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Wednesday, 10 October 1973
Page: 1846

Mr BRYANT (Wills) (Minister for the Capital Territory) <3.52)- Thank you, fellow workers. It has been almost worth the 18 years to have received the tributes that I have received here today. It is true that yesterday I relinquished a portfolio which had taken a great deal of time and energy and all the rest that goes with it and I know that on occasions such as this my colleagues opposite who have thanked me and paid tribute to what I had done and who regretted my removal did not do so with their tongues in their cheeks. I appreciate their remarks. I believe that, hard as it is in some ways for a political character such as myself, but easy as it is for one with the socialist spirit such as my own, to regard anything in a bipartisan manner, it was necessary in the field of Aboriginal affairs to realise that this was a question for human beings that had very little to do with politics. I knew that we would clash in some areas of deep social policy such as land rights and so on, but, generally speaking, when it comes to treating people the way people ought to be treated, there is not a great deal of difference in the Australian community between left, right and centre about the immediate needs of the person on the ground. So, I appreciate the compliments that have been paid to me and I am very grateful for them.

I propose to treat my exercise in handling what were the estimates for my Department and what were my responsibilities in this House by giving a brief summary of what I think we were setting out to do and then saying something about those matters which have been raised by each speaker in the debate insofar as they asked a question of some sort. Firstly, I should like to refer to the problem itself. My Aboriginal friends, of course, say: 'It is all right for you. You have 120,000 problems but we have 13 million problems'. That is true enough. One of the problems is that all Australians have to learn to live in a bicultural, multi-racial society. The Aboriginal people in some respects reflect the furthest extension of the plurality of society, perhaps physically and perhaps also by the fact that they can be recognised immediately. In other respects I think that there is a true Australianism in so many of the Aboriginal people which perhaps makes it easy for them to assimilate with the Australian characteristics.

On a map on the wall of my office are marked 400-odd places where Aboriginal people live. Some have only 20 or 30 Aborigines and some of them have a thousand or more. In some of the big capitals they are submerged in the rest of the community. There are thousands of Aboriginal people. They are there, scattered right across the board, a community of its own, separate from but part of the Australian community. We have to resolve the way in which this problem can be sorted out so that the Aboriginal people oan live in the community in harmony with it, compatible with it, a part of it but for their own purposes in so many ways perhaps separate from it.

I have said continuously to the Aboriginal people that they can take comfort from the situation of other ethnic groups around the world. In particular I cite the situation in the Middle East of the Jewish people who have been able to keep for themselves a separateness while being a part of other communities for so long. I have been one of those who for many years has eschewed the use of any terminology about this. Our aims in social policy cannot be defined by terms such as assimilation', 'integration' and so on, but I appreciate the remarks of the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton).

There are deficient communities from one end of the continent to the other. What is the machinery to overcome this problem? I believe that unfortunately the Australian governmental machinery, both State and Federal in all probability but certainly the Commonwealth, has not been designed for immediate urgent action anywhere. We are very cautious in the way in which we approach matters. There are so many things to be considered when one is expending public moneys, making the estimates, preparing to inspect them, audit them, call tenders for projects, arrive at a conclusion and get action. This process unfortunately is not good enough where people's needs are immediate. So we set out to find out some of the problems. They were not all that easy to locate. We are setting out, I hope, to establish new kinds of machinery, but that will take some time.

I raise one matter - I do this because my own personal way of doing things is under consideration in the matter - regarding the remarks of the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) last night about advisers, consultants, and so on to Ministers. He said that their appointment was an imposition on the Australian parliamentary system which had sinister overtones, connotations or results. I am as deeply dedicated to the parliamentary institution as is anybody else but I think that the honourable member is over-rating or misunderstanding the situation. It seems to me that to be able to call upon reserves from within the community generally and the support of actions or the investigation of actions, is a necessary part of the democratic governmental process. We have been told repeatedly that the continuous expansion of the Australian Public Service is bad. I do not believe that. I think that in a modern complex society the Public Service will decide the kind of life we lead.

But take some of the things with which I am faced. We have a department which we hope, in conjunction with the Minister, will do what my colleague the Minister for Works and Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson) said it should do, namely, make all the other instrumentalities work. Therefore one does not set up housing services of his own, health services of his own and education services of his own. The separateness of these things in Aboriginal affairs from State to State and in the Commonwealth under the old Department of the Interior worked out badly. Therefore, it is more desirable to be able to call up the resources - intellectual, physical, technical and so on - in the community for the time being. This is what we have been doing and what I have done myself. I shall cite one example that honourable members in this House might know quite well, namely, the appointment of Captain Benson the former honourable member for Batman. Why pick Captain Benson? Not because he is a former member of the House or anything like that, but because he is the best in the business. He is also readily available, so that if one wants someone to look at luggers in Torres Strait Sam Benson can go there tomorrow and one needs to keep him for only 2 or 3 days.

Let us assume that his kind of expertise is aavilable in the Department and somebody is wanted to examine luggers in Torres Strait. That person would be sent off to Torres Strait. It would take him H days to get there, a day or so there to do some small job and li days to come back. For what was in fact a day's work the best administrator would take 4 or 5 days to do it. I believe that we could establish a much better machinery for calling up this kind of expertise, consultants, advisers - call them what you like - momentary public servants, people serving the public. That is the way in which I have approached the matter. I find the use of such people cheap, but I also find them effective. I have also, as a policy, adopted the tactic of using whatever resources other departments can supply. There is a tremendous amount of skill, technique and professional knowledge inside Australian government departments. But they are not always readily available and Ministers are not always keen on having some of their experts whipped off to the other end of Australia. I have answered that point because this is a technique which we have all had to adopt, faced with new social and professional situations. I think it is a fair answer on behalf of all of us here to the honourable member for Isaacs whose remarks I know were meant to be directed in all earnestness.

One of the principal, I suppose, revolutions - perhaps that is not the correct word to use - that we have implemented in Aboriginal affairs is constant and continual consultation with the Aboriginal people. This has been referred to by colleagues on both sides of the chamber. It is to get the Aboriginal people into the act. I suppose it is only an extension of our Labor Party philosophy that the community must participate in the decisions that are being made about it. The Aboriginal community has always been on the receiving end. We have done things for them and to them but rarely with them. So we have set up apparatus throughout Australia to consult them. This is one of the reasons why I have been around this continent almost often enough to get giddy, to sit in the dust somewhere and let people talk, to let them come and talk, to sit there perhaps for an hour to have 10 minutes conversation with people who are not accustomed to talking. The second time one goes back to these people things are a bit different, or when they come to Canberra they come to look me up. This makes it difficult for one's staff. I hope that the new Parliament House will have many more facilities in it for consultations with the citizens on the spot.

The National Advisory Council is in the process of being elected. It is absolutely essential in Aboriginal affairs that the Aboriginal people should speak for themselves and administer themselves wherever they can, become part of the apparatus and are actually injected into it. I suppose that another part of the revolution has been the raising through the departmental system of such people as Mr Perkins, and the creation of the consultant and liaison branch comprised of the Aboriginal people or anybody else. We all colleagues opposite will say: These people are not real Aborigines. They are not full bloods'. Some terms about Aborigines were used during the course of the debate. I will not mention them, but on behalf of the Aborigines I say to honourable members: Please do not use derogatory terms in debates about Aboriginal people or anybody else. We all have hearts. We all have feelings and those terms do not do anybody any good.

Mr Cohen - What terms?

Mr BRYANT - I think one that was used was 'part-coloured city slickers' or something like that. I know that the people who use such terms do not really mean them in the derogatory way that they sound, but I know that my friends among the Aboriginal people were deeply hurt when they heard something like that. I merely ask that in these matters we should refer to the Aboriginal people as we would refer to anybody else.

Aboriginal participation is, I hope, the step we have taken which will produce the best result. None of us can say with any certainty when we venture into social paths that we will produce any result. I am optimistic, and have reason to be after a long time in politics. When an overseas journalist came to me and said: 'Mr Bryant, nobody else has produced a solution to a non-technological people overwhelmed by a technological society and nobody else has produced a satisfactory race relationship. How do you expect to succeed?' I said: 'I hope to succeed, and I propose that we will succeed but nobody can give the guarantee.' But it is my belief that the new spirit of aspiration and expectation that has been raised amongst the Aboriginal people of Australia by the exercise of the power of this Government and the resources placed at its disposal will go a long way towards achieving that.

We have the advantage that we live in a society which, although I do not know that it is a tolerant society, is one which will put up with people more easily than will societies in most other parts of the world. I represent a great industrial area where huge numbers of migrants have come to live. There have been few social tensions arising there. We might be difficult and we might ignore our neighbours; but we would not go crook about a man and his wife and family unless they became too unhygienic or kicked up too much of a shindy in the middle of the night. Therefore we live in a more benevolent society in that regard when it comes to getting people to live side by side.

Several honourable members have asked: What about all this money? Where are these huge sums of money going? It is set out in the estimates in pretty bold figures. I think it was my colleague the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) who mentioned the question of the Trust Account, as did some other honourable members. That amount has been raised from some $30m to some $70m. What does it mean? It is the way in which the system operates. About $32m of that amount will go to the State governments. One can only hope that they will perform. It is a sad fact that their performance is not always up to the standard that one wants. Of that amount, $4.2m will go to organisations of various sorts around the country which we will subsidise. The special works projects were mentioned. Lists will be prepared so that people can obtain them and understand where the money has gone or is going to in municipalities. There' will be $40,000 going here, $30,000 there and $100,000 somewhere else. I think that last week I authorised money for 40 different municipalities in Queensland.

Then there is the Commonwealth's own housing program, basically in the Northern Territory. When the amount of $10m was submitted to me I thought that it was an enormous sum, but when it is spread out over the communities $5,000 here, $17,000 there, $6,000 here and $12,000 there - it does not make an enormous impact upon the situation. Community amenities require the expansion of the program inside the communities. It may well be at Papunya, at Warburton or somewhere in Western Australia, for instance. We will spend $20,000 or $30,000 for the beginning of a program of turning them into the sort of Australian communities they ought to be. The principal project there is to get the people doing the work for themselves. I have said to some of them, and they appreciate it: 'You must not think we will import contractors here while you sit down and draw unemployment benefits'. I think it was my friend the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) who remarked that the Aboriginals did not want to be on unemployment benefits; they wanted to be employed. The response I received to that simple technique was remarkable.

The Government will expend a couple of million dollars on hostels around the country. I will deal with the Hill End hostel directly for the honourable member for Griffith. There will be special assistance of $1.2m for health programs. Of course, that is not the lot. Adult, pre-school and other educational programs will receive $250,000. So it goes on down the list. We will provide $1.5m for legal aid. I hope that not too much of it is spent on charter aircraft. For transport and communications we will provide $lm because there is much to be done to establish effective communication programs throughout Australia. For community enterprises we will provide $3m and for properties off reserves we will provide $5m. I will deal with the points raised by the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) directly. About $4.5m will be kept in reserve, unallocated as yet. It is fatal to say This is the program for this year. We will spend $0.2m on this and $3. 5m on that' because in the next month or two something will turn up that had not been thought of before and it will need proper attention. So this has to be a flexible arrangement. We are applying as much skill as we can to seeing that public funds that are spent on such things as legal aid services are publicly accounted for. I have a strong conviction about this, as honourable members will recall from the state aid debates, as they might be called, over the years. My particular conflict with giving public funds to non-public bodies is the accountability and responsibility to the communities from which the funds flow.

Let me take up a few of the points raised by honourable members during the debate. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) made a few thoughtful points. I was grateful for the remarks he made about my own administration of the portfolio. Several honourable members raised the matter of consultation with State governments. We have been doing this. It is a mystery to me how Australia ever federated. It was possible to achieve a mystical communion between President Nixon and Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai in Peking; but let one try some mystical communion with the Minister in Victoria.

Mr Cohen - What about Queensland?

Mr BRYANT - Strangely enough, it is easier to understand and get along with Queensland than with Victoria. But nobody should take much consolation from that. The Government is consulting with the States. It is my belief that we will have to make agreements with each State about various things and until we do so the Department will be very light on the ground. Until we achieve this relationship it is unwise for us to create big or new departmental structures in most of the States. I suppose that with New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia we can come to an agreement and the people who are particularly involved in this area in those States will come to us. It would be a fairly factuous exercise in public administration to create an organisation some three or four months before such agreement was reached. The 'Deputy Leader of the Opposition mentioned the police and race discrimination. I have had one of those 'sinister characters' - an adviser or consultant - getting around amongst the police forces just to find out the basic reasons for their attitudes. It will be a few weeks before his report is received. We can only carry out experimental attitudes and put people in the field to try to find out what makes people pretty sticky in their personal relationships in this regard. Programs are beginning in all these areas.

Let me deal now with the vexed question of the Hill End hostel. My colleague from Griffith seemed to regard it as a most mischievous undertaking. It is a very nice piece of real estate. It is a former Baptist theological college. The Government purchased it because it was just what seemed to be needed - a good piece of real estate, good accommodation, the set-up for some of the things we wanted. Thirty or forty people can be accommodated in it. It can be used for instructional purposes. We hope that it will be ready for occupancy in the near future. It is being renovated. At this stage it is expected that the hostel will be occupied by working girls. But none of these decisions are totally hard and fast at the moment. I do not think that these girls will do the citizens of Hill End all that much damage. I only hope that the citizens of Hill End - some of whom appeared to be rational enough when I was there - will appreciate their presence amongst them. I was a little taken aback by some of the things people said when this proposal was announced, and the honourable member for Griffith has to accept some of the responsibility.

This situation will occur throughout Australia. There is no reason why hostels for Aboriginal people should be any different in the community from hostels for Baptists. One lady said to me: 'You are creating an Aboriginal ghetto'. All I can say to that is: 'If it is not a ghetto for Baptists, it is not a ghetto for Aborigines'. We will be establishing community centres, cultural centres and so on throughout Australia. The honourable member for the Northern Territory-

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - What about the hostel? It was going to be one thing one day, the next day there was a change, and the next day there was another change. It was the inefficiency of the Department that was upsetting me.

Mr BRYANT - Goodness gracious me! I do not regard it as being inefficient to upset the honourable member. He is so conservative that if the officers of the Department are not upsetting him they should be sacked.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Well, you have been sacked.

Mr BRYANT - I hope that it was not because I upset the honourable member. The facts are that the Government purchased the building because it offered all these opportunities. As the months have gone by, each one has been considered. The actual relationships are still to be determined, but at the moment it seems that it probably will be for working girls not long out of school. I am sure that the gentle souls around that area will see that they are properly cared for.

My colleague from the Northern Territory raised a number of matters. Perhaps they should be handled at some other time. On a number of occasions he has raised the question of Willowra, a station in the northern part of South Australia. We will not allow these properties to run down, nor will we demand immediate economic viability. They are spiritual homes as much as anything else for the people who live on them. I understand the facts are that the cattle population on properties taken oyer by Aborigines is not all that much different from what it used to be.

A few other matters were raised by the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) and the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) concerning the allocation of funds. As I pointed out in my explanation of the Aboriginal Trust Account the funds are going in various directions in the encouragement of community enterprises, in the development of housing, in the setting up of employment opportunities and in providing backstops to education, health and other services. We will have further information on the matter prepared so that honourable members can have some more detail and everybody will understand what is likely to happen in his own electorate.

A good number of other questions were raised by the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt). It is a bit exasperating that we have to be so time saving in this Parliament at this time, but it is the product of a very busy government. I can assure the honourable member for Gwydir that the programs we are developing for Moree and places such as that will continue and that my colleague, Senator Cavanagh, the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, subscribes to the same philosophy as the rest of us and attaches the same sense of importance to humanity, and there will not be any diminution of our effort in tha" regard. My colleague the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) answered the questions about the turtle project The concept is not under attack. It is a question of whether it should be developed as it is or in some other way.

I think I have just about covered most of the matters that have been raised. The honourable member for Deakin said that he did not have any Aboriginal people in his electorate. When you go looking for them you cannot find them but census statistics show there are 35 Aboriginal people at Box Hill and 61 in Nunawading.

Mr Cohen - And all badly represented.

Mr BRYANT - Well, he is improving. It has taken him a while though. He is a slow learner in some matters political. In finishing I refer to the Victorian situation. I thought I had come to a complete agreement with the Minister for Housing in Victoria that in fact it would be better if the Australian Government perhaps accepted responsibility for Aboriginal housing in Victoria. Responsibility can be of all sorts. We accept the financial responsibility to start with. But as my colleague the Minister for Housing and Minister for Works pointed out, we have to make all the other instrumentalities work. In every State there are housing commissions, banks, housing societies, municipal authorities and all sorts of organisations which can perhaps carry out the responsibilities for you. The Victorian Department of Housing told me that the best way to get the first lot of people into houses was to let the Victorian Department do it. I was told that there were 45 families that needed housing immediately. Believing this to be the quickest way to do it, I said: 'We will supply you with the funds. You do it'. This does not mean that we are shedding the responsibility, but I am finding extraordinary difficulty in arriving at the same meaning of words as Mr Dickie of Victoria did, but the last lot of communications might have sorted that out. We accept direct responsibility for the Aboriginal people of Australia. That means financial responsibility. It means that administrations everywhere will have to carry it out.

Officers of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs have placed themselves at the disposal of the cause. Quite selflessly they have gone around Australia, leaving hearth and home on innumerable occasions. I suppose it will be another five or six months before we have sufficient people on the ground throughout the country. No matter who is governing this country, the time has well passed when we should reconsider the structure whereby we decide the way in which governmental services shall operate. It seems to be that, while being protective of individual public servants, the way in which we arrive at governmental structures is so slow that a government's course can almost have run before it has the forces on the ground to carry out its policies. I hope that when we get round to a reconsideration of the structure of the Public Service and so on, perhaps in the near future or at any stage, honourable members opposite will remember that it is being done for the nation, and therefore I hope that they will get through to their senatorial colleagues so that they will co-operate. I can assure the Parliament that under Senator Cavanagh the policies we have developed will proceed with the expedition with which I hope they have been over the past nine or ten months.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Attorney-General's Department

Proposed expenditure, 137,851,000.

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