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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3237

Mr HAND —by leave-I shall not take too much of the time of the House because I understand that the Whip and the Leader of the House (Mr Young) both have their monitors on and are likely to come into the chamber and suggest that I stop fairly quickly. I have been a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs since I have been a member of this place. It is one of the better jobs one gets to do. I say that because of the worthwhile work the Committee has been involved in in the time I have been a member. I pay special tribute to the new Chairman of the Committee, the honourable member for Moore (Mr Blanchard), and to the other Committee members, from all the political parties, who have worked so tirelessly to bring forward this report. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) also needs to be commended for bringing foward this term of reference to the Committee because as the previous speaker, the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), and the Chairman have said, Aborigines are probably one of the most deprived groups of people in the world. The shadow Minister referred to them as the `Fourth World'. I think he is probably right. He also talked about our understanding of the problems of Aborigines as a community. The fact is that the Australian community does not understand the problems these people currently face.

The Committee identified 588 homeland centre communities throughout Australia with a total population of 9,500 people. That is not a lot of people, but they are spread over-Here comes the Leader of the House. I always get nervous when I see the Leader of the House, like the Opposition does.

Mr Spender —He is a very kindly old fellow.

Mr HAND —I am going to keep talking for a few moments, because I think it is my right, and defy even the Manager of Opposition Business, who is now interjecting. The point I am trying to make is that simple things white Australians take for granted, such as water, electricity, shelter, health and education-all the services-are not always available to these people. As one Committee member said to me recently when we were visiting one of these communities: `It would do well for every member, of both Houses, to serve on this Committee for a short period of their time in this place. They would then begin to have a better appreciation of the sorts of problems this Committee addresses in its work.'

We visited a community at Nyirripi where we saw an example of mismanagement. A very expensive school was dumped on concrete bricks in the sand. The next night along came a dust storm. The whole school became unusable and was put out of action before anybody even got into it. We saw the children attending the school sitting in the sand. Of the 23 children belonging to the junior class at the school, 19 had chronic trachoma. The reason they had trachoma to that degree was that there was no water. The report talks in some detail about water. In the communities we visited where water was available, health had improved, living standards generally had improved and the people were able to provide the necessary services to ensure that their children's health improved greatly.

It is interesting-I cannot understand why no one in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs has done so-to read about farming practices in a nation such as Israel, which has dry farming and water reticulation methods down to a fine art. We visited communities in the middle of the desert where people were growing oranges and vegetables effectively because somebody had provided water and a bore for them to do so. The health of those communities had improved dramatically. It became obvious to me that lack of water was the most important problem these people had to grapple with. I guarantee that not many people in our society appreciate the harshness of those areas and the problems these people face as they try to grapple with the society we are trying to inflict upon them and as they desperately try to hang on to their wonderful culture. They are caught between the two cultures.

This Government currently is discussing the question of land tenure and excisions-in line with certain recommendations-with the pastoralists and the Northern Territory Government. I wish the Minister and the Government well in those deliberations. I look forward to an end to the conflict that has been raging on the question of excisions and stock routes and I hope that those matters are settled very quickly.

The previous speaker spoke about the work of the Committee and how we all worked together to produce the report. Like the immigration issue, this is an issue on which we once had a bipartisan approach. I make the plea yet again that we return to a bipartisan approach, not for our good and not for the good of people in the broader community necessarily, but for the good of the Aboriginal people, particularly those who are living in these difficult situations, so that together we can explain to the community at large the sort of costs the honourable member for Bradfield talked about in his address and why they need to be met to maintain a very sparse existence, and how costly it is to provide those very minimal services. I plead with the Opposition to follow the lead of the Liberal Party members on the Committee in taking a bipartisan approach.

In conclusion, I place on record my thanks to the members of the secretariat. In particular, I thank David Elder, who is the Secretary of the Committee, and his staff. I thank Bert, who is leaving us and going to greener pastures. I like to think that he has been demoted, because we consider this Committee to be pretty important. I also thank Andrea Collins, who was seconded from the Aboriginal Development Commission to the Committee. I accept the recommendation of the Chairman that she be seconded again. She contributed no end to the work of the Committee. I congratulate the Chairman.

I again plead with the Opposition to support the Government in its attempts to implement the recommendations of this Committee in a bipartisan way. When the legislation is introduced here, I would like to think that the words uttered by the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs-which I believe were sincere-will be supported by his Party when he supports the recommendations contained in this report.