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Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2424


Senator BONNER (Queensland) - Like my colleagues I do not oppose the Bill. As a matter of fact I personally welcome it and particularly welcome the substantial overall increase for Aboriginal advancement in Australia. I have found nothing wrong with, and am not ashamed of, using the words 'Aboriginal advancement', even though the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) seems to find something wrong with them. I personally and many of my Aboriginal fellows find nothing wrong with money being allocated for Aboriginal advancement as the advancement must be taking place in a new environment that is different from what was the Aboriginal way of life before the 1788 invasion of Australia. As I say I welcome the Bill and particularly welcome the increase in expenditure on Aboriginal advancement. Like my colleagues I too am concerned that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has seen fit to take away from my State a substantial amount of money- some $3.1 9m.


Senator Cavanagh - He has not taken it away.


Senator BONNER - It is being taken away from the Government of Queensland. It is a breach of faith because in the Budget that amount of money was included in the overall amount that was to be made available to Queensland. I intend quoting from the Minister's second reading speech. It gives me some idea of the pettiness of taking this money away from the Queensland Government so that it would not have this money to expend on Aboriginal advancement. The Minister said:

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 effect the Minister is saying that he will pick up his marbles and go home. Unless other people are prepared to talk to him and to do what they are told he will take their money away from them so that he will get credit for what the Australian Government is doing for Aborigines. The Minister is not prepared to give any credit for what was done over a number of years before 1967. It was only in 1967 that the Australian Government or the Commonwealth Government, to use its correct title, came into the field of Aboriginal affairs at all in the State. To my knowledge the Commonwealth Government had the responsibility for Aborigines in the Northern Territory. I do not think anyone should boast about what happened in the Northern Territory under the Commonwealth Government or even under the now supposedly Australian Government.

The Minister, during his wanderings through Queensland, made some very nasty comments in relation to the Government of Queensland. I wonder how many members of this chamber, including the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, really and truly understand the situation in Queensland as it has existed for a number of years. Queensland, as has been stated before, has the largest number of Aborigines of any State in the Commonwealth. There are approximately 60,000 Aborigines there. In Queensland some 27,000 to 30,000 Aborigines are known to live on government communities or mission stations and are regarded as assisted Aborigines. The State Government in Queensland, over a number of years, has accepted responsibility for these Aborigines to the extent that it provides for these communities in every field- education, health, housing, the whole box and dice of what is required. But the balance between the 27,000 to 30,000 Aborigines who live on government communities or mission stations and the 60,000 Aborigines in Queensland- that is the 30,000 Aborigines who do not live on Aboriginal communities- are not being catered for by any government- the Commonwealth Government, the State Government or the present Australian Government, as it calls itself.

Just recently, after the referendum, the Commonwealth Government decided that it would accept some responsibility by channelling funds into each of the 6 States for Aboriginal advancement. Since that happened Queensland has received not an equal share, pro rata of population, but has received some moneys from the Government in Canberra for Aboriginal advancement. Out of this amount the Queensland Government, through the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs, has provided a very substantial number of houses for Aborigines. I might add that these houses are a credit to the Government and particularly to the people who work in the Department, who have chosen wisely and have chosen the best houses that the money could provide. Some of the Aboriginal people in Queensland are certainly living in far better houses than I could provide for myself and my wife. They have wall to wall carpets, all modern conveniences and everything that the heart could desire.


Senator Milliner - Where are these homes?


Senator Cavanagh - Give me the addresses of some of them.


Senator BONNER - There are some in Rockhampton. If the Minister is prepared to come to Ipswich I am quite prepared to take him around and show him some of these houses. As a matter of fact if the Minister would like to come to Toowoomba anytime he likes I will show him a number of houses there. Houses of this sort have been built in Townsville, Cairns and Mount Isa. The Department built all new houses in Mount Isa. The Department has been building some 10 houses a year which cost within the vicinity of $13,000 or $15,000 each. The Department is still building them. There are many other areas to which I could refer such as Mareeba. I could go on for the next half an hour talking about the different places.

I am surprised that Senator Milliner should ask such a question. Being a senator from Queensland, he must go around with his eyes shut or he has no interest in Aboriginal affairs whatsoever. He can take his pick; whichever cap fits he can wear. I think the Queensland Government has a reasonable record. I am not trying in any way to paint the Queensland Government lily white. It has made mistakes. It has not always done what I thought it should have done or what other Aborigines thought it should have done in relation to Aboriginal affairs. But at least it has tried. We are told by the Minister that he will reduce the amount of money by some $3,190,000.


Senator Cavanagh - That is not so.


Senator BONNER - There is no point in the Minister's saying that this is not what he will do because this is what he is doing. Then the Minister tells us that he will make money available to a number of Aboriginal housing societies. Far be it from me, as an Aborigine, to reject the involvement of Aborigines in Aboriginal affairs. But by the same token, would it not be far better in this instance- if the Minister desires to support Aboriginal housing societies by all means he should do so- not to do this at the expense of the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs which is able to administer this scheme at cost. The administrative cost comes out of the resources of the Queensland Government. It does not come out of the money which is allocated by the Australian Government for Aboriginal housing in Queensland. Consequently, any money which is made available to the Queensland Government for Aboriginal housing is spent by the Department on housing.

On the other hand, if we take that $3m-odd away from the Queensland Government and give it to building socities, they in turn have to set up their own machinery. They have to pay for expertise. As Senator Keeffe read out, they have to get advisers, consultants, architects and the whole box and dice. These expenses will have to be paid out of this money thus reducing the amount which will be spent on actual housing. Again the only people who lose out are the Queensland Aborigines, not the Minister. He will still get his salary. He will still be able to live in his nice home. But a number of Aborigines in Queensland will miss out. It was stated by Senator Keeffe that the Queensland Government- let us refer more to the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Queensland- did not spend all the money which was allocated to it last year. That is not so. The Queensland Department spent all the money which was allocated to it. As a. matter of fact, the money which is provided in this Bill has already been committed by the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs. It has been committed to the extent that the Department, from now to June next year, will not be in the market for the purchase of houses for Aborigines over and above the money provided in this Bill. For someone to say that the Queensland Department did not spend the money which was allocated to it is quite wrong.


Senator Rae - It overspent by $2m with the Minister's approval.


Senator BONNER -Thank you, Senator Rae. It overspent and the Minister okayed that. He has said that he will reduce the Queensland allocation this time by that amount and that Queensland will get only the normal amount which will have to be allocated out of the money which will be made available to Queensland now. So Queensland spent not only all the money last year but also it has already committed this money which it has not yet received. If that does not show to all and sundry that the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs is trying to do a good job by providing as many houses as possible for Aborigines in Queensland then I am a Dutchman. I w3l be the first black Dutchman in captivity. The Minister, in wandering around Queensland, made some very nasty comments about housing in Queensland. The Queensland Department would if it could give every Aboriginal in Queensland a house to live in. But it can only work within its budget. It can only use the money available to it. If honourable senators look at the Bill they will see it shows that this financial year Queensland will get from the Australian Government $10,362,000. This is a very nice gesture. But when we put that alongside the amount of some $7m provided from the Budget of the

Queensland Government it does not look so jolly good.

Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.


Senator BONNER - Before the suspension of the sitting I was referring to matters pertaining to the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs. There was some mention that the Department had not spent all the money which had been allocated to it for Aboriginal advancement. It was, I believe, Senator Keeffe who mentioned this and it was sort of backed up by the Minister. In his reply will the Minister give me proof that the Queensland Department has not spent the money, or will he inform the Senate how much money that Department has spent on Aboriginal advancement out of its allocation from the State Government? I am aware that the Department has used all of the money that has been allocated to it for Aboriginal advancement and, in fact, has fully committed the amount of money that will be allocated to it under the Bill we are now debating.

Earlier I pointed out the problems faced by the Aboriginal people in Queensland. Queensland has approximately one-third of the total Australian Aboriginal population. I am very conscious of the conditions under which many of my Aboriginal fellows live in the State of Queensland particularly in the outlying areas. The conditions in some areas certainly are not what I would want or what the Aboriginal people themselves would want. But again, it is a matter of finance to provide the kind of housing that is needed in those places. If the Federal Government, the Commonwealth Government, the Australian Government- it is confusing these days- accepted the responsibilities given to it following the referendum in 1967 it would ensure that sufficient finance was made available to the different States, and particularly to my State of Queensland, so that housing can be provided for many of my people who live under pretty shocking conditions, because they do not have the finance to provide the homes themselves. I believe it is the responsibility of this Government to ensure that the indigenous people of Australia live under conditions equal to those enjoyed today by every other Australian.

I again question the allocation of money by the Australian Government to the various States, and particularly to my own State. I have already referred to the matter of housing. Now let me mention welfare and refer to the amounts of money to be allocated to the States by the Australian Government. In New South Wales some $270,000 is being allocated for Aboriginal welfare. An amount of about $384,000 is being allocated for South Australia and in Western Australia the amount involved is $1,468,000. But when we look at the allocation for Queensland we find that it is a mere $70,000. 1 find this hard to understand. I am hoping that the Minister will clarify this when he replies and that he will give us some reason why the State of Queensland is not getting at least the same amount, as if not more than, is being allocated for Aboriginal welfare in the other States. After all, there are more Aboriginal people in the State of Queensland than there are in any other State of the Commonwealth. I sincerely hope that the Minister will give us a good reason and not the kind of reason that was mentioned by Senator Rae who said that it is because the Queensland Government is not prepared to do as the Australian Government wants it to do or is not prepared to be dictated to by the Australian Government. Again Queensland seems to be missing out on the kind of finance that is required for Aboriginal welfare.

I want to comment on some of the issues that were raised by Senator Keeffe in relation to my State of Queensland. He said that fruit and vegetables were not grown on Aboriginal reserves, and he seemed to blame the Queensland Government for this. I point out that I lived in an Aboriginal community for 17 years, namely Palm Island. All my children were born there, and were partially raised and partially educated there.


Senator Rae - How do you think your experience compares with Senator Keeffe 's?


Senator BONNER - In relation to what Senator Keeffe said, from my experience I think it is ludicrous that he should say that these things were never provided in these communities because in my day on Palm Island I was the assistant settlement overseer responsible for a workforce of some 350 men and women. We had a farm on Palm Island in those days. We milked some 120 cows. Every household was provided with milk; every household was provided with free vegetables. As a matter of fact, I recall many a day when I would send from the vegetable room back to the farm to be given to the pigs dray loads of cabbages, cauliflowers, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, the whole box and dice. But that happened under the bad old Act of Queensland, you know, that racist Act that was talked about in Queensland when there were approximately 1,500 people living on Palm Island and every able bodied man was required to do a certain amount of work to provide those things in the communities. But the Act was changed because various people said that it should be changed and they brought in what was called cash economy and then the people were not required to do this kind of work. They could do as they liked. The farm today is a wilderness. They have completely done away with the dairy farm and the dairy farm now is just a wilderness. Consequently, the people on Palm Island are suffering because of people like Senator Keeffe and those who cried for the Act to be changed.

Senator Keeffementioned a place called Old Mapoon. This issue is being completely blown out of proportion. I realise that there are many of the old people from Mapoon who have a desire to return there because this is the place where their people lived for perhaps thousands of years, but because of its isolation and because it is almost impossible to service, the Government in Queensland decided that in the interests of the people perhaps another settlement should be established for them. I personally as an Aboriginal, more as an Aboriginal than as a Senator of the Commonwealth, spoke to many of the older people of Mapoon. Yes, Mr President, they want to be able to return to Mapoon but only for short visits. They want to be able to take their children back to the place of their birth, to the old sites and to the sacred sites. They want to be able to show the young people how it was before. They want to be able to take the young people back to the springs. They want to take the young people back and show them what was Aboriginal culture in the old days.

The old people realise that they can no longer live there as they used to do prior to the coming of the white man. They wish to educate their children. Mr President, they wish to give their children the same opportunities that you, I and everybody else wish to give our children, but the Aborigines still have this desire to go back on occasions. It is on special occasions that they wish to go back to that place, when there are stories that they must relate to the children- stories of the Dream Time and of the culture of the Aboriginal community prior to the white man that they wish to tell to the younger generations. Like you and I, Mr President, they are realistic and intelligent people. They know that they can no longer live there because of the advances that are being made now by the Aboriginal people. They want their children to enjoy everything that every other Australian is enjoying today. So much for the bluster and that kind of thing that goes on in relation to Aboriginal people.

Much needs to be understood about the Aboriginal people; much needs to be understood of the thinking of the Aboriginal people. Many young Aboriginal people today are becoming educated and more sophisticated. Last week many young Aboriginal people were out in front of Parliament House demonstrating and trying to show to us here in Parliament that all is not well in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. As many of the young men said to me, they were not demonstrating against Government policy. Although I sit on this side of the chamber, I do not condemn many of the policies that have been brought forward by the present Government. I give credit to the Government for many of its policies. I think that it has instigated policies that perhaps my Party when in government should have instigated. But let that be. The people who demonstrated outside Parliament House were demonstrating against the implementation by the Department of some of the policies.

The money that has been allocated for Aboriginal advancement is not getting down to the grass root levels where it is needed. It is not getting down to the people who are in need. It is being eaten up in administrative costs. It is being administered by people who unfortunately do not understand the Aboriginal people and who cannot understand the feelings of Aboriginal people. As I have said on so many occasions, it is about time that the Department started to employ and involve competent Aborigines. I am talking of the mums and dads who have suffered discrimination and prejudices and who have come up the hard way but who today, because of their hard work and their perseverance, are living in the community in decent homes which they have obtained by the sweat of their own brows. I am talking of those people who are holding down good jobs and who are educating their children. These are the people who can be utilised. They can be employed time and time again at the Estimates committees hearings concerning the employment of Aboriginal people in the Department. We have in the Department an Aborigine who through his own guts and determination got himself to one of the highest positions in the Public Service that an Aborigine has been able to reach. He has done this through his own guts and determination. What is he in the Department? In his own words, he is a lackey in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. He says that he is treated like a lackey.


Senator Rae - Who was brought to the Estimates Committee?


Senator BONNER - I asked why in the consideration of the estimates of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs not one Aborigine was present. I was told by the Minister and by the

Secretary that Mr Perkins was invited and he said that he had nothing to contribute. He came to Parliament House to a dinner engagement. I spoke to him outside the chamber and I challenged him on this subject. I said: 'Charles, why are you not at the Estimates Committee? Why are you, the lone Aboriginal at a high level in the Public Service, not down at the Estimates Committee?' He said: 'I was not invited. I was told by the Minister a few hours ago about the Estimates Committee meeting and I was under the impression that it was a Public Accounts Committee to which I had already given evidence.' Mr Perkins reiterated at the meeting, when finally under pressure from my colleague Senator Rae he was brought forward to say something, that he was not invited. We hear so much from the Government of its aim to involve Aborigines in the decision making process in the Department. In what greater way can we involve Aborigines in decision making than in that Department, which has the responsibility for Aboriginal administration throughout the Commonwealth?

I wish to comment briefly on what is now called I think, the mission at the front of Parliament House. In 1972 when the Aboriginal people set up what they termed at that dme an embassy I was against what the Government did because I believe that the Aboriginal people have a right to demonstrate. Until such time as a building is provided in the capital of this nation, which used to be their nation, where Aborigines Will have a permanent lobby, they have every right to do what they are doing today in front of Parliament House. If the Government and the Parliament of this nation will not provide a permanent lobby for the Aboriginal people, the Aboriginal people have every right to sit out there on the lawns in front of Parliament House. Yes, it might embarrass the Government. Yes, it might look unsightly. Is there anything more unsightly than some of the things that I have seen around this nation- some of the conditions under which the original inhabitants of this nation are living?

Is there anything more unsightly than to see the Aboriginal people in a place such as Camooweal? Camooweal is a little town with one hotel, one police station, one general store, a cafe and half a dozen houses. It is out in the wide open plains. There is hardly a tree in sight. When I visited there I saw Aboriginal women and their children, babes in arms, living in a series of constructions which consisted of 2 sheets of galvanised iron 6 feet long and 3 feet in height, side by side, with a sheet of iron over the top. They crawled into them in day time temperatures of 1 10 degrees. People say that what is in front of

Parliament House is unsightly. They should go and see some of the conditions under which some of the original inhabitants of this country are living. Certainly it is unsightly but so are the conditions under which I see Aboriginal people living.

It seems to me that the time is fast approaching when Aboriginal affairs will be taken completely out of the political arena because for far too long the Aboriginal people of this nation have been used as a political football. I believe that the time is fast approaching when we will have to set up- I do not care what you call it, a commission or whatever- a statutory body which is completely administered by Aborigines and responsible to Parliament.


Senator Rae - Senator, isit your belief that there are sufficient Aboriginal people to be able to conduct such a statutory corporation or do you agree with the other attitude that has been expressed that there are already too many in the Department?


Senator BONNER - I believe in respect of this body that, as is the case in every other department and every other statutory body, expertise can be bought. Aborigines have the expertise in Aboriginal affairs. They have the understanding of Aboriginal people. They have the communication with Aboriginal people and if they need expertise in the fields of housing, agriculture and the various industries they can purchase that expertise. But at least, for God 's sake, let the Aboriginal people administer their own affairs.

I support the amendment moved by my colleague Senator Rae, because I believe that in this BUI Queensland has been victimised and the Aboriginal people of Queensland will suffer by being deprived of this amount of money for housing. Certainly the Minister will say: 'We are taking it away with one hand and giving it back with the other'. As I pointed out earlier, that is not completely right, because $3. 1 9m, from what the Minister is saying, will not go to housing in its entirety. Much of it will be eaten up in administrative costs. We should allow that amount of money to go back to the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs, which, as I said earlier, has the machinery to carry out this work. If the Minister in his sincerity, and I congratulate him for it, wants to involve the Aboriginal people in housing societies then he should make the extra funds available to the housing societies, but do not deprive the Aboriginal people of Queensland, through the Queensland Government, of that $3. 19m. So I support the amendment moved by Senator Rae which reads: 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.

I support that amendment with everything I have. I would say finally that if the Government supported the amendment it could not be accused of double standards in this Bill in relation to Aboriginal affairs.







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