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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2311

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) - This evening we are devoting our attention to the estimates for the Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts and we all recognise that some very thoughtful speeches have been made on both sides of the House. Although it is a new Department which when it was set up came under some criticism as being a miscellaneous sort of department, there is no doubt that the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) has under his control some very important facets of the national life and some very important responsibilities that the Commonwealth has to meet. I propose to devote my short time tonight to discussing some of the Commonwealth's responsibilities in the field of Aboriginal affairs. The Commonwealth's responsibility for Aboriginals who live outside the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory was greatly extended by the referendum of 1967. We on this side of the House have felt for some considerable time that the Commonwealth has not taken the initiative which the people of Australia by an overwhelming majority indicated to this Parliament in 1967 that the Commonwealth should take. So we feel that the time has come, now that 4 years have elapsed since the Office of Aboriginal Affairs was set up, to review all the activities of the Office with a view to greatly expanding those activities so that the Commonwealth might properly take the initiative which it should take.

This is not to say that co-operation with the States and other instrumentalities is to be downgraded. I believe that the problem of bringing the Aboriginal people of this country - and in 'Aboriginal people* I include Torres Strait Islanders - up to that standard of living which we would hope all Australians would enjoy is one which will demand the attention not only of the Commonwealth but also of the State governments, local authorities and voluntary organisations and, indeed, command the consideration of all Australians. Let us look at what the Commonwealth has done since it became involved in this area. First of all an Office of Aboriginal Affairs was set up and a decision was made that very largely the Commonwealth would work through the State governments. I suppose there was a lot of common sense in this because the States were well established in the field of Aboriginal affairs and a substantial number of Aboriginals and Islanders already lived on State government - maintained settlements and missions. But while the amount of assistance to the States has gone up from year to year - it was S3. 65m in 1968-69 and has increased to $9.2m this year - we have to recognise that the amount appropriated in this Budget is a very small amount in view of the needs that still exist.

Let us look at some of the matters to which reference has been made. I know that we have legislation before the House dealing with State grants and I do not intend to deal with it at any length now. My friend and colleague, the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard), said tonight that he waited for over a year for an answer to a question. I would like to point out that on 30th October last year after a debate on the States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Bill 1970 I placed a question on the notice paper seeking information about the money provided in the

Budgets of the Commonwealth, the States and the Territories for the housing of Aboriginals and Islanders. It is almost a year since that question was placed on the notice paper and it has not yet been answered. Does this mean that the Commonwealth has not yet received information which it has sought from the States or does it mean that the Commonwealth can make an appropriation in the present Budget for such housing without any idea of just what the needs in that field are?

I know that this Government has said that it gives a very high priority to Aboriginal housing. We do not discount that. However, when we consider the amount of about $5m provided for Aboriginal housing and compare it with the $60m that we are making available for war service homes we realise that the Government has dual standards. One point that needs to be made in relation to Aboriginal housing is that almost every house provided for an Aborigine is provided through a Government instrumentality. I agree that some Aborigines and islanders may be allocated Housing Commission homes, but by and large it is Government money which builds houses for Aborigines, whereas among what might be called the white Australian community people have a choice between being assisted by savings banks, home building societies of various kinds and, of course, housing commissions also.

Just as an indication of the fact that the Government has not expanded its role to meet the decision arrived at by the 1967 referendum, I remind honourable members of just what it is that we are doing at present. We have Aborigines living in a number of environments on government settlements and missions. These are major areas of State responsibility in which the Commonwealth is assisting. There is no doubt that many improvements have taken place in this field. Then we have Aborigines who work in the pastoral industry and who are fringe dwellers either around cattle stations or around the country towns. Very few programmes have yet been evolved to meet the needs of these people. When we consider the expenditure of Commonwealth money and where it is being spent we find that it is spent mainly on Aborigines who live in towns, and that the largest amounts of money spent have been on Aborigines other than those living in a fringe dwelling environment.

Then there are the Aborigines whom we might describe as urban Aborigines. They are the ones living in the cities and large country towns. Many of the organisations working for Aborigines in the large country towns and in the cities have received grants from the Commonwealth Government. This assistance is useful because a number of organisations are working in various social and sporting fields, undertaking welfare work and the like. But the impact which needs to be made in an area which has not yet been touched on is in relation to the housing of urban Aborigines. I noted in the documents distributed by the Minister recently that one house was built in the City of Brisbane, for example, for the housing of urban Aborigines. It is true to say that when we look about our cities and see Aborigines and their housing our attention tends to be drawn to those places where the Aborigines are perhaps living in overcrowded conditions or in substandard housing. This is because Aborigines living in these circumstances are obviously easier to see. I am not detracting in any way from the fact that many Aborigines in our cities and towns are living in very satisfactory circumstances, but the problem still remains and it is a problem that we have yet to face up to. 1 suggest to the Minister that what we should be doing is setting up a Commonwealth Aboriginal housing corporation of the magnitude of the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Housing. Such a corporation would make a real impact on the need for Aboriginal housing in the years immediately ahead. This is an area in which it should not be difficult to make an assessment of what the needs are, not only to provide new houses for the expanding population but also to ensure that those Aborigines who are shifting into our cities and towns are satisfactorily housed. If we are to solve this problem in any reasonable time it will involve a programme similar in size to that undertaken by the War Service Homes Division.

I suggest to the Minister that when soldiers come back from serving overseas in an army, any Government, no matter what its political complexion might be, would be anxious to ensure that sufficient money was appropriated in the Budget to ensure that every applicant for a war service home received one within a fairly short space of time. The idea of saying to returned servicemen and women 'We will give you a house in 10, 15 or 20 years time' would be quite unthinkable. I wish the same sense of urgency applied to Aboriginal housing in respect of which we should set target dates. We should set a target of providing every Aboriginal family in this nation with decent housing within a perid of 10 or 15 years. It is an area which is obviously outside the capacity of the States and is clearly a responsibility of the Commonwealth. We on this side of the House will not be satisfied until we see the Commonwealth take up this responsibility.

Progress reported.

Thursday, 14 October 1971

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