be able to be deferred. I would suggest you carry on with commitments already made but unfortunately-

I stress 'unfortunately'-

the Government cannot provide funds for such events. However, I can assure you that activities held in September of this year promise to have the widest support and coverage yet at national, State and community levels through the network of NADOC committees.

The Commonwealth Government is committed to fully supporting National Aborigines' Week in September and has agreed to provide additional funds and resources to assist Aboriginals in organising the celebrations.

The resources of all Aboriginal Affairs portfolio organisations will also be available throughout Australia.

That letter from Mr Perkins was dated 11 May 1984, when it had become known throughout Australia that the Aboriginal communities would not go along with a unilaterally determined date for that important event. They were not going to be taken away from a 30-year tradition of national Aborigines' weeks and hold it in September at the whim of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Even if poor John Moriarty had been caught like the meat in the sandwich, they would say: 'We have our own integrity and our own right of self-determination and we have already decided that we will not change the date this year'. So NADOC in New South Wales , Queensland, Victoria and in the Australian Capital Territory said to the Minister that they would go ahead even if he denied them the money. They said: ' We are individuals. We have our integrity. We believe in self-determination which is your rhetoric and we are going to make sure our integrity is not compromised'. I fully support the Aboriginal community's right of self- determination and not to be manipulated by a Minister of this Government or a Minister of any other government.

In conclusion I make a request that has been made already by the Aborigines. I ask the Government to show some good faith and to say that, if NADOC has responsibly endorsed sticking with the date which was agreed to at the national meeting in March in Perth, that it receives the same financial support that it would have received anyway and that it not be threatened or bullied by the Government saying that the money would only be available if it swapped to September. It is obvious that, if that money were not available, then upon the celebrations being held in July, the Aboriginal spokesmen would be giving the thumbs-down to the Government every time they spoke. In every speech and in every media outlet there would be reports as to the degree of help that was given in Australia to assist in the celebration of Aborigines' Week in the three major States and in the Australian Capital Territory. I do not know what is happening in South Australia and Western Australia. It may well be that the NADOC State committees have not given in to the bullying and have decided to stick with their original decision as well.

The second request I make is that the Government genuinely allow self- determination for Aborigines in deciding when and in what way National Aborigines' Week will be observed. Finally, I make the request that the Government apologise for the lack of consultation by the Minister. There was no consultation whatsoever with Aboriginal communities on this matter. Rather, one individual was manipulated to do what the Minister decided. I ask, too, that the Government apologise for the fact that there has been this background of manipulation of responsible Aboriginal leaders and luring them to be out of step with their communities. I ask also that the Government apologise for applying threats to withdraw financial support which is a blatant carrot and stick approach to try to coerce these communities to accept the decision of the Minister. Just as Senator Reynolds has rightly asked these questions that we value so much in respect of Queensland, we now ask them of this present Government. Let there be actual professions of self-determination, and let us see the Government come to terms with the requests that I have made. I believe that we will then see full support for the Aboriginal communities in Australia from both sides of this chamber and from all parts of Australia as they choose to determine their own celebrations for National Aborigines' Week.