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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1659


Senator PETER BAUME(3.57) —No wonder Senator Ryan did not lead for the Government in this debate. The Government's record is too embarrassing and Senator Ryan's record is too embarrassing to bear to have us consider it. She is not just the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) in this chamber. She is at this moment the Acting Minister. She is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs pro tem for the Government right now. A motion has been moved in this chamber about the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and the Minister at the moment-Senator Susan Ryan-has not had the courage, the ability or the willingness to come in here and defend the record of her Government. I think she has not come in to the chamber because she cannot defend the record of the Government.

We have a series of outstanding advisers-the Deputy Secretary to the Department, Mr Jacka, Mr Brownbill, Mr Hand and Mr Miller-sitting there with no front bencher to advise. Having worked with these officers, I would say that they are officers as good as I would find anywhere in the Public Service, and they deserve better. The Department deserves better than the very weak defence we have seen presented so far by Senator Reynolds, who simply read a series of briefs and did not answer the questions at all.

Senator Ryan came into the Senate on 3 December 1980-none of the Labor people who are to speak in the debate were even in the Senate at that time-and, in one of her many speeches on Aboriginal affairs, moved a motion which included, inter alia

. . . the need for the Fraser Government to take all legislative steps necessary to eliminate discriminatory practices against Aboriginals by the Western Australian and Queensland State Governments.

That is what she demanded in 1980 when she was in opposition. Further, when she was in Opposition she had no hesitation in presenting to the Senate a Bill drafted and promoted by her. Mr Brownbill sitting in the adviser's box had to help me understand what in hell it was about. She had the Bill ready then when she was in opposition. The Bill obviously met her satisfaction. She was not calling then for extensive consultations. She wanted a Bill passed right then and there. In fact it was passed in this chamber and went to the other House. Labor came into government and, two years later, where is the legislation that was so urgent in 1982? There has been not a word, not a bit of legislation. What the Labor Party said when in opposition is not what it is prepared to do when in government.

The Labor Party was very big on having Labor Party interests print thousands of slogans saying: 'Land rights now'. Labor people handed out those bits of paper and stickers to many Aboriginal groups and supporters around Australia. The slogan was 'Land rights now', but they should have printed in brackets: 'While we are in opposition'. When the Labor party comes into government, where is its action? Where is the action to back up the kind of rhetoric with which it went to the Australian people? There has not been any action because these people are not all about action. They are all about wheedling votes out of people and then not delivering when it comes to the point.

This debate is about confusion and uncertainty. It is not about the intentions of the Government. The saying goes that good intentions butter no parsnips. Honourable senators opposite should not tell us what they intend to do. They have had two years to do something and their record is abysmal. Their record has disgusted Aboriginal people around Australia. Their record has saddened them. It is no good the Government telling us that it intends to do this and it will have consultations on that. What has it been doing for two years? I will tell the Senate what the Government has been doing. It has been breaking the hearts of Aboriginal communities, who actually expected it to deliver on some of the things it promised.

This debate is about uncertainty and confusion in the Government's handling of the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio. It is a debate in which the Minister for the moment will not even take part because the record is indefensible. The confusion and the uncertainty mean that the Aboriginal people of Australia are not getting a fair go. At the end of the day that is what is wrong-they are not getting fair treatment.


Senator Elstob —They didn't get a fair go when you were in.


Senator PETER BAUME —I say to Senator Elstob that the Aboriginal people actually got legislation, they got a fair go, when I was Minister. I am saddened that the Aboriginal people I knew are coming to me now and saying that they have been betrayed. The Minister, Mr Holding, who is out of the country during the crisis that is going on, makes big statements while he is overseas but he does not deliver while he is at home. I quote from today's Sydney Morning Herald a statement which purports to come from Yellowknife in Canada. These are the words attributed to the Minister:

I'm just going to find that the level of racist nonsense here which denies all rights to indigenous people, denies the social statistics-and makes the kind of glib assertion that all you need to do is provide money for housing, education and health and everything will be all right . . .

The Minister is correct in what he says in Yellowknife. Just telling us how much money the Government has provided is not enough. This matter is not just about money. It is about actually helping Aboriginal people. It is about the Government keeping its promises, because Aboriginal people today feel betrayed. How do I know? I know because they are telling me that they feel let down. Only yesterday I, like Senator Reynolds, met a delegation of my friends who were the National Aboriginal Conference members for New South Wales-people I have known for years. They told me in words of one syllable that they did not trust Mr Holding. Mr Holding has let them down. Mr Holding will not listen to them. His form of consultation is to sit with them, fidget, look at the clock, and then tell them what he has decided. The Aboriginal people's trust in government has been eroded, after it was so carefully nurtured during the period when the Labor Party was in opposition. Now that the Labor Party has to deliver, it cannot do so.

I remind all the Labor senators who will take part in this debate that Mr Robert Riley, the Chairman of the National Aboriginal Conference, on 21 February this year went on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation AM program and had a number of things to say about the Government's land rights proposals. He was asked about the previous Government and this is what he had to say:

The record of the Liberal Government is there to be seen. It has got legislation in the Northern Territory. There is legislation that applies in South Australia.

I interpolate that that was also introduced by a Liberal Government-

The only piece of legislation the Labor Party can stand by is the Interim Heritage Act and I don't think too many aboriginal people think too positively about that. Malcolm Fraser has got the record there and Bob Hawke has not.

Those are the words of Mr Bob Riley, and they are correct. That is true. Of course, it is also true that the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act is due for review, revision and change; but what Mr Riley says is correct. We actually had legislation passed. Our Liberal colleagues passed that Pitjantjatjara land rights Act in South Australia. The Government has simply betrayed, let down, confused the people who have come to it for trust. It simply is not good enough. Of course, Senator Ryan when in opposition was very ready to intervene. She was determined that her private member's Bill for national land rights legislation should be debated because it was urgent. She was very insistent that it went through the Senate. The Acting Minister at the moment will not even take part in this debate because of her record and her Government's record, which is so abysmal and disappointing.

The uncertainty has been caused because the Labor Party does not match rhetoric with its action, to the detriment of the Aboriginal people, who are the most depressed, disadvantaged and in greatest need of any group in our society. The Minister does not, perhaps cannot, consult, even when he has promised so to do, and the Minister does not communicate. I say again that perhaps he cannot communicate. Whatever the reason, Aboriginal people are saying he does not communicate and does not consult. There is confusion because the Party speaks with many voices, not with just one voice. It has many conflicting messages. As my Leader said, depending upon who the audience is, so the message will be received. The Labor Party is saying different things.

I want to talk about the land rights legislation for one moment. We hear from Premier Burke in Western Australia one message. We hear from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the Commonwealth Parliament a different message. We hear from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) yet a different message. We hear from the left wing, through Mr Tickner and Mr Hand, another message again. We hear all these different messages about what the Government will or will not do. Aboriginal people are confused, and so they should be. The rhetoric does not match the action, and certainly this applies to the land rights situation. I ask people to contrast in their minds the very firm position taken by the Labor Party at its policy-making conference. There was absolutely no doubt what it was saying at the conference on what should be done about land rights. It is irrelevant whether I agree with that. I remind people of what Mr Hawke said before the election when he was asked to comment. He was in Perth during the election campaign, and in Perth the subject of land rights was sensitive. So Mr Hawke said:

. . . you could 'get a commonality of principles in Australia without having Federal Legislation going over the top of State Legislation which meets these principles'.

How very convenient. That was a very convenient statement to make in a State where that was the right thing to say, regardless of whether it matched up with what the Labor conference had said, whether it matched up with what the Minister was saying, and whether it matched up with what was going to happen after the election. What has been the reaction of Aboriginal people following the announcements, when they saw what the Government proposed, when they saw the way in which Mr Burke and Mr Holding argued? When the Government put out its preferred model, Mr Rob Riley, again on the ABC AM program on 21 February, said:

The some rights don't add up to what was promised and what is expected of this Government. This Government came to power as a government to reform and change. But it really has not done that.

He continued:

This Government has proven time and time again that it will listen to public opinion before it will develop anything politically.

He was very sad because this meant that the Aboriginal people were likely to lose out. What is so tragic is that the preferred model put up by Mr Holding for land rights is a weaker package than that which the Liberal Government enacted in 1976 for the Northern Territory. The Fraser Government's Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, which I and many of my colleagues voted for, which we supported and which I as Minister administered, is a stronger Act than the preferred model the Labor Party is putting up. How does that match with the rhetoric of the Government?


Senator Lewis —And we were criticised at the time.


Senator PETER BAUME —We were criticised, but we have the record, and Labor has caused confusion and uncertainty everywhere. The confusion and uncertainty have been added to by other things, such as broken promises on health. No action has been taken on the promise to examine Queensland's health provision. There has been no provision of the promised extra funds for trachoma programs. There has been no action to increase the collection of health statistics, as promised, and no action to increase the provision for the Aboriginal public health improvement program, as promised. There has been no delivery yet of the promise made in Derby in July 1985 by Mr Perkins that water and sewerage would be provided to all communities in the Kimberley by June 1986. Aboriginals have the greatest needs of any group in Australia. The report of the Borrie National Population Inquiry put the matter as well as anyone could when it said of Aborigines in 1975:

They probably have the highest growth rate, the highest birth rate, the highest death rate, the worst health and housing and the lowest educational, occupational, economic, social and legal status of any identifiable section of the Australian population.

For God's sake, if the Government is to make promises to the Aboriginal people, it should deliver. If it promises to consult, for goodness sake let it consult. It is the satisfaction of these needs which requires a government of sensitivity, care, patience and skill. This Government has exhibited none of those things. There is confusion and uncertainty and the Hawke Government should be condemned for what it has failed to deliver.