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Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3851


Mr COBB(4.30 p.m.) —In continuation of my remarks on the budget, in the few remaining minutes I have left I would like to address the topic of Aboriginal affairs. This coming financial year we will be allocating some $1,600 million to Aboriginal programs. This will be the second highest amount on record, superseded only by the abnormal amount that was spent last year. In fact, in the next four years we will be spending, in current dollars, $429 million more on Aboriginal affairs than the previous government spent in its last four years.

As you move around the country, the main areas that taxpayers and, indeed, Aborigines want to see funds spent on in Aboriginal affairs are health, housing, education, employment and training. In all those areas we will be spending more. In health, we will be spending 28 per cent more in real terms over the next four years compared with the previous four years—an extra $97 million. Indeed, we will be opening up 23 extra Aboriginal medical services around the country in remote areas, areas that have never been serviced before.

In housing, we will be spending $26 million more over the next four years—a total of $1,323 million. What is more important, on top of that, is that we will be aiming to ensure that we get better value for the dollar. I know that, in the town of Wilcannia in my own electorate, four houses were built there within the last two or three years for $212,000 each. They are not particularly outstanding houses. I think we can get better value for the dollar in the housing area.

If you listen to the critics, you would think that the community development employment program was being wiped out. Only in the Australian newspaper this morning, there was a letter signed by about a dozen or so people, including a professor or two, virtually implying that the program would be wiped out. The situation is that there are 262 projects in Australia encompassing 28,300 participants. What are we doing? We are keeping all of those on. In fact, we will be spending $337 million more in CDEP projects over the next four years. Not only will we retain what is there now but we will be opening up about another 54 places each month.

In the DEETYA area, we will be spending $147 million more over the next four years on education and training compared with the previous four years—a 12 per cent increase in real terms, which I think is pretty handsome indeed. In the native title area, we will be spending $172 million more over the next four years. In addition, I think we should remember that Aborigines themselves will benefit more than average from a range of mainstream budget initiatives, such as the family tax initiative, simply because Aboriginal people tend to be overrepresented in the target groups of family, youth, unemployment and those living in regional Australia.

ATSIC are squealing about the cuts, but the cuts are coming off very inflated forward estimates. We have to remember that ATSIC underspent their own budget by $58 million last year, $78 million the previous year and $51 million the year before that. Perhaps they could look to their own budget of $12½ million on travel and $136.4 million on running costs.

In the region that takes in Dubbo in my electorate, ATSIC have slashed that regional budget by $45 million. I cannot see why it is necessary to slash it by that much. There is a 100 per cent cut to CATARAC, which provides accountancy training, and a 100 per cent cut to the domestic violence unit—a decision by ATSIC themselves—which does marvellous work not only in the Dubbo region but also in all of country New South Wales. It is in these sorts of areas that we should be providing 100 per cent of the outcome levels rather than cutting them by 100 per cent as ATSIC have done when they have arranged their priorities. I do think that this area could be looked at.

Sure, there are some cuts in the ATSIC area, but overall they are still being treated very generously indeed. Aboriginal funding will remain a priority of this government over the next term of this parliament.