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Thursday, 30 September 1971
Page: 1738

Mr HOWSON (Casey) (Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

In presenting this legislation I think I should at the same time give honourable members a further brief account of Commonwealth policy in the field of Aboriginal advancement during the past year, in continuation of the accounts given by my predecessor in his second reading speeches in previous years, First, however, I will outline the provisions of the present Bill. The legislation provides for a 31 per cent increase in the grants to the States, amounting to $9.2m for 1971-72 compared with $7m for 1970-71, $5.41m in 1969-70 and $3.65m in 1968-69. As in the past, the Government proposes to allocate the $9.2m as between the States taking account of their percentage of the total Aboriginal population as revealed by the 1966 census and of their relative needs. A table has been prepared - which, with the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard - setting out the allocation proposed as between the States for 1971-72 by comparison with the grants for each of the previous 3 years.


The legislation provides also that of the amount of $9. 2m, the greater proportion be devoted to housing.. Work commenced in other fields will, of course, also continue. I envisage the following allocation as between the various purposes for which the grants are made to the States:


Experience over the past 3 years has shown that as the financial year proceeds individual States are sometimes obliged to seek variations in the allocations between these headings though within the overall grant to the State; but any such variation will be relatively minor and designed to enable States to adapt their programmes to meet unexpected contingencies which might arise during the year. It is the Government's intention that the amounts available for each of these six purposes be divided between the States as shown in a further table which, with the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard.


What do all these figures mean in practical terms? A precise statement of the use made by the States of the 1970-71 grant will help honourable members to obtain some impression of the impressive contribution made by the Commonwealth grants in a variety of fields during . that year. Again, with the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard, a statement of the actual expenditure by the States of the grants made in 1970-71.





Taken along with similar statements provided by my predecessor in his second reading speeches in 1970 and 1969, this provides a running account of the Commonwealth's endeavour, together with the States, over the 3 years of its activity since the referendum. 1 am sure honourable members will consider it, as I do, a good example of constructive Federalism, in which my Council and Office have collaborated very productively with State departments.

In addition to the amounts which it is intended to apply to housing, health, education, employment and vocational training and similar purposes through the States grants, it is proposed to apply $3,850,000 to the continuation by the Department of Education and Science of the study and secondary grants schemes and $173,000 to smaller projects, particularly in health and education, through Commonwealth departments. Thus of the total budgetary provision in the Aboriginal Advancement Trust Account for 1971-72 of $14.35m, no less than $13,223,000 will be devoted primarily to efforts in the fields of housing, health, education, and employment and vocational training. Expenditure of this order in these fields represents a useful stimulus to Aboriginal advancement where it is most needed.

Funds provided for housing through the Aboriginal Advancement Trust Account over the past 3 years have resulted in the construction or purchase of about 1,000 additional houses, and the funds which I propose for 1971-72 will result in the acquisition of some 500 further homes. In addition some $ 1.76m has been expended over the past 3 years from the Trust Account by way of the States grants or by direct grants on the acquisition, extension, improvement and in some cases operation of hostel accommodation, particularly for employment and educational purposes; and I envisage a further expenditure of at least $856,000 in 1971-72. In order to relieve some of the demand for housing I have asked my officers to investigate whether more can usefully be done in the short term by way of the provision of hostel accommodation.

Funds for health work provided through the Trust Account are making possible an improvement of rural health services in areas of Aboriginal population. The development of programmes of health education and preventive medicine by professional and sub-professional people should reduce progressively the pressure on the curative services provided in hospitals in the major centres. In addition much necessary expenditure on capital construction and equipment is made possible by the funds from the Trust Account. In the Northern Territory the Department of Health will, on the basis of funds provided from the Trust Account, establish mobile health facilities for the substantial Aboriginal communities in the Borroloola and Timber Creek areas; and, by agreement with the Western Australian authorities, will provide health and medical services for the Aboriginal community at the small mining camp at Wingellina in Central Australia. I also believe that simplified application procedures being arranged by my colleague, the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) will make the benefits of the subsidised medical scheme more readily available to

Aborigines, particularly in Western Australia. Notwithstanding past and present efforts the health status of Aborigines remains a cause for concern particularly in respect of infant mortality and malnutrition. The problems will not easily be overcome, for they require the improvement of living conditions and the extension of medical and health knowledge and understanding amongst Aboriginal parents including increased voluntary use of family planning techniques. However, it can be said that we now comprehend the problems better perhaps than at any earlier time and that our programmes will have increasing effect over a period.

Funds provided for education through the Trust Account are ensuring to Aboriginal Australians more and better educational facilities by way of buildings, equipment, libraries and so on, and are helping the States to ensure that children at school below the statutory school leaving age will receive necessary assistance with clothing, textbooks, travel, tutorial assistance and homework supervision. Beyond the statutory school leaving age, we are very encouraged by the response to the secondary and study grants schemes, which, as honourable members will bc aware, help make it possible for young Aborigines to pursue their studies as far as they are capable of proceeding with substantial benefit to themselves. In the first year, 1970, 2,379 were assisted under the secondary grants scheme, and in 1971, 3,800, while in 1972 it is estimated that the scheme will provide for some 5,700. I am satisfied that very many more young Aborigines are now staying on in secondary school and that there has been generally a marked improvement in the attitudes and application of the children and in their level of attainment.

In regard to study grants, which provide for study in the upper secondary and tertiary level, 114 were assisted in the first year, 1969, 305 in 1970 and some 500 in 1971 and it is estimated that some 600 will receive assistance in 1972. Of even more significance is the growing programme of assistance through the Trust Account at the other end of schooling - through preschooling. In the first 3 years oha Commonwealth has expended mon than $500,000 from the Trust Account ยป addi tional pre-schooling for Aboriginal children. This is only a beginning and we hope to expend the scheme in the years to come.

I mention these matters as indicators of progress. There are many others to which I could refer - for instance, to the encouraging results achieved by the regional projects we are developing with some States on the basis of funds provided through the Trust Account. These projects involve effort by the whole local community as well as by Commonwealth, State and local government authorities. An example is the purchase, removal and re-erection of Snowy Mountains Authority houses by the Shoalhaven Shire with financial assistance from the Trust Account.

I have mentioned the manner in which about $13.2m of the $14.35m sought for the Aboriginal Advancement Trust Account this financial year is being applied. Honourable members will also be interested to know something of the application of the remaining $1.127m. This will be used for grants to non-governmental organisations for a wide range of purposes - for welfare work, adult education, the provision and running of hostels, support of the arts, crafts and cultural activities, support of youth and sporting activities, Aboriginal housing societies and for pre-schooling provided by private organisations. 1 have had prepared a summary statement of grants for these purposes made over the past 3 years, and with the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate it in Hansard.






It is important to realise that the$ 14.35m which I have been discussing is in no sense the total provision for direct expenditure on Aboriginal advancement. In addition the Commonwealth is seeking in the Budget$16.33m for direct expenditure, mainly by the Department of the Interior, on Aboriginal advancement in the Northern Territory. It has also provided amounts in the votes of other Commonwealth departments, such as the $154,000 in the votes of the Department of Labour and National Service for the continuation of the employment training scheme conducted by that Department - which is, I believe, already having an important effect in increasing permanent employment of young Aborigines. Apart from this the States themselves will, I expect, provide of the order of $13m from their own resources for direct expenditure on Aboriginal advancement during 1971-72, pursuant to the undertaking they entered into with my predecessor to maintain and increase expenditure from their own resources. Total direct national expenditure on Aboriginal advancement for 1971-72 will therefore be of the order of $44m for an estimated Aboriginal population of 140,000.

It is important to realise that the amount expended is increasing substantially each year. This year's likely expenditure of some $44m compares, for instance, with an expenditure in 1967-68 which is the year before the Commonwealth assumed its new post-referendum responsibility, of some $20m. I have had my officers prepare an approximate table of major direct expenditure over this period, which points up the overall increases. With the concurrence of honourable members, I incorporate the table in Hansard. At this stage the details, particularly of expenditure by the States, are, as I say, approximate only; but the Commonwealth Statistician is preparing more precise tables which should be available later in the year.


Another point worthy of mention is that, because of the nature of the programmes to which these finances are devoted, most of the funds are applied to the advancement of the younger generation of Aboriginal Australians. I believe that it is here that the greatest opportunities exist though I also wish to alleviate the very difficult circumstances in which numbers of older Aboriginal Australians live.

While expenditure on Aboriginal advancement has been rising, and I am sure will rise further, such expenditure is not intended to be a permanent aspect of Australian society. By investing sufficient money in the right areas over the years immediately ahead we will be making it possible for increasing numbers of Aborigines to become independent of the special assistance now being provided through the Aboriginal Advancement Trust Account and in other ways, and, where they need assistance, to be progressively cared for by the general provisions made for the community as a whole. In urban communities Aboriginal Australians seem likely to find effective and respected places in our society living and working among their white fellow citizens, although we hope and believe that they will continue to take pride in their Aboriginal identity and culture. In more isolated areas where many communities will be largely or predominantly Aboriginal developments are likely for some time to have a more corporate or group character and to retain many significant elements of Aboriginal tradition. It is our firm conviction that the choice open to Aboriginal Australians in this way is the surest means of developing the diversity in our one Australian society. This will ensure an honoured place for Aboriginal citizens who will be making a significant contribution to our development and culture.

A recent survey shows that the Aboriginal population may reach 400.000 or more by the end of the century, of which some three-quarters may be persons of mixed descent. Our plan; should be based on this expectation. Notwithstanding the rapid rate of increase, we can hope that special assistance directed towards Aboriginal Australians as such will be necessary for a smaller and declining proportion of them. The Council for Aboriginal Affairs has indicated that for this goal to be achieved increasing emphasis must be given to measures to promote the greater economic independence of Aboriginal Australians as individuals and as groups - especially in the north and centre as communities - and to strengthen their capacity to manage their own affairs. The effectiveness of these policies will be measured by the rate at which progress over the coming years justifies the elimination of measures of social welfare assistance directed at Aboriginal Australians as such, by the increasing contribution to the national product by Aboriginal Australians, and also by the increasing contribution to the varied pattern of Australian social life made by their traditions and culture. I commend the Bill to honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr Beazley) adjourned.

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