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States grants (Aboriginal assistance) Bill



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D E P A R T M E N T OF ABO RIGINAL AFFAIRS

M E D IA RELEASE EMBARGO: UNTIL MINISTER SPEAKS. · STATES GRANTS (ABORIGINAL ASSISTANCE) BILL

(Statement by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Les Johnson).

Legislation to provide continuing legislative authority by which funds would be made available to the States for the implementation of Aboriginal assistance programs was outlined in Parliament today by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Les Oohnson.

The Minister said the Bill, if passed into law, would replace the practice by which a States Grants (Aboriginal Assistance) Bill had been introduced each year, and would provide for the payment to the States, in any year, of such amounts as were appropriated by Parliament for that purpose in that year.

He said such standing legislation also would overcome a deficiency in the present situation in that there was no specific legislative authority for payment to the States during the Supply Period. ~

Mr Johnson said the detailed information of Aboriginal affairs programs undertaken by direct funding and through State instrumentalities which usually accompanied the introduction of the annual States Grants Bills in Parliament would in future years be made available to Parliament in other ways, particularly in his Departments Annual Report.

He said that in accordance with the wishes of Aboriginal people and to enable them to play an increasing role in the development and implementation of programs, greater emphasis now was being placed on providing funds direct to Aboriginal'organisation^ to undertake programs previously undertaken by State Government Departments.

Mr Johnson told the Parliament that of the’total identifiable Australian Government expenditure on Aboriginal assistance in 1975/76, estimated to be $192m. an amount of $142,753,000 would be channelled through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

The balance of approximately $50m.· was proposed for expenditure on Aboriginal programs by the Department of Education for study grants, secondary grants, overseas study grants and projects in the Northern Territory, the Department of Labor and Immigration for the Aboriginal Employment Training Scheme, and the Departments of Housing and Construction, Northern Australia and Urban and Regional Development on various services and facilities. . ■

The Minister said substantial funds had been allocated for the direct funding of Aboriginal Housing Associations. ’

An amount of $21,817,075 would be spent for this purpose in 1975/76 in the Government’s attempt to overcome the backlog of Aboriginal housing, believed to be in the vicinity of 7,000 - 8,000 dwellings.

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The refusal of the Opposition to pass the

Budget would represent a national disaster to Aboriginals

throughout Australia within a few weeks, the Minister for

Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Les Johnson# said to-day.

"I have received a detailed report from my Department

on what the Opposition's reckless destruction of democracy

will mean to the tens of thousands of Aboriginal people

almost totally dependent on the Australian Government for

their day-by-day existence", he said.

"Frankly, after digesting its contents,I am stunned

at what damage could occur to the Aboriginals if the Opposition

does not quickly allow the Budget to pass."

Mr. Johnson said that although his Department __ _

had funding arrangements which allowed flexibility in

distributing available funds, it was clear that as Supply funds

ran out on or after November 30, extreme hardship would be felt

by Aboriginal communities throughout Australia.

His Department had told him that this positon would

cause special hardship to remote Aboriginal communities

because they would be virtually cut off from the rest of

Australian society.

He said that some of the highlights of the major

difficulties which would occur could be seen from the following

examples:

. Food supplies to about 10,000 Aboriginals

would cease because most of these communities

, were located along the coastline of Arnhem Land

and relied on supplies being delivered by barge.

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Across Australia up to 5,250 Aboriginal

employees of various organisations funded

by Departmental grants would be retrenched.

Such a level of unemployment would arise

because of cessation of direct Trust Account

and State Grant programmes in the areas of

Health,(530 retrenchments), Welfare (100)

Education (250), Special Works projects (655),

Housing (350), and Town Management (1,960).

Medical and dental services funded by the

Department to provide specific care to

Aboriginal communities will close down, and

while attempts will be made to maintain

skeleton operations as money runs out, there

is a grave risk that soon after November 30,

essential medical supplies and equipment will not

be available. Grave health hazards would result.

A total of 56 Aboriginal Hostels with 896 rooms

and a staff of 200, including 150 Aboriginals

will have to close down after December.

Up to 850 houses programmed for purchase or

erection during this financial year; will not

proceed and without exception each of the families

waiting for them will have to wait well beyond the

time generally experienced by the rest of the

Australian community. As w elL 1,000 Aboriginals

in Western Australia alone who normally would

have obtained some form of temporary accommodation

before "the wet" now face deplorable living

conditions for at least another year. Also there

will be significant effects on the building industry

and consulting firms.

A total 164 Town Management type projects supplying

sewerage, water and power services to remote

communities will wind down. Of this number 89

projects are currently operating in the Northern

Territory,most of them in fairly remote areas.

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As Aboriginal unemployment increases, especially

in remote areas,retail stores operated by

Aboriginal Progress Associations will be effected

with the lack of cash flow directly bearing on the

ability of Aboriginal families to purchase food

supplies.

Aboriginal education would suffer with about

50 Aboriginal teacher aides facing retrenchment,

and schools, preschools and teacher-staff accommodation

remaining unbuilt or partly unbuilt. Consequently,

Aboriginals^ particularly those in remote areas,

would be deprived of their first education experience.

The Department of Labor and Immigration has

estimated that up to 1100 Aboriginal students training

under the NEAT scheme will no longer receive their

living allowances.

The funding of Aboriginal welfare organisations,

valuable as a referral point for Aboriginals in

desperate need of such services as night shelters,

soup kitchens, alcholic rehabilitation and homemaker

services,would soon dry up.

Aboriginal communities throughout Australia face the

prospect of Aboriginal Legal Aid Services ceasing* „

Because more than 20 such offices provide these

services in areas of extreme social and legal

difficulty, such a shut-down would leave Aboriginal

communities at a major disadvantage as against other

members of the Australian community.

In the Northern Territory up to 2,365 Aboriginal

employees will be retrenched after November 30,

including people employed by Aboriginal Councils,

the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, missions

and Aboriginal Associations.

Building of hospitals and employment of nurses in

remote communities would stop. .

In the Torres Strait area the hovercraft used for

medical evacuation purposes and transportation of

medical teams will be unable to run after the end of

November, if funds are not available. This would mean η v ΓΤ r'N > -» - / * i i * r> OTT'*'' '

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Mr. Johnson said the Senate's irresponsible

disruption of Government programmes involving Aboriginal

Advancement struck at the heart of the Government's

attempts to help the most underprivileged people in the

country.

"Despite major improvements under a Labor Government,

the Aboriginals are still the most depressed and deprived

group in our community and it horrifies me that the Opposition's

action in the Senate can only mean a great step backwards for

these people."

"The whole purpose of the Government's role in

Aboriginal areas is to compensate for grave deficiencies

in housing, health, education, employmentXjustice experienced

by Aboriginal families.

"This blind and wilful interference with the great

Government machinery whcih operates in a complex way to

maintain day-by-day assistance to Aboriginals will mean

hunger, insecurity and needless hardship for thousands.

"Another less obvious effect of the Opposition's

rejection of conventional decency is that the growing

aspirations and hopes of the Aboriginals will be injured

and their self confidence eroded. ,

"If the Senate Opposition persists with their present

deferral of funds to my Department then they must be held

responsible for the enormous damage which will result to our

efforts to help the Aboriginal community.