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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 1214

Senator LAUCKE (South Australia) -I present an interim report from the Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment on the reference relating to the environmental conditions of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the preservation of their sacred sites.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator LAUCKE - 1 ask for leave to move a motion relating to that report.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood) - Order! Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Senator LAUCKE - I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

There are 2 main reasons for the presentation of this brief interim report on the reference relating to the environmental conditions of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the preservation of their sacred sites. Firstly, recognising the Senate's expectation that legislative and general purpose standing committees will make regular reports on progress with the particular matters referred to them, the Committee wishes to inform the Senate of the progress made with this inquiry. Secondly, the report gives expression to the Committee's concern over a particular aspect of the general subject matter, and recommends immediate action thereon. I should like to mention that, in considering this reference, the members of the Committee are addressing themselves to a task in which they must be deeply concerned with social circumstances and human values. For this reason, wide ranging evidence and deep consideration will be required for the building up of the complete picture in respect of environmental conditions and the preservation of sacred sites. A great deal of firsthand observation will be essential also, and the Committee has already undertaken 3 field trips to remote parts of the continent. Further field trips will be made as the inquiry progresses, and these will survey the whole range of situations from the remote and primitive to the urban and metropolitan. By direct invitation as well as by public advertisement in the Press throughout Australia, submissions have been sought from interested persons and organisations, and the general response has been highly gratifying. More than 30 witnesses have been heard. A great many more are available and will be examined in due course. All these factors are reasons why the Committee believes that the inquiry will be a fairly protracted one.

I now turn to the particular matter about which the Committee expresses concern - the preservation of sacred objects and sites. May I explain here that the Committee has extended its consideration of sacred sites to include objects also, as the information put before us indicates that many objects of sacred and cultural significance are integral to Aboriginal traditions. In the course of the Committee's field trips, the members examined sites of significance to Aborigines and, by invitation of the particular Aboriginal groups, collections of objects of sacred and cultural significance. Our own observations, and information put before us, led quickly to the conclusion that 2 sites are vulnerable to interference and damage, and several collections of objects are liable to damage or loss. After taking some evidence on the question, the Committee has concluded that special interim measures .are needed to provide the maximum of protection immediately, and for the next 2 years until, according to our advice, reasonably adequate legislative protection . will exist throughout Australia. Though we have not attempted to canvass the whole of this issue, we have recommended action in relation to objects and sites generally where these may appear ot be vulnerable, as well as in respect of the specific examples that we ourselves have seen.

In proposing that action be taken on this aspect of the general subject matter, the Committee wishes to emphasise the need to consult the Aborigines concerned in each instance and to encourage them to seek action for the protection of their objects and sites. The Committee recommends that lockable structures be provided for the safe keeping of the vulnerable collections of objects specifically discussed and, wherever possible, for the safe keeping of other collections in similar conditions of jeopardy wherever they are known to exist or come to notice in the future. We propose also that the Office of Aboriginal Affairs assist, through appropriate funding arrangements, in making available the necessary finance. We recommend special action for the immediate protection of known sites that seem most likely to suffer damage. As an essential preliminary to permanent action, we recommend that a national programme for the surveying and recording of sites of significance be expedited. Again, we believe that the Commonwealth has a responsibility for the provision of some of the requisite funds, and the Committee recommends that the Office of Aboriginal Affairs play an active role in these 2 proposals.

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