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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1123

Senator WOODLEY (7.00 p.m.) —I also want to speak on this report and draw attention to a number of quotations from it. In fact, I would like more time to comment on a number of the issues which were addressed in the report, but I will have to limit myself. On page 173 the comment is made:

The nature of the mindshifts and structural reforms required to support the provision of water and sanitation are such that if governments fail to address them, little change will occur.

To balance any tendency of governments to inaction, the commissioner considers it essential that an independent evaluation of progress be made on a regular basis. I had my own opportunity, just two weeks ago, to witness this inaction at first hand, during a visit to Palm Island in North Queensland. I might add that I have visited many Aboriginal communities in the last 30 years but this is the first time I had been to Palm Island.

  I would like to thank the council and the chairperson Alf Lacey for their hospitality. During that visit they showed me the water supply for the island and the community, a most inadequate dam designed for a town of 1,600 people; a town which has had its population double in the last 10 years. There are now 3,500 people living in the vicinity.

  Three days before the last state election the government promised that it would instigate and institute a new water supply and a new dam. This was because the water supply at Palm Island had been affected by blue-green algae. The sad story is that although that promise was made before a state election, that dam has never been built. The only thing that is saving that community from the problem of blue-green algae at the moment is that heavy rain in North Queensland has meant the current dam is full to overflowing.

  Another part of the problem is the constant breakdown of the sewerage system which, again, was built for a township about half its current size. The problem is that the three tiers of government do not seem to be able to get their act together. I must say that the criticism is not levelled at this stage at the federal government; it seems that the federal government certainly has been prepared to deliver the funds necessary. The breakdown seems to be somewhere between the state government and the local council.

  The local council was simply unable to assist me on this matter because it had no information from the state government about when the dam was to be installed. I should mention that Palm Island is just off the coast of Townsville, which is certainly much closer to major population centres than most of the communities studied in this report. However, being an island off the coast, it is very much a case of out of sight, out of mind. One can imagine how much worse this is for communities that are far removed from the main cities and towns, such as those communities addressed in this report.

  I commend the report to the Senate and I hope that all senators will read it. I also hope they will take note of what is said and realise that until we address basic issues such as water supply and sewerage systems, we will be unable—no matter how much money we spend—to do anything about the health of Aboriginal communities. That is not only a national disgrace but an international disgrace. I underline the report's view that governments must consult and work together in order to solve the problems which it so graphically describes.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.