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Wednesday, 10 October 1973
Page: 1836

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) - I should like to associate myself with 2 remarks made by the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross). Firstly, he said that an Aboriginal policy in this Parliament could be a bi-partisan policy. I think that this is true. We may differ - I am sure we will differ - in this chamber about the means to be taken to help the Aboriginal people but I do not think there is any difference on either side of the House or, indeed, in any party, on the proposition that we should do everything practicable to help the Aboriginal people. There is a reservoir of good will in this chamber and I should like to extend to the new Minister for Aboriginal

Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) my best wishes and hope that he will be able to succeed in his portfolio. The second remark of the honourable member for Brisbane with which I should like to associate myself was his phrase that we must discriminate now in this generation in favour of Aboriginals so that in the next or some subsequent generation there will be equality. I think this is the core of our problem.

In this debate members have spoken of the need to have an understanding of the Aboriginal problems. This is so, and I noted with particular interest in the estimates that are before us the increased grant to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. I know that this body, an academic body, has a world importance outside Aboriginal welfare. That is true. But it has also a tremendous amount to contribute to making a successful policy on Aboriginal welfare because, without understanding, whatever money we spend will be wastefully spent. Understanding can come only from a greater knowledge of the Aboriginal's position, his aspirations, his psychological problems and what must be done in order to help him to achieve equality with other Australians.

I know that of the increased grant in these estimates for the Institute, a great deal will be spent on 2 projects, firstly, on linguistic study so that the very commendable initiative of the present Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) in making available teachers in Aboriginal languages for primary and infant schools can be more readily implemented. The other matter of major expenditure in the Institute will, of course, be the cataloguing of Aboriginal sacred sites. This, again, I think is related very much to a successful approach to these problems of Aboriginal welfare.

I advert now to certain matters which were raised in the Senate last night. I think that it is right and proper that I should say something in regard to them. It will be recalled that Senator Georges, who is a member of the Australian Labor Party and not a member of the Liberal Party, launched in the Senate a very vehement - if I may say so - attack upon the administration of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. He tried - I do not intend to canvass whether it was with justification - to suggest that a tremendous amount of blame rested on the Department and that the ex-Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant) had to bear the brunt of the Department's faults. I have no evidence to say whether this is correct but

I simply draw the attention of the Committee to the very serious charges which were made against the Department by a senator of the Labor Party who apparently had been closely associated with the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and had been associated with some of the matters he was criticising.

Perhaps the main point of what he was saying was his criticism of what he called the turtle enterprise in the north of Queensland where turtle farming is being undertaken by Aboriginals. This project was initiated by me, I think in 1970 or early 1971, when I was the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs. I did it on an experimental basis because I believed it was something which was well worth following. I did not, at that stage, envisage it on any large scale because I thought that experiment was necessary to ascertain whether large scale implementation was justified. I think, if my memory serves me correctly, that an amount of $30,000 - do not hold me to that figure but it was something like that - was allocated for the small initial experiments. I believe that these experiments were justified. I will not at this present moment commit myself to saying whether the project will turn out to be viable. I do not know, but I was quite certain that it was a project which had a reasonable prospect of success.

I will not go beyond that except to say that a call has been made in the Senate for an independent inquiry to be made into what has happened. I think it would be justifiable to defer that inquiry for perhaps a fortnight until 2 things have 'happened; first, until a commissioned report by Dr Carr, a world expert on turtles, is available - and I am told that this will be available in about a fortnight - 'and secondly, until the files have been produced in the Senate or in this House. I understand that the new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs proposes to table them and honourable members can then have a look at them. We will then be able to determine the scope of the necessary inquiry. I feel that, on the basis of what Senator Georges said in the Senate last night, some kind of independent inquiry is necessary. The scope and nature of it might wait for perhaps a fortnight, but I do not think that it should be indefinitely delayed. I only suggest that the setting up of the inquiry should wait until these other reports and information are available.

I should have liked to refer to some major matters today but time will not permit me. I listened to the honourable member for

Hunter (Mr James) who made a colourable point when he said that it may be desirable not to go too fast in certain of these matters. I agree with this point. I do not think for one moment that we should be niggardly in any expenditure which can be profitably employed. If the money can be used effectively to help Aboriginal people it should be made available. That is our prime responsibility. However, I am worried about the extent of the money provided in these estimates, not because I think that it is unjustified but because I fear that it is encouraging too much the mentality of the handout amongst Aboriginals themselves and, because we are moving too fast, it may be that we are doing damage to these people. I am not trying to save money; I am trying to help the Aboriginal. It is important that we do not put out the fire by piling on too much fuel too soon. There are many things that I would like to have said. These matters of Aboriginal policy are ones which cannot be-

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Mr WENTWORTH - I am sorry, Sir, that I have to stop at this point. There are many other matters that I would like to have raised.

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