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Wednesday, 16 October 1974
Page: 1742


Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This is the eighth States Grants Bill in relation to Aboriginal affairs to be introduced into the Australian Parliament since the Australian Government entered this field after the referendum in 1967. Previous Acts have carried the title 'States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Act', but the title of the present Bill demonstrates the Australian Government's wish to move away from the patronising attitudes connoted by the use of the term 'advancement'. This Bill provides for a total of $40.79m to be paid to the States in 1974-75 for the purpose of financial assistance in relation to Aboriginal people. This amount represents an increase of $7. 54m or 26 per cent over the funds of $32.25m provided to the States for this purpose in 1973-74.

As honourable senators will know, my predecessors developed the practice of using the second reading speech for this Bill as a kind of annual report on the Australian Government's work in Aboriginal affairs. My Department is now preparing a report on the activities of its first 18 months, and intends to follow this with regular annual reports. I do not propose, therefore, to set out in this speech details of programs other than those related to the States grants, but to speak briefly about the Australian Government's general policies and approach in this field. I seek the agreement of the Senate, however, to the incorporation in Hansard of several tables similar to those of previous years. Table 1 sets out the broad purposes of the proposed payments to the States, and the increases in the 1974-75 proposed payments as compared with the 1973-74 programs. I seek leave to have that table incorporated in Hansard.


The PRESIDENT -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-

TABLE 1

PROPOSED PAYMENTS TO THE STATES-1974-75

Figures in Brackets are 1 973-74 payments


Senator CAVANAGH - Table 2 sets out the grants to the States over the 6 year period 1968-69 to 1974-75. Honourable senators will notice that by far the largest single increase in grants to the States, $ 12.8m, occurred in the first year after the Labor Government took office. I seek leave to have that table incorporated in Hansard.


The PRESIDENT - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-

TABLE 2

GRANTS TO THE STATES-TOTALS 1969-70 TO 1974-75

 


Senator CAVANAGH - Honourable senators will also notice that an increase of $400,000 is provided for Queensland in this Bill. The Senate will be aware of the intransigence on the part of the Queensland Government in respect of the Australian Government's attempts to achieve a collaborative approach to Aboriginal affairs throughout Australia. A large measure of cooperation has been achieved with all other States. Not only have the Queensland Premier and the Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs refused to co-operate; they have refused even to participate in discussions on matters of mutual concern to the Queensland and Australian governments in the Aboriginal affairs field. In the light of this attitude, the Australian Government has decided to make funds available under this legislation to the Queensland Government only for programs for which an unavoidable commitment has been entered into.

The Australian Government will ensure that additional programs in Queensland will be carried out through local Aboriginal community organisations, the Australian Department of Aboriginal Affairs and other instrumentalities. It will ensure that the Aborigines and Islanders of

Queensland are not disadvantaged by this decision and it believes that, because the Australian Government's approach is to involve Aborigines to the maximum extent possible in matters affecting them, this decision will ensure greater benefit in the long term to the Aborigines and Islanders of Queensland. Payments to the States are one part of the Australian Government's total effort in respect of Aboriginal affairs. This financial year a total of $163.6 18m has been allocated for direct Australian Government expenditure on Aboriginal affairs. This represents an increase of 66 per cent over the $98.59m actually spent on Aboriginal affairs during the financial year 1973-74. Of this year's funds, $126.4m will be spent through my Department, either directly in the Northern Territory and elsewhere, or through grants to the States. The balance will be expended by other departments such as the Department of Education for study grants and secondary grants and special programs in the Northern Territory, by the Department of Health in the Northern Territory, and the Department of Labor and Immigration under its employment training scheme. I seek leave to incorporate Table 3 which is a statement showing how the $163.6 18m being spent this year by the Australian Government is to be allocated.


The PRESIDENT -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-

TABLE 3

DIRECT AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT EXPENDITURE ON ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS(a)

($'000)

 

 

The table excludes, as far as possible, expenditure on services to which Aboriginals are entitled as Australian citizens, for example, social security benefits. However, some items of expenditure, such as the provision of education and health services at Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, while designed to meet the special needs of the Aboriginal people, al.so represent to some extent the equivalent of services provided for the general community.


Senator CAVANAGH - The increased budget for Aboriginal affairs reflects this Government's efforts to free Australia from the social tensions which issue from poverty, social injustice and inequality. More specifically, expenditure on Aboriginal affairs reflects this Government's commitment to increase the general wellbeing of the Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal population is increasing at a rate considerably higher than the Australian average and it is essential that the problems besetting Aboriginal Australians be tackled with determination through large scale programs.

In summary, the policies of the Australian Government in respect of Aboriginal people might be described as seeking: to encourage and strengthen the capacity of Aborigines to manage their own affairs and to increase their economic independence; to enable Aborigines to have a real freedom of choice about their life style and the extent to which, particularly in the more remote communities, they maintain their traditional customs and culture- a freedom which can be exercised to the extent that communities have local authority, in particular through land ownership; to make equality a reality for Aboriginal Australians by working to overcome those handicaps which generally face them in fields such as housing, health, education, employment and civil liberties; in doing this, to help Aborigines themselves to provide services designed to overcome handicapsfor instance, through Aboriginal housing societies, medical services and legal services- and to act in the closest consultation with Aboriginal communities and individuals at both the national and the local levels.

The pattern of Australian Government expenditure is changing to reflect these goals. Funds provided for direct grants to Aboriginal communities have been substantially increased, reflecting the Government's determination to deal direct with Aboriginal groups, and enable them to set their own priorities and manage their own affairs. Many of the programs now being funded by direct grant to Aboriginal communities and organisations and to local government bodies would formerly have been included in grants to the States, and this should be borne in mind when comparing the annual increase in funds provided to the States.

The Australian Government never intended the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to assume wide functional responsibilities for Aboriginal affairs. It has always regarded the provision of services such as health, housing, education, employment, legal aid and others to Aborigines as being the responsibility of functional departments and authorities. The role of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is to stimulate and support the extension or the accommodation of existing services to Aborigines and to ensure that special services and programs are provided for Aboriginal people where necessary. Payments to the States should be seen in this context. It is not the Australian Government's intention to assume permanent responsibility for the activities of State departments in fields such as health and education in respect of Aboriginal people. Rather, its intention is to help responsible departments make up the backlog caused by past neglect or indifference. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Rae) adjourned.







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