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Tuesday, 27 March 1973
Page: 689

Debate resumed from 15 March (vide page 662), on motion by Mr Bryant:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Mr FitzPATRICK(Darling) (2.58) - I support the Bill because I believe that the situation in which the Aboriginal people find themselves is one of which no sincere Australian should be proud. However it is of some satisfaction to know that every member on the Opposition side of the House who has spoken on this Bill has spoken in favour of it. It is also of some satisfaction to know that after 200 years of discrimination against the Aboriginal people there is now a growing consciousness of their plight and to some degree amongst the general public a desire to right some of the harm done and the injustices that have been handed out to these people. On the other hand, there are many Australians who would like to forget our early treatment of tha Aborigines, which of course destroyed their opportunities as hunters and food gatherers and their system of a subsistence economy that was geared to the satisfaction of their immediate needs. Not only have we destroyed these opportunities but we have also destroyed a very rich culture in which their extremely complex social organisation, which was based on a spiritual belief, had a marked effect on every facet of their daily lives and resulted in a shared sense of responsibility for the common benefit of the people as a whole. The question we should be asking ourselves is: What have we given them in return? There can be no doubt that the bulk of the Aboriginal population in Australia is now detribalised and comprises a visual minority subculture group which is economically and socially disadvantaged.

The intrusion of the industrialised economy, coupled with the farming of their tribal lands, has led to a complete breakdown of the Aboriginal culture. In many country towns the Aboriginal community is a tightly knit kinship group which interacts with the general community but which cannot be described as a part of the majority culture. Many of them for many years, and even today, are only casually employed. They have never been integrated into the economic and social life of the dominant European culture. The great majority of them have been forced to expect their basic needs to be met by government and private handouts. Because there is no other sure way of their meeting these needs, many of them have accepted this situation in a passive or fatalistic manner. Of course there are many bitter and hostile members amongst their group and, of course, there are a few who have managed to rise above this environment. When we set out to improve the way of life of our Aboriginal population, it seems to me that this

Because their situation is so desperate we are indeed fortunate that only 1 per cent of the Australian population is of Aboriginal ancestry because, as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant) has said, only 10 per cent of this number are satisfactorily housed and socially integrated into the community. There can be no doubt that many are models which many other Australians could emulate. As the Minister has stated, the other 90 per cent live in a state of huge social depression which a wealthy country such as ours should not tolerate. Therefore, it must be of some satisfaction to many sincere Australians to hear the Minister say that the Government does not propose to tolerate this situation any longer than is humanly possible. The Minister has given an assurance that the Government will launch an attack on all the problems that face the Aboriginal population. The problems connected with education, employment and housing have received special mention, and so they should, because these problems have long been the concern of people who are interested in our Aboriginal population. In spite of this, today nobody knows how many houses are needed to re-house adequately the Aboriginal population in Australia.

A doctor, working under a research grant through a Sydney university, recently told me in part of my electorate - in Bourke - that the last census conducted in that area could have been as much as 50 per cent incorrect. He said that when the census was taken, the official went out to the Aboriginal reserve and many of the Aborigines were missing. I asked him why this was so and he said: There is always someone going around the Aboriginal reserves inspecting the huts and telling the Aborigines that too many people are living in each hut'. For this reason the Aborigines have a tendency to withhold the real numbers of their population and particularly the number in each hut or each tent, whatever it may be.

In travelling around Australia with other members of the Australian Labor Party's Aboriginal Committee I have seen some shocking housing arrangements for Aborigines. In the opal fields of South Australia some were living in dugouts on the side of hills and others were in huts on the wind swept common with no trees or any other vegetation within the vicinity. It must be admitted that the manager of this reserve, would need to be a very capable man because he has many different functions to perform, such as looking after the school, Post Office, oval and the water supply as well as the Aborigines in that area. The manager lived on the side of the hill in a well kept house with a garden, with white stones and a big pathway leading to his house. The outhouses which accommodated the tools and other equipment were much better buildings than the ones in which the Aborigines lived. It seems to me that at one time this could have been necessary and justified but we must realise what a detrimental effect it would have on the minds of the Aboriginal school children. When the wind blows there is an all day long battle to keep sand out of their eyes and once the wind stops the flies take over. It seems to me that it would be a pretty hopeless proposition to convince the school children that they have equal opportunities to advance in our society under conditions such as these because even the manager of a reserve must have appeared to them to be as far away as the moon.

The position in my own electorate is far from what it should be. Nevertheless it must be admitted that great progress has been made over the last few years. The problem has been attacked from many different angles and by many different groups of people. Perhaps the most commendable of these is a group which is known as the Self Help Building Society. I inspected one of its houses. I was informed that it paid $1,000 for the house and all the Aborigines came along and helped to renovate the house and paint it. It was a credit to their efforts. The house would be worth at least $10,000 today. I was also informed by one of their leaders that 4 Aborigines had found a job for the outlay of $50. As a matter of fact, I purchased a couple of souvenirs that were cut out of mulga and had emus, kangaroos and this type of thing mounted on them.

Each time one visits towns such as Bourke, Brewarrina and Walgett where there is a large Aboriginal population nearly equal to the European population, one finds more Aborigines in well kept houses of a very good standard with nice gardens. These houses compare more than favourably with the neighbouring European houses. If a person visited only these places and noticed the housing increase each time he went back, it could be thought that we were making great progress with the Aboriginal problem. However, if a visit was made to the reserves or the settlements which are usually situated about 3 miles from the towns, one would find suffering, sickness and alcoholism. It seems to me that the numbers in this situation are increasing instead of decreasing. One wonders whether we are really coming to grips with the problem or just skimming the cream off the top in assisting those Aborigines who would have progressed properly without our assistance.

I cannot see how we can lift the standard of living of the Aborigines unless we can raise them up as a group. The only way this can be done is by providing some form of permanent employment for Aborigines. Europeans should realise how Aborigines feel when they have to leave homes on the river bank or in a settlement to take up cottages in town. The eyes of the community are on them and if they make any little slip, critical tongues attack them. In spite of this many Aborigines who have been in constant employment have made the grade. Of course, the situation is different altogether for those who only have casual employment. Some of them move into houses in the towns and after a while become unemployed and they move out again to their shacks on the river bank.

I remember that on one occasion I went out with the welfare officer and interviewed one of these people who had just moved back on to the river bank. He was asked why he had left the town. The social worker said to him: 'You are a good worker. You will probably get another job within a few weeks.' He said: 'Well, why should I struggle in town to compete with other people just to please you?' He may have had a point but the unfortunate thing is that when this happens school age children also move out with the

Aborigines. The trouble is that there are no educational facilities in these places. There is no such thing as electric light and many of these people are very lucky if they have running water. There is no television or wireless, or environmental stimulus as the school teachers in that area call it. They say that this puts the Aborigines a long way behind the European population.

It is often said that Aborigines leave school at an early age and they are referred to as drop-outs. It seems to me that they could more than rightly be called 'kick-outs' because they did not have an opportunity in the first place. Many of the people in the area say that it is of no use to encourage Aborigines to be more education conscious because they do not have the mental capabilities to compete with Europeans. However, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation statement on race blew this contention sky high. It pointed out that according to present knowledge there is no proof that different groups of mankind differ in their mental characteristics. The mental characteristics of different ethnic groups are much the same given equal opportunities. If Aborigines are not making progress as a group I believe that we should look at our system of housing, employment and school curriculums. No-one would doubt the sincerity of the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) in this regard. I believe that the Minister is on the right track by making an all-out attack on these problems. To do this the Minister will need the co-operation of all sections of the community. I am sure that each and every one of us wishes him well in his efforts.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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