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Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2410


Senator RAE (Tasmania) -The debate on this matter was adjourned on 24 October last and is now being resumed. Prior to the debate being adjourned I had referred to a number of matters, one of which was the general support forthcoming from the Opposition for the funds being provided in this Bill. I also pointed out our concern in relation to another aspect. A total of $40,790,000 is being provided by the Commonwealth to the States for assistance in relation to Aboriginal people in the various States. A large part of the money is to be spent on housing. Other moneys are to be spent on education, health and other matters. The matter of concern arises because the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) and the Government have seen fit to vary what was projected in the Budget in relation to the State of Queensland and to reduce the amount payable to that State by the sum of $3. 19m. The figure indicated in the Budget, $13,552,000, is to be reduced to $10.3m, which is provided for in the Bill. The Minister has indicated that this is because the Queensland Government- to use an expression, perhapshas not been co-operative with the Federal Government. It appears, however, that the Federal Government's idea of co-operation is if people do what they are told by the Federal Government then they are co-operating. If they are not prepared to do what they are told they are not co-operating.

This somewhat heavy handed, somewhat dictatorial, attitude of the Commonwealth Government is exemplified in this Bill as it has been in many other actions that the Government has taken. What appears to have been overlooked by the Government is the best interests of the Aborigines in Queensland. We see a situation where the Minister has said, in a somewhat airy-fairy way, that the $3. 19m will be made up in other ways by direct grants to housing associations and by expenditure through the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs and perhaps some other unspecified ways. There is no clear pattern. It has obviously not been worked out to this date exactly how the money will be spent and how much will go to which particular area. In other words people are left in a position of uncertainty as to how, when and subject to what conditions the moneys will be received in Queensland.

I had also referred to some of the problems which had existed in relation to the gearing up for the expenditure of funds by Aboriginal associations in Queensland. Whilst I do not wish to be in any way taken as suggesting that they should not be encouraged to become fully operative as soon as possible, and subject to certain comments which my colleague Senator Bonner will make and which I do not pause to make but do support about the question of costs that are involved and therefore the net amount which eventually will become available for housing and other benefits to Aborigines, the fact is that last year some $9m was unexpended in relation to Aboriginal housing in Australia. As the Minister explained, that was because the associations had not geared up sufficiently to be able to spend the money in the way and at the rate anticipated by the Department at the time the Budget had been prepared. I raised with the Minister the question of whether it would be possible to spend this extra $3. 19m in the current year through the other outlets suggested by him as opposed to the certainty that it would be able to be expended by the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs or other Queensland departments such as the Department of Housing. Those departments are geared up to be able to spend the money. They are geared up to be able to make sure that the utmost advantage is taken of the provision of funds by the Commonwealth in the interests of Aborigines in Queensland. We believe and assert very firmly that there is nothing to suggest that the Commonwealth Department is in any better state than the Queensland Department is to ensure the expenditure of the money for the benefit of those people at this stage of their development. Nor are the housing associations likely to be able to expend the moneys which are planned to be granted to them already or a significant part of the extra $3. 1 9m.

So it appears that there is a likelihood that once again at the end of this year there will have been an under-expenditure of what was deemed by the Parliament to be a just and appropriate amount of expenditure for Aboriginal affairs. This, of course, is clearly to the disadvantage of the Aboriginal people whom the money is intended to benefit. In my speech I had quoted some comments which had been made in a news release put out on behalf of the Co-operative for Aborigines Ltd. As I mentioned then that news release was highly critical of the present Government's failure. It was pointed out that whilst the Government was prepared to promise all sorts of things when in Opposition it had not done anything effective about those promises. Certainly the history of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is not such as would give people confidence in its having greater capacity than the Queensland Department to act in the best interests of Aborigines. I shall read from an article in the 'Nation Review' of 17 October to give some idea of the sorts of things which have been written many times about the Department. The article states:

It is clear that all is not well within the Department. As reported in 'Nation Review' of August 9, the Canberra branch is split into black versus white. Such a split in a very sensitive policy area should be giving the Government forebodings about the Department's ability to handle the policy: If it can't keep its own house in order, it is clear that it is ill equipped to cope with the problem of black-white relations on a national scale. And as Cavanagh admitted earlier this year, the implementation of Labor's policy has been a 'disaster'.

Recent events only heighten the concern of those who have doubts about the capacity of the Department at the moment efficiently to act in the best interests of Aborigines in Australia. I do not wish to go into detail about the matter but I simply remind honourable senators of the confrontation precipitated by the Minister from which, I believe, he wisely backed away. It was precipitated by him only last week when he made a confrontation threat to the New South Wales Aboriginal Legal Service that unless it took certain action he was not prepared to grant the Service any further funds. This was at a time when the Service was out of funds and it would have had to put off staff if further funds were not immediately forthcoming. That confrontation could have been quite disastrous in damaging relationships between some of the more outspoken and militant people who have been demonstrating in relation to their claims about what they regard as inefficiency in the administration of Aboriginal affairs in Australia. I am glad to say that the Minister withdrew from that confrontation position.


Senator Cavanagh - I think that Senator Greenwood might not agree with the honourable senator.


Senator RAE - I do not think Senator Greenwood and I have any basic difference of attitude. He is talking about one matter and I am talking about another. My criticism of Senator Cavanagh- if I may direct it through you, Mr Acting Deputy President- is that he confuses 2 entirely separate issues. The separate issues, of course, are firstly in relation to accountability as far as the New South Wales Aboriginal Legal Service is concerned and, secondly, the manner of exercising a right to protest. I do not subscribe to the manner of the exercise of the right of protest by the erection of tents outside Parliament House but I suggest that the Minister is not entitled in any way at all to say to the New South Wales Aboriginal Legal Service: 'I will cut off your funds unless you cause those tents to be pulled down.' But of course that is another matter. It is one which is disquieting in relation to the administration of Aboriginal affairs in Australia and one which does not make for any greater confidence that the Commonwealth Department is more capable automatically than Queensland in administering for the benefit of Aborigines in Queensland.

I refer also to the sorry history of the Redfern housing project which, apparently because of the Department's inability for one reason or another to fund in the way which was promised, has now ground to a halt. This has meant that the employees who were taking part in what I understand to be an excellent development program of housing renovation and the provision of housing for Aboriginal people in that area have been put out of work because the Department has not made the promised funds available. This is just one further part of the overwhelming problem which seems to be besetting the administration of this area of government activity. Bearing in mind all these things and the matters which I mentioned earlier about the interests of the Aborigines in Queensland, I read from an editorial in the 'Courier-Mail' of 18 October which states:

Nobody can be certain at this stage whether Queensland's Aborigines want Commonwealth or State laws. Surely there is a sensible and fair method of finding this out.

I subscribe to the general thought that at this stage nobody can be certain what the majority of Aboriginal people in Queensland want. I do not believe that it is in their best interests to have the Commonwealth Government foist onto them, in the way it is doing in this Bill, or in the way which is proposed in some other legislation to which I shall not refer, the decision that Big Brother knows best, that the Commonwealth Government will act irrespective of what the Queensland Government may wish and irrespective of what the Aboriginal people in Queensland may wish. I believe that the Government's action is petty. It is not really action which one would expect from a national government. Rather, it is the attitude: 'If you do not make me captain I shall take my bat and ball home and will not let you play'. I think it is extremely unfortunate that this Government cannot be a little bigger in its approach to what is a national question and problem and one which deserves proper consideration, not petty action. For those reasons I move an amendment to the motion for the second reading and to draw attention to the attitude of the Senate in relation to this action of the Government because we believe that it should forthwith make this money available to the Queensland Government so that it can be spent expeditiously in the best interests of the Aborigines of Queensland. I move:

At end of motion add- but the Senate is of the opinion that the Government's action in reducing the grant to the State of Queensland by $3,190,000 is a petty action which is contrary to the best interests of the Aboriginal people of Queensland and that the Government should take immediate steps to grant to the State of Queensland the further sum of $3,190,000 as promised in the Budget'.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Milliner)- Is there a seconder to the amendment?


Senator Bonner - Yes, I second the amendment.







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