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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2211


Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK -I wish to address my question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. In view of the problem that is presented by standing order 100 and knowing from long association with Senator Cavanagh his rigid adherence to the Standing Orders, I ask my question in the following manner: Will the Minister make a statement to the Senate explaining the dissension in the Sydney-based Aboriginal Legal Service and the alleged nexus between that dispute and the encampment on the lawn in front of Parliament House?


Senator CAVANAGH - I do not know whether it is a matter for a prepared statement. The position with the Aboriginal Legal Service in Sydney at the end of the financial year in June was that about $S4,000 was unaccounted for.


Senator Greenwood - Fifty-four?


Senator CAVANAGH - Yes. There were no dockets to cover the expenditure of some $54,000. At the end of June the Budget had not been presented and the Department advanced a further 2 months ' payment to enable the Service to carry on until the presentation of the Budget. In August, during the preparation of the Budget, a request was made to me that the Service be paid on a weekly basis for a further 2 months on the understanding that it would give me details of the expenditure for which it could not account. I believe that at that time the amount unaccounted for had been reduced to some $29,000. 1 approved of the expenditure but put the condition on my approval that it would be the last payment authorised by me until there was a full account given of the expenditure of the Service. Unfortunately my direction was not conveyed to the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Service seemed to take no notice of my requirements, so that in accordance with the conditions which I imposed on the August payment, I refused a further request for payments to the end of December until the expenditure had been accounted for. Representatives of the Service came to Canberra yesterday and explained their action. They said that the Service was short staffed and was doing its best and that as a result of the termination of payments they had employed a qualified accountant. They have now traced some of the money not accounted for and the outstanding figure has been reduced to $8,000. This, I am assured, can be accounted for by obtaining certain necessary documents.


Senator Murphy - It is a private voluntary organisation.


Senator CAVANAGH - It is a privately run organisation but is funded by the Australian Government. Action was taken by the Service when further funds were cut off. Believing that the matter is now in hand my Department has funded the organisation to the end of December on the condition that this is the last funding that will be made unless the Service accounts to the satisfaction of the Auditor-General for the expenditure of the money. I think that the position is now resolved.

This private organisation, the Aboriginal Legal Service, denies any participation in the demonstration that was held in Canberra last week or any responsibility for the erection of tents in front of Parliament House. I am inclined to think that there may be some truth in this. There is a group of a few Aborigines who want to continue disputation between the Department and Aborigines, but this view is not shared by the Aboriginal community- and I have met many thousands of ordinary Aborigines over the last fortnight. This group, in the interests of continuing the disputation, has decided to erect the tents so that it may have some power base. It is unfortunate that the Australian public is inclined to accept those Aborigines who carry on such demonstrations as representative of all Aborigines. We hope to rectify this matter in the near future.


Senator Webster - What they did a few years ago was all right by you.


Senator CAVANAGH -Senator Webster has a better memory than I have. In the near future we intend trying to acquaint the Australian public with the fact that Aborigines are the most peaceful, pacifist and likeable people in Australia. We intend to demonstrate this by bringing tribal leaders- real leaders of the Aboriginal people- to Canberra for the purpose of meeting the people.







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