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Tuesday, 25 September 1973
Page: 1464


Mr CROSS (Brisbane) - The Australian Government has a clear mandate to change the way of life of the Aboriginal people of Australia. In the policy speeches of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), when he was the Leader of the Opposition, at both the 1969 and 1972 elections, Aboriginal affairs played a very important part. This legislation is a recognition that the Commonwealth can benefit very greatly by co-operating with the States. It seeks the co-operation of the Australian States in the transfer of certain public servants in the policy and administrative areas of Aboriginal affairs. I think we all appreciate that the Commonwealth has unrestricted power in the Northern Territory but it shares power with the States elsewhere. The road ahead in Aboriginal affairs is not a simple one. The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) and the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) have spoken about the complexities of Aboriginal affairs as they see them. The road ahead involves co-operation with the States and liaison with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands people of Australia. Of course, we all realise that whilst the Torres Strait Islanders are Aborigines within the strict interpretation of the word, they are proud to retain their own identity as Islanders.

It would be easy for the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant), who brings to this portfolio a great deal of enthusiasm and sincerity, to go ahead and chart out policies to benefit the Aboriginal people. But unfortunately it is not as simple as that. Perhaps I should withdraw the word 'unfortunately'. The facts of life indicate that it is not as simple as that because we are committed to liaising with these people in working out future policies. A great deal of energy at this point in time is being devoted to working out this process. Liaison with the Aboriginal people was never carried out very effectively under the previous Government. When the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) was, under the Prime Minister, MinisterinCharge of Aboriginal Affairs, some conferences took place. When Mr Howson, the former honourable member for Casey, was the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, government policy was to liaise with the organisations set up in each State. In my own State of Queensland, for example, this meant the liaison committee assisting the State Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. It represents communities only, which means only approximately one-third of the Aboriginal population of Queensland.

The honourable member for Herbert, in criticising the proposal for the establishment of a national Aborigines consultative council, did not take into account what has actually happened. Earlier in the year the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs brought together a representative group of people who had been involved in Aboriginal affairs He asked them to recommend the manner in which Aborigines could be consulted in the future. They suggested to him in 2 conferences in Canberra, and in a number of regional conferences, that an elected national Aborigines consultative council be set up. Australia is a large nation. This matter has involved a great number of discussions and I am told that more than 2,000 Aborigines have attended regional conferences to discuss it. This matter has yet to come back to the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party's Aboriginal Affairs Committee for further discussion with the Minister. To do this job properly and really to evolve patterns of consultation with the Aboriginal people, is not something which can be hurried because we are not in the business of pushing around the Aboriginal people of Australia. But a lot of things have happened. There has been a great expansion in the Department, which was previously the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. It is now the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. There is a much more vigorous Commonwealth role. The Government has sought to encourage members of this House to take a greater interest in Aboriginal affairs by appointing by resolution the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. This of course is an all-party committee and as Chairman of that Committee I acknowledge the very willing co-operation that we receive from Opposition members of this House as well as the part played by honourable members on the Government side. All of these things have served their own useful purposes. But it is impossible for any Australian Government to solve the problems without the cooperation of the Aboriginal people and without the co-operation of the States.

The word 'centralist' has been thrown into this debate by the honourable member for the Northern Territory. This Government recognises that it cannot solve problems in Aboriginal affairs without co-operation with the States. Indeed, legislation which will be introduced to follow the Budget will give a very substantially increased amount of assistance to the States for Aboriginal advancement. The preceding Budget provided $22m for this purpose. The proposed expenditure under the legislation to be introduced later this year will provide $31,750,000- an additional $9m for the States for their own programs. Does this show an attitude of a Commonwealth Government that is trying to exclude the States from the field? This is not the intention of the Australian Government at all. It is the intention of the Australian Government to develop a healthy co-operation with the States. The expenditure for this year for Aboriginal advancement is: Education, $4,600,000; health $9,il 34,000; social security and welfare, $3,230,000; housing and amenities, $14,786,000 - a total of $31,750,000. Of course that expenditure is quite outside the amount that the Commonwealth will spend on its own behalf. That money comes out of an expenditure from the Aboriginal Affairs Trust Account for the year 1973-74 of $73.5m. It is a massive amount of money. It is the function of the Commonwealth Government in co-operation with the States to see that it is wisely spent.

I want to pay a tribute to the co-operation which we receive from the State Governments. Firstly, I should like to say that it is not the purpose of the Commonwealth Government to set up a Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs which is similar to the department which exists, for example, in Queensland at present. In its day that department managed the affairs of Aborigines from the cradle to the grave. I know that some changes have taken place in the Queensland legislation. I should like to see all restrictive legislation removed. But we see the Commonwealth as taking over the administrative and policy functions and the States as playing their role in servicing the Aboriginal people of Australia in State schools and hospitals and the like in the same way as they treat other people in the community. I think we all acknowledge the co-operation with the States in a whole range of programs.

I cite an example from Queensland. The Commonwealth Department of Labour has a scheme for pre-employment training. Through the Commonwealth Employment Service it selects and offers pre-employment training to young Aborigines who might be short on skills but show that they are not afraid to work. These young people are offered the opportunity to go to technical college or elsewhere to acquire skills which they might use to improve their income. We recently had a course of about 20 young men from northern Queensland who attended the Eagle Farm Technical

College at Brisbane to learn basic welding. There is quite a demand for people who can weld in garages and in repairing agricultural machinery and the like. The scheme is a useful exercise in Commonwealth-State co-operation. The Commonwealth Department of Labour, through the Commonwealth Employment Service, locates the trainees. The Queensland Department of Education makes available places in its technical colleges. The Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs arranges accommodation for the young people at the Bulimba Hostel. Of course the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs monitors the program and provides the money. So we see in the future an increasing level of co-operation with the States. Anyone who suggests that we are in the business of excluding the States is being quite unreal, when so many basic services such as health, education, housing and the like in our community are financed through State Governments.

There is a need for a Commonwealth presence on a regional basis throughout Australia. The steps are now being taken to establish a Commonwealth regional presence. The honourable member for Griffith who spoke earlier mentioned that applications had been called for the provision of Commonwealth offices in Brisbane, associated with the hostel at Hill End but other applications had been called for Commonwealth offices at Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and Brisbane, and of course in other States as well. A Commonwealth presence is needed to assess priorities; to liaise with State government departments and Commonwealth government departments to co-ordinate their activities; to lead and to assist Aboriginal organisations that might be seeking financial assistance, initially perhaps, to prepare a submission if people in the organisation have an idea that deserves support, and then to be able to attend meetings to counsel people on how to spend money and how wisely to administer public money if it is entrusted to their care. So it is necessary for us to establish a Commonwealth presence.

Given the fact that it is the objective of the Commonwealth to avoid unnecessary duplication by having 2 different administrative functions in Aboriginal affairs, it is the policy of this Government to arrange with the States to transfer public servants in that area. We have not always agreed with the attitude of the States in Aboriginal affairs and we do not agree with all of them at the moment. In fact I venture to say that probably if we went to any State we could see some aspect of Aboriginal affairs that we think perhaps we could handle better than the State. On the other hand, of course, it may well be, as I think we would all acknowledge, that in some areas we have learned a lot from the States. The States have many officers of talent and ability. The purpose of this legislation is to enable them to transfer to Commonwealth employment and to protect their employment by guaranteeing them remuneration in no way less than they receive today, but to protect them insofar as superannuation may be concerned and in other entitlements. In other words the purpose of this legislation is to enable us to bring into Commonwealth employment State government officers who have already contributed in the field of Aboriginal affairs and who have something to contribute in the future within the areas of Commonwealth administration.

I think that we would all agree that it is a very worthwhile piece of legislation. I mentioned the organisations that the Commonwealth helps. Speakers on the other side of the chamber mentioned a number of programs that had been assisted by the Commonwealth. The honourable member for the Northern Territory mentioned turtle farming - a project that started off as a pilot scheme under the previous Government and has now arrived at the stage where massive capital investment is necessary if what was a pilot scheme is to be expanded into a viable industry. Naturally any Australian government will look at the project carefully and sympathetically when it is called on to spend large amounts of public money, to ensure that the industry is economically sound and that it is technologically sound. When I say economically sound I do not necessarily mean that it should be profitable in the sense that some Australian industries which pay large interest rates are profitable. But surely we ought to be encouraging anything that enables Aborigines to be given a better life than living on unemployment benefits or on subsistence agriculture or fishing.

The road ahead is not an easy one. The honourable member for Griffith has given some attention to the hostel at Hill End. He suggested that it is an example of indecision on the part of the Australian Government. We need many more hostels like Hill End. When the Commonwealth has an office in Brisbane, I hope that it will be possible to work out priorities for the acquisition of hostels to suit the range of needs of Aboriginal people. What happened with respect to Hill End is very simple to explain. The Baptist Church, in its wisdom, decided to build a new theological college at Brookfield or Kenmore and offered the building to OPAL - the One People for Australia League - as an Aboriginal hostel if OPAL could find the money. The State Government put the proposal to the Commonwealth Government without telling it that it was intended to vest the hostel in the hands of OPAL and suggested, if my memory serves me correctly, that about 90 people could be accommodated there. The initiative was taken by the State Government.

The Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs, which is not sympathetic towards large hostels because they are not easy to run, looked at this proposal with a somewhat sceptical eye. Because it was in such a desirable locality and because it was so handy to town, a technical college, a university and schools, I took the view that it was a suitable site for a students hostel and suggested to the Minister that he acquire it for that purpose. The Minister came to Brisbane at Easter and inspected the hostel. The honourable member for Griffith was absent at the time, but I recall telling him several days later that an inspection had been made of the hostel in the electorate of Griffith. The hostel was acquired with that purpose in mind. A little later the Government looked at the whole question of vesting hostels because it was obvious that a large number of hostels had to be acquired. In the past, grants had been made to organisations to acquire properties. In other words, the Commonwealth acquired a valuable piece of property and handed it over to a private organisation. So the Minister, in his wisdom, set up an organisation called Aboriginal Hostels Ltd in which the ownership of Aboriginal hostels acquired by the Commonwealth will be vested and which will have the authority to administer those hostels and if necessary or if it is thought desirable lease them to an appropriate organisation or in other ways manage them.

The funny thing about hostels for students is that one connects students with programs only at the start of a year. The hostel will become available much earlier than that. In point of fact it is probably being transferred to the Commonwealth somewhere about now. The theological college of the Baptist Church is shifting out. Should the hostel at Hill End be left empty? Aboriginal Hostels Ltd discussed this problem and decided, because the demand by students is not there at the moment and because there is a demand for accommodation by young working girls, that the hostel should be used for the accommodation of these girls. I put it to the honourable member for Griffith that the people of Hill End are not concerned so much with whether they are school girls of 15, 16 or 17 years of age or workers of 17, 18 or 19 years of age as with the fact that the hostel is well run and is playing a positive role. An iron clad guarantee has been given in that respect.

I am prepared to state in the Parliament, as I have stated elsewhere, that I support the decision which has been made by Aboriginal Hostels Ltd not to leave the hostel empty but to accommodate young working people in it at the present time. There will be a need for other hostels, but it is not wise to hurry too much into such a situation. A wrong decision which is made at a place like Hill End could bring the Commonwealth under a great deal of fire, especially if the hostel is not properly managed. The important thing is that it should be. The people of Hill End have been given an absolute guarantee by the Minister that it will be. That guarantee stands.

This legislation is designed to effect the transfer of State public servants to the Commonwealth Public Service. They will make a useful contribution in the future in a joint enterprise by the Commonwealth and the States to a bettering of the way of life of the Aboriginal people of Australia.







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