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Thursday, 24 October 1974
Page: 1976

Senator RAE (Tasmania) -The States Grants (Aboriginal Assistance) Bill with which we are dealing provides financial assistance to the States in relation to the Aboriginal people of Australia. I make the point that the assistance applies only to the 6 States. In the figures with which we will be dealing in relation to payments we are not concerned with payments for similar purposes in the Territories. The total amount provided in the Schedule to the Bill is $40,790,000. The way in which that money is to be expended among the 6 States is set out in a schedule attached to a statement made by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) which was issued separately from the Bill. It shows that something like half the amounts and, in some cases, more than half the amounts is in respect of housing. The amount has been divided among the States on an historical basis. The break-up is roughly according to the needs of the States and to the numbers of persons in the various States who are Aborigines or are of Aboriginal descent. The amounts involved include amounts in respect to Queensland. I shall come back to that in a moment.

The Opposition entirely supports the granting of funds for this purpose. It entirely supports the emphasis which is given to the need for housing. We do not wish to be understood, by any action we may take or any comment we may make in relation to this matter, to be detracting in any way from the importance of these funds getting out as soon as possible to the purposes for which they are intended. But I think it is important that we see what is being done by the Bill. The Treasurer (Mr Crean) in the Budget Speech referred to the total of $40,790,000 which was to be made available for this purpose. This is referred to in Budget Paper No. 7 at page 74. There, the amount which was to be paid to Queensland for this purpose was $13,552,000. That amount represented approximately onethird of the total amount. Queensland, by the 197 1 census, has 34 per cent of the Aborigines in Australia, other than in the Territories. So, that would have been a proper pro rata division of the funds, having in mind the percentage of Aborigines resident in Queensland who would benefit from this legislation.

However, for reasons which the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs made clear in his second reading speech, that amount is now to be cut back by $3. 19m. So Queensland, instead of receiving $13. 5m- in round figures- will receive $ 10.3m. The increase in relation to Queensland is only some $400,000. In the Minister's own words, that represents an increase related to the unavoidable commitment of the Commonwealth Government to Queensland. The remainder of the money- some $3. 19m- which otherwise would have gone to Queensland, is to be divided among other States. New South Wales will receive an extra $ 1.877m; Victoria will receive an extra $730,000; and South Australia will receive an extra $583,000. None of that amount will go to Western Australia or to Tasmania. The Minister also has said that the Government will make up by other means the amount of $3. 19m for

Aborigines in Queensland so that they will not be disadvantaged as a result of the action taken by the Government. The statement which the Minister made points out that the Government will be able to make payments direct to housing associations. It will make extra payments through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and in other ways will make up this amount for the benefit of the people in Queensland.

I think it is important to see why this action has been taken by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Government and why it is believed that it can be of equal advantage to the Aboriginal people of Queensland to receive the money in this way. The Budget shows that last year there was a shortfall in expenditure through housing associations of some $9m. At an estimates committee meeting the Minister was asked some questions about this shortfall. He pointed to the fact that the housing associations had not developed as rapidly as had been anticipated and that the housing program, through the housing associations, had not been as successful or rapid as the Government had anticipated and, I am quite sure, as all of us would have hoped it would be. But the fact remains that it has not been successful and that the people concerned are in the process of developing a capacity to carry out the speedy development of adequate housing by this means. At an estimates committee meeting neither the Minister nor his officers were able to give any evidence, nor is there any evidence known to me otherwise, which would indicate that the expansion of the housing associations in Queensland in the current year will be sufficiently rapid to ensure that the full funds which will be made available for housing can be properly expended in the coming year to the benefit of Aborigines in Queensland. In fact it would appear that any casual observer objectively viewing the scene in Queensland would arrive at the opinion that it would be desirable at least for this year- then to review the position after this year- to do as much as possible of the work of providing adequate housing through the Queensland Deparment of Aboriginal and Island Affairs and associated departments, which have an experience and an expertise in this field.

I suggest that to take away from the Queensland Government the $3. 19m and say that this will be made up by giving even more to the housing associations, which are at a developing stage, is clearly at this time not in the best interests of the Aboriginal people of Queensland. It is more likely than not to have an adverse effect upon the rate of development of adequate housing for those people. I think that the general background of the problems between the Commonwealth Government and the State Government of Queensland are reasonably well known. I do not propose at this stage to pause for any great debate back and forth as to who is right and who is wrong. We will have an opportunity at another stage when certain legislation -

Senator Cavanagh - lt would be embarrassing for you to do it.

Senator RAE - I do not find it in any way embarrassing. I do not regard it as relevant to debate that matter in detail. What I do regard as relevant to debate and to consider are complaints such as the complaint made by the Cooperative for Aborigines Ltd in a Press statement dated 4 October 1974 of which the heading is Government Failure to Sponsor Aborigine Education in Co-operatives a "Turtle Scandal in Reverse" '. The authors state:

The almost total failure of the Federal Government to raise a finger to promote the co-operative movement amongst Aborigines is a public scandal.

While in Opposition, Government members pledged themselves to promote intensively co-operative education Ibr Aborigines, yet once in office, they have comfortably forgotten all about it.

After virtually 2 years in office they have done . . . nothing.

There is a word between the words 'done' and- nothing' which I do not read, but it does indicate some exasperation with the situation. The Press release continues:

This failure can only be described as crime by default, and in its way a 'turtle scandal in reverse '.

Further on the statement continues:

The statement said that the Government "s scandalous indifference was further compounded inside the Australian Co-operative movement itself where the crucial issue of cooperatives for Aborigines was not even on the agenda of the Convention.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

General Business taking precedence of Government Business

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