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Tuesday, 9 November 1976
Page: 2440

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -by leave- If committees of inquiry were responsible for policy initiatives or financial support for Aboriginal people, a great deal of progress would be made in this field. Nevertheless, the Opposition does not want to be churlish about receiving the report which the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) has tabled. What he has done, in effect, is to endorse yet another Labor initiative. In February 1973 the Labor Government first conceived the idea of a National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. My colleague the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), who was then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, presided over that Committee at its opening session.

Subsequently, in December 1973, the first meeting of the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, as it was then known, was held. There has been a great deal of criticism of that body since December 1973 when the 41 members of the Committee formally came together. One would not want to contend that the criticism was inappropriate, but it was also to be expected that such a newly constituted body, comprising people with varying degrees of experience- and, if you like, inexperience- would run into difficulties.

I think the honourable member for Wills, when first contemplating this idea, had regard for the fact that in many parts of Australia the Aboriginal tribal system might have been the best system from which to derive some kind of authority in Aboriginal affairs. Regrettably the strength of the Aboriginal tribal system does not maintain any consistency across the length and breadth of Australia. Running from a very strong content in some areas it diminishes in the Aboriginal communities which live in fringe situations, where the tribal system does not count a great deal. The honourable member for Wills, as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, was confronted at that time with the need to contrive a process which would enable Aboriginal spokesmen to speak to the Government on behalf of Aboriginal people in an advisory capacity. As could be imagined, when those 41 people came together there were examples of the tribal people, who in some instances were unable to speak English with any fluency, being disadvantaged by the more sophisticated Aboriginal people from the cities, who were almost as effective as manipulators in the political area as some honourable gentlemen opposite. So some of these spokesmen were disadvantaged.

If there was any total disadvantage to come out of the experience of the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee it was probably through the lack of a secretariat. These spokesmen came together from time to time and had very little difficulty in identifying areas of Aboriginal deprivation and in identifying the positive initiatives which should be taken in respect of Aboriginal Affairs, but in the matter of communicating their decisions to the Government there was the deficiency represented by the absence of staff or a properly constituted secretariat I have had the good fortune to talk with the NACC on several occasions. Towards the end of 1975, as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, I firmly faced up to the problems which the NACC was encountering. As the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs would be aware by now, I assured the NACC at that point that I would be recommending to the Government of the day the acceptance of an NACC constitution which had been modified over a period of consultation. I had also made arrangements to rationalise the budget so that the NACC could set itself up with a secretariat, so that it could engage in a number of conferences at the national level and so that it could set about the process of undertaking regional conferences.

If the prowess of the former Government- the Labor Government- is to be demonstrated in respect of this matter I suppose that it might be shown in connection with the reference which I, as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, submitted to the Remuneration Tribunal. It is interesting to note that a recommendation has been made in this report in the sense that the political nature of being a member of the NACC should be acknowledged. Of course, the Remuneration Tribunal has taken this matter into consideration and has provided a salary for NACC members of $8,925 a year. It has also approved of electorate allowances ranging from $2,500 to $3,750, with additional allowances of $500 for executive members. It has also incorporated in the schedule of remuneration a travelling allowance of $41 a day. So under those arrangements the NACC was very firmly constituted. Moreover, the Labor Government took the initiative to provide NACC members with an electorate office, to furnish the office and to staff it with an electorate secretary. So the Opposition naturally is enthusiastic that the Hiatt Committee has now taken steps to endorse this very significant development in Aboriginal affairs, as initiated by the Labor Government.

I do not think I should allow this opportunity to pass without taking note of the fact that the report has recommended the establishment of a statutory Commission for Aboriginal Development by 1980. This, of course, could be an extremely important milestone in Aboriginal affairs. But a lot more will need to be said about it before it can be expected to receive the imprimatur of either the Aboriginal people or the Opposition. It is noted, for example, that the Chairman of the proposed statutory Commission for Aboriginal Development is to be the Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. It has been implied that there is to be a dual approach to Aboriginal problems. On the one hand there is to be, apparently, a continuation of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and on the other there is to be a new statutory committee which is to be composed predominantly of Aboriginal people- some 9 Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders, five of whom will be delegates from a re-formed National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. I just say to the Minister that at first glance there seems to be all the propects of a serious problem developing if the Government contemplates for one solitary moment that it can run Aboriginal affairs with both a Department of Aboriginal Affairs and a statutory commission. Obviously the 2 bodies would soon get on to a collision course. So, although the Minister may not have too much clear-cut objectivity in respect of this matter at the moment, I put it to him that unless he does develop a firm attitude he is certainly going to cause a rip-roaring controversy and that if he goes on to give effect to the idea of having a dual authority or 2 authorities then, of course, the results can be quite disastrous.

The Opposition will be reading the Hiatt Committee 's report with great interest. We also acknowledge the very valuable service rendered by those distinguished people who were led by Dr Hiatt- all of whom are Aborigines. I must say, as one who gave evidence before the Committee, that I do not find myself at variance with the idea that the NACC should be continued, that it should be called a congress in the future instead of a consultative committee and that it should be supported to rationalise its activities on a State and regional basis. I commend to the Minister the idea that more should be done- for that matter more should have been offered by the Committeein regard to the secretariat needs of the NACC. I have noticed a comment in the Minister's speech to the effect that funds and staff should be provided for the NACC for the production of a quarterly newsletter and that consideration should be given to using community radio, films and video as a means of improving communications between NACC and the Aboriginal people. Far more than that is necessary. A considerable amount of the funds allocated for the purposes of the NACC ought to be directed to the provision of a secretariat. The Opposition welcomes the recommendation in general terms in that it implies an endorsement by a committee of inquiry of a positive initiative taken in respect of the Aboriginal people by the former Labor Government.

Mr Bryant - Mr Speaker,I seek leave to make a statement on the same subject.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted?

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - No.

Mr SPEAKER -Leave is not granted.

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