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Wednesday, 13 September 1978


Dr EVERINGHAM (Capricornia) - I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) with regard to the retrospective taxing of accrued annual leave, long service leave, retirement allowances and so on. Because of the limited time available to me in this debate I wish to concentrate specifically on Aboriginal affairs. I recall that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his weekly electorate talk last weekend stated that his Government's 2'A years in office had marked a 'real turning point for the Australian Aboriginal'. The Opposition wholeheartedly agrees. With this Budget the Prime Minister has turned the hopes of the Aboriginal people right around and driven them back into the intolerable conditions that were characteristic of their treatment in the 1 950s and 1 960s.

Spending on Aboriginal housing has been allowed to slide to such a deplorable state that the

Government was shamed into a so-called special initiative' in Aboriginal housing. But the special initiative' is still 28 per cent, or more than a quarter, lower in real terms- that is taking into account the adjustment for inflation- than the level of spending in the last Labor Budget. Indeed, it is still lower than the first Fraser Budget. Further, if we discount the special allocation of $450,000 to the Northern Territory Housing Commission, spending this year, in real terms, has increased by only $1 Wm over the last year and there are not too many houses in that. Although the Minister called this a special initiative, it is not enough simply to pay for the maintenance of existing homes. The existing homes which have been and which are being rented to Aboriginals would need far more than that allocation.

What will happen is that although a few new homes will be built, that will be fewer than the numbers going out of service and deteriorating, and the backlog will grow. The Government thinks nothing of spending $40m on VIP jets for the Prime Minister. Recently he had extensive renovations made to the Lodge in Canberra, the cost of which would have paid for several Aboriginal houses. This meagre effort occurs at a time when the Department of the Minister produces statistics showing that 25 per cent of dwellings in areas other than capital cities are impoverished. Both grants-in-aid and grants to the States are still well below the funding level of 1975-76. Not only has the Government created a backlog in housing for Aboriginals, but also the Aboriginal hostels program has suffered.

We should remember that this Government completely suspended the hostels program for 1976-77 and has not yet made up for that suspension. Further, the Government has progressively halved funds available under the Aboriginal housing and personal loans fund. The whole of the increased funds this year are taken up under a new scheme whereby occupants of housing association homes may obtain funds to purchase the dwellings they occupy. Whilst this is a welcome initiative, I suggest that the funding is inadequate overall and that it should be restored to the same real level of 1976-77. That is not asking too much. It is asking far from enough. Obviously, if we are going to beat inflation, and all the other problems for which the Government sets top priority, we should not be doing it at the expense of people who are struggling to exist and who are suffering from the inability to catch up. Certainly many of us suffer because of inflation but we do not suffer what these people suffer. Their needs should not be pared in this way.

The Government's decision to cease funding the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' housing panel and to hand responsibility for architectural services over to the Department of Construction is just one more example of the lack of concern of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) for the wishes of the Aboriginal people. Of course, the Minister is not specifically responsible. The whole Government bears the responsibility, particularly the architects of the Government's economic priorities. There has always been an urgent need for a body to provide architectural services for the express needs of individual communities following full consultation with the people of those communities. Ideally, the communities should have the means, the initiative and the funds to engage architectural expertise themselves. But at least the housing panel was a start to have some expert, in depth, approach to consulting with various communities about their various needs.

The panel in its early days had many failings but following its reorganisation it has operated successfully. It has consulted the people of various communities. It has produced homes that suit the needs of those people, instead of producing the many unoccupied, white elephant structures, the so-called bus shelters and so on, that are scattered around different communities in Australia due to inadequate consultation and due to people trying to impose what they perceive as the needs of the people on people who have vastly different needs in the housing field.

The Minister will only aggravate the problems by believing that he can abolish the panel without making adequate provision for alternative representative Aboriginal housing planning services. Queensland is a typical example, where the Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement spends its allocation on Aboriginal and Islander housing without any consultation, planning or appreciation of Aboriginal and Islander housing needs, and frequently without any proper accounting system of housing and construction costs. Nor does it invite any participation by the Aboriginals concerned in such things as on-the-job training employment. The end result is that the blacks in that State live in boxes totally unsuited to their individual needs.

In some areas like Yarrabah they are crammed together like in an inner suburb. They are close to a dusty unsealed street with lush rolling acres of reserve all around. This is a complete abnegation of Aboriginal sensitivity to their land and surroundings. This causes fights and tensions. This township of Yarrabah has a complete lack of sealed streets. Dust flies every time anybody goes past. It is placed at the end of a totally sealed road all the way from Cairns to the reserve township boundary. That is the sort of priority the Queensland Government has. It looks at the convenience and the comfort of the white administrators as being far more important than the needs of the community they are allegedly serving. Without the housing panel the Aboriginal people can look forward only to more homes in the Queensland tradition, designed by white bureaucrats in capital cities who are totally oblivious to Aboriginal needs and to the environmental conditions of the areas where housing for Aboriginals is needed.

Consultation with Aboriginal people about their housing needs is central to the Australian Labor Party's policy and the Opposition rejects both the abolition of the panel and the Government's ignorance of the wishes of the Aboriginal people. But the matter goes much further than housing. The Minister has also seen fit to ignore the publicly acknowledged fact that the most important possession of Aboriginal people in Australia is their land. It is their very life, their very existence. They say: 'If you take my land from me you kill me'. Spending by the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission has been hampered under this Government, not only by the lack of funds but also because the Minister finds it extremely easy to delay approval of purchases. Thus, every year the allocation of funds is eroded and pared down while the amount unspent and carried over from the previous year gets bigger. If the Minister delays for a few months some other buyer often snaps up the very property that the Aboriginals are claiming as their traditional land. That relieves the Minister of the necessity to find funds and so he can cut the allocation of funds for the next year. One more property has gone down the drain. One more opportunity has been lost to buy the property at a reasonable price.

For 1978-79 the appropriation is 27 per cent less than the previous year's appropriation. This cuts the allocation by one quarter for no good or sufficient reason. This year the Commission has available to it, in total, $500,000 less than last year. This Government has done nothing but hinder the Commission's acquisition program. Not only have funds been cut back but also in 1976-77 no additional funds were available to the Commission and funds carried over from the previous year were frozen by Ministerial directive. So, while the Minister talks about selfmanagement and the Prime Minister talks about turning points and rights, their ruthless actions make a mockery of their rhetoric.

Spending on Aboriginal education has also suffered under this Government. Spending on Aboriginal education as a proportion of the total education budget has dropped from 2.2 per cent under the Australian Labor Party Government to 1.8 per cent under the Fraser Government. This is the answer of the Government to the fact that only one per cent of Aboriginal students reach matriculation. Bilingual teaching is poorly provided and bi-cultural education exists hardly at all except where a dedicated teacher makes a special voluntary effort. Aboriginal health has also been hit by this Government despite promises by the Prime Minister and by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. During the 1977 election campaign both promised funding for Aboriginal health programs costing $7m in 1978-79. The Minister on Budget night, now comfortably back in office, stated that the new program would be started this year at an estimated cost of $2.5m, which is about one third of the promised amount.

This Government cannot afford to break election promises in such a sensitive area, especially in light of the fact that Aboriginal infant mortality in Australia is as high as 98 per thousand in some areas. It is one of the highest rates in the world and five times greater than that of the white population. About 60 per cent of Aboriginal people in Central Australia over 60 years of age are blind and 30 per cent of Aboriginal children under 1 1 years of age have trachoma. Because of the lack of preventive medical services and health services, on average, urban Aboriginal children cost the Government hundreds of dollars a year per child in remedial medical costs. In non-urban areas, 36.9 per cent, more than one-third, of the communities have no doctor and 32.9 per cent, nearly one-third, of the nonurban communities have no access to hospitals. About one in five of these communities- that is, 1 9 per cent- have no nursing staff and so on.

But the Government was not content with simply breaking an election promise. Although the Minister claimed that his Department's spending on Aboriginal health programs increased by 7. 1 per cent- that is about $2m- he failed to mention that the total Government spending figure in fact reflects a reduction of $1.3m. This is the familiar story of figure juggling to hoodwink people that we have seen in all aspects of this Budget. The total Government spending figure represents a decrease of 2.5 per cent when compared with last year's allocation and that was underspent by $ 1.4m. This level of spending is still well below the 1975-76 level. The Government's new training category is welcome, especially in the light of the disastrously high Aboriginal unemployment level which is now well over 50 per cent of the work force. The pity is that it took such a critical situation to get the Government to act at all. It is also disappointing that funds were cut in many other areas to enable the establishment of this category. Already the northern New South Wales region of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs has rejected funding completely this financial year in protest at the Budget. I should like to refer to its telegram in which it stated the grounds for this rejection. The region rejected the funding on the grounds that the funds are inadequate to allow continuation of current programs. This is a denial of aboriginal advancement and self-determination.

The conditions of Aboriginals living in urban and country areas have deteriorated rapidly. The Minister made some loud noises on his trip around New South Wales communities in June this year, but that was all. If the Prime Minister believes the core of his Government's policy regarding Aboriginal advancement is summed up in the term 'self-management' then let him tell that to the Aborigines of Woorabinda who ask for Federal Government takeover when delegates go to Aboriginal conferences and other organisations but are too frightened even to allow their elected representative, a Labor senator, to go there in fear of political repercussions. Let the Prime Minister tell that to the Aborigines at Aurukun and Mornington Island.







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