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Tuesday, 26 October 1971
Page: 2505

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - I want to state immediately that T have no solution to the Aboriginal problem; nor am I at all critical of those who are anxious for more to be done for Aboriginals. I would like to point out that there are considerable numbers of Aboriginal people in my electorate. I would be the first to admit that I know very little about the proper solution '.o the Aboriginal problem. I have found to my surprise that ignorance is usually no barrier to eloquence in this place, but I would say that I am sceptical about many of the things that are put forward as solutions. For instance, I have seen the impact of unlimited supplies of liquor to the Aboriginal population and to me this is devastating. Anybody who pretends that by giving the Aboriginal people equal drinking rights with us we are benefiting them is, I think, ignoring the facts of life. The same can be said in regard to social services. Anybody who thinks that by giving them equal rights in social services with the white people we will automatically improve their position is ignoring the facts of life.

I repeat that it is easy to be critical of efforts being made to help the Aboriginal population and, as the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) said, it is easier to be generous. To find the means is comparatively easy. The thing that is hard to find is the way in which we can really tackle the problem at the. grass roots level.

It is easy to make speeches about this; it is easy to supply the money. The fundamental problem is much deeper than this. I have no solution to offer. I hope that this Government will set in train an examination of the problem at the grass roots level. That would be better than having us kicking one another around trying to score political points for one another. That will not help to solve the Aboriginal problem.

In this speech I want to speak mainly about soil conservation. This matter has suddenly become a popular bandwagon which a great many people are endeavouring to get on. In this field I speak with some knowledge, having been a member of the Soil Conservation Committee in my own State of South Australia for 17 years and having been responsible for and constructed the first contour banks in that State. I feel that I should spell out the kind of problems which I envisage the Government is facing in this field. I recall one day when I was out with another man assisting in the construction of contour banks. An aeroplane flew over us very fast and very high. I said: 'I wonder who is in that?' The chap said; 'I suppose somebody who will tell us how to tackle our problem.' There is a tendency to fly over our problems very fast and very high and to say: 'Let us hand it to the national Government; let us have a national plan,' and then go away. The point I want to make, and what I am begging the House to realise, is that soil conservation is a grass roots problem. It is something that obviously has to be tackled at the grass roots and it can only be tackled in this way.

Those people who pretend that the Commonwealth can do any more than give a lead in this very vital matter of soil conservation are ignoring the facts of life. We must use State knowledge on this matter. The State departments have worked on the soil in each State and they have done research. The States know their soils. If they do not. they should know. If the Commonwealth has a burning desire to do something in regard to soil conservation 1 would recommend that it look into its own bailiwick, the Northern Territory. Soils in the top end of the Northern Territory . are very erodable types of soil that must be cared for with more than the usual -tender care. The Commonwealth has ' a direct responsibility in this area. If the Commonwealth Government has an overwhelming desire to get into the action I recommend that it should tackle this problem in the Northern Territory at the grass roots level. My main plea to the Government, to the Minister for the Environment (Mr Howson) and to the House is that we should not give way to the temptation to make political capital out of such a desperately important subject.

The other matter I want to refer to as an illustration of this tendency to get on bandwagons in an attempt to extract votes is the Simpson Desert discussion which has been going on recently. About one-third of the Simpson Desert is in my electorate. The people who want to get on this bandwagon should know three or four particular facts. Firstly, there has never been and never could be any intention to sell this land. It has never been sold. This land has always been let out on lease conditions and these conditions are very strictly controlled. It would be a surprise to many people to know that the pruning that comes from wise stocking helps to conserve the vegetation in the area. If honourable members want some confirmation of this I commend them to a study of experiments carried out at Yudnapinna before the last war. The problem is that of wise land usage. To use it, as it was recently, in an attempt to frighten people into apprehending that something awful was to happen to the Simpson Desert is one of the things that destroy the impact on the people who think that conservation is important.

I think that soil conservation and plant conservation are very important. I make a plea to the House that we should not use this subject of conservation in an attempt to obtain political capital in the way I fear it was used in the Simpson Desert episode. We have a national problem which can be solved by the States taking an interest and an increasing responsibility. It is not good enough for us to use conservation in an attempt to drum up a few votes in an electorate. - Mr WALLIS (Grey) (5.33) I would like firstly to endorse the remarks of the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) when speaking of the need for greater Commonwealth involvement in

Aboriginal affairs. We on this side of the House fully recognise the fact that in 1967. the people by way of referendum gave power to the Commonwealth Government to involve itself in Aboriginal affairs. Anyone who moves around areas where Aborigines are will find that there seems to be a bit of a clash in regard to responsibility, a clash as to who is responsible for providing this and who is responsible for providing that. 1 do not believe that this is a particularly good state of affairs, lt is for this reason that I support fully what the honourable member for Fremantle said in regard to this matter. Anyone who moves around areas with Aboriginal populations will know how much needs to be done. I know that some work is being done now but we still have quite a long way to go before we can say that we have a satisfactory situation.

In my electorate of Grey I suppose I have a greater number of Aborigines than there are in any other South Australian electorate. Some are most unsophisticated situations, they vary from the highly edu- .cated Aboriginals in the southern part of my electorate to those in the north west Aboriginal reserve who do not have a great deal of contact with the white man. Their only contact is through the mission stations and Government reserves which exist in that area. On a recent visit to that area I was rather shocked by a few things. One was the matter of health. I spoke with a health officer about this. The problem of the health of Aborigines in the north west area reserve is the same as the problem existing just over the border in the Northern Territory. When the figures showing the high mortality rate in the Northern Territory are mentioned, the figures for the area to which 1 am referring just over the border in South Australia should be included because most of the hospitalisation of people in this area is at the Alice Springs Hospital, lt is for this reason that I am gratified that the Federal Government has recognised this problem. I certainly hope that the purchase of the motel in Alice Springs will help to alleviate this problem in this part of the country.

On the question of health, the South Australian Aboriginal Affairs Department does have health officers moving through this area. Their main job is to point out the various health hazards that arise in various situations. But there is an obvious need for a health education programme - different from the health education given by these officers - under officers who can move through these areas and spend more time helping the Aborigines to overcome the hygiene and health problems that do occur. The present health officers can only go from place to place and give advice on drainage and matters like that, whereas a health education officer can teach the people the way in which they can protect themselves. There is no doubt about the fact that these people have now moved out of their natural environment in many cases. They have moved into missions and Government reserves and are not as before moving from place to place where health hazards did not arise to the same extent as they arise now. Good housing conditions in the settlement are practically non-existent. The former Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs has toured the area and has seen these conditions. Most of the people live in witchas and wurlies made out of spinifex. In their old way of life they would have stayed there for some time and then moved on, not creating a health hazard. But because they are now clustered around these settlements a great health hazard does exist.

While in that area I spoke to quite a few of the people involved with Aborigines. I was at the Ernabella Mission which is run by the Presbyterian Church. The mission runs a cattle station called Fregon which carries about 1,000 cattle. This provides some work for the Aboriginals. They are quite skilled stockmen and the station is a success and provides meat for the people in the area. It can be said that the Ernabella people are running this successfully and by doing so are providing something for the Aborigines to do. Other than work around the missions and Aboriginal reserves and on cattle stations there is no work available for them. This does create problems. I have received a letter from the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) today. It states that because these people do not have a work record they cannot receive unemployment benefits. Because of the low wages that are paid throughout the area I get the feeling sometimes that there is encouragement for these people not to apply for unemployment benefits since the unemployment benefits they would receive would be as much as they would receive in wages if they were working.

I made some observations in this area. I noticed in other areas where Aborigines are that there is a great need for preschool kindergartens. We are all aware that even in an area like Port Augusta where there are quite a number of educated and sophisticated Aborigines, most Aboriginal children because of their background and their parents lack of education start off at school behind white children. The preschool kindergarten has a special function for Aboriginals. Through the well trained staff at such schools it would be possible to involve the mothers and by doing this the mothers would learn something as well as the children. By the time the children got to school age they would have a chance of absorbing an education. 1 know of a preschool kindergarten at Port Lincoln which is run by the Save the Children Fund at which they involve the mothers in preschool activities. I was speaking to the woman running this pre-school and she said it has certainly been of great benefit.

I would like to move further south to the Port Augusta area and deal with the Aborigines in the southern part of my electorate. In this area they come in contact with white people more than they do in the north. Probably there are a lot more job opportunities available for them. There are many more educational opportunities. It is pleasing to see in Port Augusta that there are now up to 1.00 children attending secondary school when a few years ago there were no children attending high school. But the problems arise when these children leave secondary school because in many cases there are no jobs for them. There would be very few apprenticeships available and very few girls would find work in the shops in the town. Once they leave school there is a gap. They can usually get adult employment on the railways, but there is a gap from the time they leave school till the time they reach adulthood and can move out into employment. This can create lots of problems. It can happen anywhere. Wherever there is a group of young people unemployed we find social problems arising. Housing is a big problem in the southern areas. The Housing Trust of South Australia does allocate so many houses to Aboriginals but when we look at the figures given by the Minister a few weeks ago in his second reading speech on another Bill we find that, although Port Augusta has an Aboriginal population varying between 500 and 600, in the list of towns where housing is supplied in South Australia there are no Commonwealth houses at Port Augusta. From memory I do not think there were any provided by the Commonwealth last year. Whether the Housing Trust of South Australia has to provide all the houses I do not know, but this indicates a failure in the Commonwealth Government's provision of Aboriginal housing.

One also finds that where there is work there is usually no housing. For instance, Whyalla is an expanding town and there is a demand for labour but there is very little housing available for Aborigines. This is one area at which the Commonwealth could look to see in what way it can assist the South Australian Government. It should consider Whyalla from the point of view of providing hostel-like accommodation so that people could obtain employment in Whyalla while stopping in such accommodation until they were allocated a house by the Housing Trust. In this way we would make possible a lot more employment for Aborigines in Whyalla. The same situation applies on the west coast of South Australia where there is a decline in jobs in the rural industries. There is not nearly enough work for Aborigines and this means that they are drifting more towards towns like Port Augusta and Whyalla and this again creates unemployment problems.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Corbett) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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