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Thursday, 5 March 1970


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -I call the honourable member for Robertson and remind the House that this will be his maiden speech.

Mr COHEN(Robertson) [4.29|- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I first pay tribute to the 25,000 people of Robertson who sent me to this place and to the magnificent band of Labor supporters who worked so hard and effectively during the election campaign. It is to their great credit that 20 years of defeat in Federal elections has not dimmed their enthusiasm. May I also pay tribute to my opponent, Mr Bill Bridges-Maxwell and his supporters for the very tough and hard but fair campaign which they fought.

I believe that it is traditional for a new member in his maiden speech to range over those subjects that are of special interest to him - a sort of persona] manifesto. It should not be too difficult to bring those subjects to light in this debate as most of the areas of special interest to me were either totally ignored in the Governor-

General's Speech or lightly glossed over without any real attempt to get at the basic cause of the ills that exist. I have the honour to represent not the largest or the smallest electorate in Australia - not the wealthiest or the poorest - but certainly the most beautiful. For those who are unfamiliar with the electorate of Robertson - some people tend to confuse it with the town of Robertson in the electorate of Macarthur - it is that area of land usually designated as the central coast of New South Wales; the area between the cities of Sydney and Newcastle commencing at Moonee on the Hawkesbury River in the south and extending to Swansea on the shores of Lake Macquarie in the north, lt is unquestionably an area to which nature has been generous. It is an area of gently sloping and wooded hills, superb lakes and lagoons, magnificent beaches and a general atmosphere of peace and tranquillity that is in striking contrast to the hustle and bustle, the industrial smog and the urban ugliness of metropolitan Sydney and Newcastle, lt is an area that through its beauty and its bellbirds has been immortalised by Henry Kendall. I paint this picture not because 1 wish to wax poetic or make honourable members jealous but because the great natural beauty of the electorate of Robertson is highly relevant to the case for special treatment that 1 shall he putting before this House.

The central coast developed originally as a rail head for agricultural produce, dairy produce, citrus and timber but in more recent years, particularly since World War II, it has become, because of its great beauty and charm, a retirement haven for senior citizens, a pleasure resort and one of the few places left within miles of Sydney where young people not able to afford the exorbitant prices being charged for land in Sydney could build a home at a reasonable price. This development has created a number of difficult problems. The first is the enormous strain now placed upon those workers who, through economic circumstances beyond their control, are forced to travel long distances to work. Many spend up to 4 hours a day travelling to and from Sydney. The second problem is caused by the high proportion of aged people who now reside in the electorate. The shires of Gosford and Wyong have probably the highest proportion of aged people of any shire in Australia. They have approximately 18,500 people over the age of 60 years, or 23% of their population, compared with the national average of about 12*%. Later I shall outline the multitudinous problems that a society such as ours creates when its elderly citizens, both superannuitants and pensioners, after a lifetime of contributing to the welfare and prosperity of Australia, are given a small1 pittance to eke out a subsistence living and are then forgotten. lt is a measure of the Government's inability to get to grips wtih the problems of aged people that we now see another few small attempts to patch up the present creaking social welfare legislation. While we welcome the assistance to the meals on wheels scheme and the payment of standard rates of pension to married couples who have lost the economies of living together, it appears that minor adjustments such as these are handed out from time to time to make it appear that the Government is genuinely concerned with our elderly citizens without ever really understanding the needs of the aged. Where in the GovernorGeneral's Speech was there one suggestion of an awareness that yesterday's workers are ill equipped through their employment history adequately to enjoy the extra years that medical advances have brought them? Where in the Speech or in any recent legislation is there recognition of the loneliness and boredom that is one of the least recognised problems facing the elderly? Last year the Government passed an Act to provide finance for the establishment of senior citizens centres and the recruitment of social workers, dependent on the States joining on a one-third basis with local community organisations. Perhaps the Government cri1 now find a way to force its Liberal Party colleagues in the New South Wales Parliament to make the States Grants (Home Care) Act of 1969 operative.

The other reason why I stress the unique beauty of the central - coast is because a little more than 18 months ago the New South Wales State Planning Authority released its outline plan for the Sydney region in which it proposed an increase in population in the central coast area to 500,000 by the year 2000. The year 2000 may seem too far in the future for many honourable members opposite to imagine, as they live mostly in the past, but if I remind them that it would be equal to the period since the beginning of World War II they may be able to realise how quickly the year 2000 will be upon us. Of course, not all of these people will arrive in the year 2000; they will come in an ever increasing flood during the next 30 years. It would be fair to say that at least 200,000 people will be in the central coast in 10 years time.

We have a unique opportunity in the Central Coast to avoid the mistakes of the past - the mistakes made in all the metropolitan areas of Australia. We have the opportunity to avoid many of the problems that exist in today's cities. In the past few months the question of environment has become not only an issue of local or national concern but an issue that is occupying the attention of the nations around the world. We are now aware that progress that leads to a diminution in the quality of life of its citizens is not progress but regress. Never a day passes without some new outcry against air and water pollution, traffic congestion, destruction of our flora and fauna, despoliation of our beaches and urban ugliness and visual chaos. Couple these crimes against nature with the continued shortage of amenities that affect the everyday lives of our citizens - sewerage, schools, hospitals, recreation facilities, roads and highways and one becomes aware of the ghastly lack of planning that has accrued since our society developed into primarily an urban society.

Where in the Governor-General's address was there recognition that these problems exist? I forgot who it was - it may have been the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) - who said Liberal governments never act, they only react. Having almost lost an election it is now in the process of attempting to do something about the crises that have existed in many areas such as the health and rural fields in an attempt to salvage some of its tattered image before the Senate elections later this year. But once again it has missed the bandwagon.

The Leader of the Opposition has for many years urged the Government to do something about the chaos in the cities and now that the issue is in the forefront and has been taken up by all the mass media, the Government demonstrates its complete inability to gauge the tempo of the times by ignoring the whole question of environment altogether. What is needed is a recognition by the Government that not only do these problems exist in today's cities but that they ought to be combated and that they can be avoided in tomorrow's cities by good town planning and civic design. lt should also recognise that good planning and design will only occur if and when governments make available to local and semi-government authorities the sort of finance that will enable them to employ the expertise they so desperately need. Or as the Labor Party suggested in its policy speech, for the Government to provide the experts - the ecologists, demographers, architects, engineers and town-planners - and then provide them with the wherewithal for them to make their suggestions and recommendations a reality. As I said before, we have a unique opportunity to create a magnificent city for the proposed newcomers who will be coming to live on the Central Coast. We have the councillors and the public spirited and civic minded citizens with the imagination and vision to seek and accept the advice of experts. All we need is a government that will no longer stand aloof from these challenges and give us the financial assistance and expert guidance we so desperately need.

I would like to touch briefly on a number of matters that I hope to be speaking on in more detail when the opportunity arises, for they were motivating factors in my deciding to become a political activist. I have always been concerned with the question of prejudice, whether that prejudice be based on class, religion or race. Today the world seethes with racial unrest - in the United States, in parts of South East Asia, in sections of communities all over the world. However, at least today's discrimination on the grounds of race or colour is either formally disowned where it exists, or legally discouraged with varying degrees of conviction and success.

There remain only two States in the world where racial superiority has been raised to a fine legislative art. These countries are South Africa and the illegal regime of Rhodesia. What concerns me is the number of members on the other side who warmly champion the causes of these two oppressive regimes.

The people of Australia have just had the opportunity of hearing one honourable member revealing his sympathies and his place in the political spectrum. Of course, he is only one of a small group who have revealed themselves from lime to time on the other side for their espousal of every extremist cause in the world. One or two departed from this place at the recent federal elections but unfortunately many still remain. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) stands condemned for his action in appointing one of their number to the Ministry. One can imagine the reaction amongst our neighbours in the near north or in the newly emerging countries of Africa and Asia when they read of the appointment of the Minister for the Navy (Mr Killen).

While 1 concede that all members on the other side do not sympathise with the attitude of this particular group - and I commend the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) for his question to the Prime Minister on Tuesday - it seems to me that there is an attitude of racial superiority prevalent amongst some honourable members on the other side that is demonstrated in the Government policies toward South East Asia - in particular Vietnam - towards New Guinea with its paternalistic colonialism, its immigration policy and its inability to carry out a concerted attack on the question of Aboriginal advancement. It is covert rather than overt racism for it often to pretend to be doing this by doing a little window dressing. When one gets down to examine the situation in regard to Aboriginal affairs in detail one finds that little has in fact been done.

That leads me to the last subject and the one T intend to deal with in more detail - the subject of Aboriginal advancement. It is now nearly 3 years since this Government was given the green light by the Australian people to get on with the job of lifting the Aboriginals out of the mire of despondency and degradation that they had wallowed in since the arrival of Captain Cook, almost 200 years ago to the day. During recent weeks I have had the privilege of visiting north western New

South Wales with the Labour Caucus Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. What a great gap exists between the myth that Aboriginals are making giant steps forward and the reality that exists on the squalid shanty settlements on the outskirts of these country towns.

Having read the speeches of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Wentworth) over the past 3 years, one would find it difficult to criticise the Minister's basic grasp of the problem or his genuine desire to seek advancement for Aboriginals. Having studied the many forward looking changes introduced by the Minister, such as the creation of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, the setting up of the Capital Fund for Aboriginal Enterprises, the Study Grants for Aboriginals, the employment programme to assist Aboriginals and the amounts of money passed on to the States for disbursement throughout the fields of education, health and housing, one would have expected to see some radical changes already taking place in the standard of living of the vast majority of Aboriginals. Instead we found them still living in conditions that are scandalous in the extreme.

During the visit the Committee viewed living conditions of Aboriginals on a number of reserves, a former station and a housing settlement and of those settled in townships. The Committee also visited a hospital, a pre-school kindergarten, a school, a police station, hotels and a Returned Services League club. We also talked with council officers, school teachers, local graziers, business people, police, a doctor, a Child Welfare officer, ministers of religion and publicans. In general, the housing conditions of Aboriginals were unbelievably bad. From figures we received there appear to be at least 148 tin humpies dotted throughout the area. Figures we were able to collect were as follows, and these are only estimates, as no accurate figures appear to be available:

 

We also found 12 sub-standard homes on the Aboriginal Station approximately 7 miles out of Walgett. It was difficult to assess the number of people living in these humpies, but it seems to be well in excess of the normal European content of a home. There seemed to be general agreement that there were from 5 to 6 people per humpy, although for the sub-standard homes we received a figure of 148 people - an average of about 12 per home. This would mean that approximately 1,000 people, of whom well over half would be children, are living in tin shanties, patched up with bits of hessian, with earthen floors and generally living in conditions little better than those in which one would put an animal.

There was evidence of some activity in housing and we were informed that IS homes had been built in Walgett during the past 18 months or so. This, however, would leave approximately 74 families living in sub-standard conditions. All Aboriginal problems are inter-related and none is more obvious than that of health. The deplorable housing conditions create unsatisfactory conditions for personal hygiene, with the subsequent high rate of ill health amongst Aboriginals, particularly children. Figures shown to us illustrated that the high infant mortality rate of 87 per 1000 was 2i times greater than the white infant mortality rate of approximately 35 per 1000.

It appears that the average Aboriginal family has approximately 6 children to a white family's 3 children. Aboriginal mothers lack the training and knowledge to provide children with proper pre-natal and post-natal care and this results in an extreme danger period for infant mortality between the ages of 6 months and 4 years. The medical officer at Collarenebri District Hospital, Dr Kalokerinos, put forward the theory that lack of proper nutritional diet, together with lack of immunity to European diseases and the appalling housing conditions that continually cause re-infection once a child has been brought back to health, were major factors in the high incidence of ill health and infant mortality among Aboriginal children. Moreover, even if death did not occur at an early age - I stress this as a most important point - these constant illnesses of Aboriginal children caused by lack of proper nutritional diet were primary factors in Aboriginals in many instances having a mental development below that of their white counterparts. By the time an Aboriginal child had reached school age it was often 2 or 3 years behind its white contemporaries.

To support these theories I should like to quote from an article in 'The Medical Journal of Australia' of 21st February 1970 by Dr David G. Jose and Mr John S. Welch of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane. The article states:

Growth measurements and clinical data were obtained from 2,250 children on six Aboriginal settlements in Queensland. Growth retardation affected up to 50% of Aboriginal children aged between 6 months and 3 years. Severe retardation occurred in 16% of this age group and was accompanied by anaemia and infection. At two missions where early infant feeding was supervised children showed normal growth patterns, suggesting that Caucasian growth standards also apply to Aboriginal children. Genetic factors influenced growth variations in some areas. Clinical and dietary findings, lower concentration of nutritional factors in the blood of growth-retarded children in relation to normal controls and growth responses following the addition of specific nutrients to the diet, suggested a deficiency of multiple nutritional factors in these children.

Nutritional deficiency in pregnant mothers and infants and inadequate early infant feeding were considered primary initiating factors, but infections with subsequent intestinal malabsorption were important secondary factors precipitating and maintaining growth retardation. A high proportion of children dying from gastro-enteritis or pneumonia, or found to be suffering from deafness, had a previous history of growth retardation. Some evidence was presented that children with growth retardation have poorer educational and employment records than children with normal growth.

Let me again quote Dr H. C. Coombs, Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs. In an address to the Australian College of Physicians on Aboriginal Health Dr Coombs quoted Dr Moodie .of the School of Tropical Health, Sydney University, who reported that compared with births representing 2% of the population, total Aboriginal deaths in the appropriate category represent 10% of all infant deaths, 28% of all deaths in the 1 to 2 year group, and 9% of all deaths in the 2 to 4 year group. The rate of 28% for the second year crf life is 20 times the Australian average and is, he reports, not declining. 1 stress this matter because if the Government is genuine in its desire to advance the Aboriginals to the level of the rest of the community, it ought to get to the root cause of Aboriginal backwardness and attack the problem where it begins - through ill-health caused by inferior and scandalous housing conditions and lack of proper postnatal care and education. '

It was most difficult to obtain accurate statistics on Aboriginal employment, but it was generally conceded that employment was extremely difficult to find on a permanent basis for Aboriginals in the whole area. A considerable amount of study would have to be done to draw accurate conclusions, but the impression one gained was that only a small percentage of Aboriginals had regular employment, large numbers were itinerant workers, many received irregular work, and quite a number were almost permanently unemployed or unemployable. One interesting fact which did arise was in consultation with local shire officers at Bourke and Brewarrina who informed us that the best situation regarding Aboriginal employment had occurred during the drought. This rather surprised members of the Committee who naturally inquired why. We were told that during the drought about $700,000 had been made available for draught relief and that this had been used to employ Aboriginals in various public works in the community - road building, kerbing and guttering, parks, etc. The officers pointed out that Aboriginals became used to working regularly and receiving a regular weekly cheque. They mentioned also that the local graziers on receiving their cheques spent them at Palm Beach and Toorak, but not in the local community. They said that they preferred to give the money to the Aboriginals because it had to be spent locally.

They said that during this period there was a marked improvement in almost every aspect of Aboriginal behaviour, with greater reliability, less drunkenness, fewer social problems, etc. They pointed out also that as a number of Aboriginals with large families would receive from $20 to $30 per week in unemployment benefits, they could not understand why the Government did not make up the difference to at least the basic wage of $42.30 and ensure that Aboriginals had full employment opportunities. lt was quite obvious that almost all the unskilled jobs and menial tasks were performed by the black population. Few, if any, appeared to hold positions higher than this.

One conclusion that drew was that as the north west area is so badly served with first class roads and the greater part of inter-town transport is upon black soil or gravel roads, the opportunity to solve two problems in one by providing the finance to build tar sealed roads could be made if the Government would grant special assistance. Unfortunately time did not permit a thorough investigation of education but only a very cursory glance at Collarenebri school and little more than a S-minute chat to some of the school teachers. We were pleased to see the new pre-school kindergarten at Bourke which seemed to be well appointed and run by teachers with great enthusiasm for their work. We were informed at Collarenebri that a pre-school kindergarten had commenced and had received a paltry grant of $1,200 from the Federal Government.

I see that my time is just about to conclude. Unfortunately I have not been able to say all that I would like to have said about this tour. I suppose an opportunity will arise shortly when I will be able to do so. I should like to comment on a community attitide which was rather disturbing. Most of the people with whom we spoke - I exclude quite a few because there were some very enlightened people in the area - described the Aboriginals as being lazy, dirty, unintelligent, unskilled, unreliable and sexually promiscuous and. said that generally speaking little could be done to help. What was terribly important was that those most involved with the Aboriginals - the police and school teachers - seemed to have had little training or understanding of the problem.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.







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