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Thursday, 15 August 1974
Page: 963

Senator McLAREN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I refer the Minister to a number of Press reports over past weeks to the effect that there is a food shortage facing the Gurindji community at Wattie Creek in the Northern Territory. Although I know that the Minister has made a Press statement on this matter I wonder whether, in the light of continuing misconceptions in the minds of many sympathisers with the Gurindji people, he could advise the Senate whether there is truth in the accusation that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs declined to assist the Monash Association of Students in sending food to the Gurindjis?

Senator CAVANAGH -When I answered a question on this matter on 1 August 1974, I stated that there was no truth at all in the suggestion that Aborigines at Wattie Creek were on the verge of starvation. The suggestion arose from a letter by a Mr Phillip Nitszhke written to a Mr Buchanan. The matter received wide publicity. The fact is known, I would think, that the Department of Social Security stopped the payment of unemployment benefits to 3 Aborigines on the Wattie Creek reserve. Those Aborigines no longer complied with the requirements of the work test which one must meet to receive unemployment benefits. I refute the argument that the stopping of these payments was an attempt to force the Gurindjis to work for the Vestey interests. Job opportunities were available at 4 cattle stations adjacent to the Wattie Creek area.

My Department has not reduced the funds made available for Aborigines. It was only on 7 May of this year that $14,000 was provided, of which $9,000 was for the purchase of a truck. When the report in question was circulated, we authorised the accountant in Darwin who was holding $9,000 for the purchase of a truck to release that sum to the Wattie Creek Aborigines. That amount will be reimbursed to enable the purchase of a truck later for another group. My Department received a telephone call from interested persons in Victoria. They said that they had collected some food for the Wattie Creek Aborigines and asked the Department to forward that food to Wattie Creek. Our investigations disclosed that it would take 6 weeks for the food to reach Wattie Creek by train and the cost of transporting the food to Wattie Creek by Trans-Australia Airlines was $ 1,650.

The first point I make in this respect is that we did not know whether the food was of the type that Aborigines in that area would eat. Secondly we thought that food, more acceptable to the Aborigines, could be made available if we paid the cost of freight to the Aboriginal people. That was when the arrangement was made to release the $9,000. We have 2 officers constantly looking into this question. The honourable senator can rest assured that we would not tolerate the existence of starvation conditions at Wattie Creek. In fact, as a result of the sympathy for the Gurindji people at Wattie Creek the Aborigines there receive more attention and, possibly, assistance than any other comparable group in the same circumstances.

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