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Thursday, 10 March 1966

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) .- It is my privilege and pleasure to speak on this matter for a few minutes. I wish to associate my remarks with those made by previous speakers on both sides of the chamber. My friend and colleague, the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Fulton), will not be able to speak in this debate and has asked me to raise the question of the status of Torres Strait Islanders. I have consulted the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) who has informed me that Torres Strait Islanders would be covered by the amendment that he has proposed. It is important in drafting any legislation related to the Aboriginal people to realise and recognise that Torres Strait Islanders do not regard themselves as Aborigines. This should be made quite clear.

I propose to deal very briefly with the Queensland position. In Queensland 28,436 Aborigines are covered by the administration of the Department of Native Affairs; 21,100 are exempt from the Act and there are also 5,207 Torres Strait Islanders. In recent times in Queensland, under Mr. Pizzey as Minister in charge of the Department of Native Affairs, and Mr. Killoran, the Director of Native Affairs, material advances have been made. The Queensland Government would like to do a great deal more but its financial resources do not enable it to do so. I have already pointed out that 21,100 Aborigines are exempt from the provisions of the present Act. New legislation, which will be proclaimed early this year, will enable the State to give assistance to Aborigines not covered by the present legislation. At a time when the State is already struggling with its financial resources to meet the needs of the reserves, it seems extraordinarily difficult for any State government to do the right thing by the Aborigines in the outside communities. I refer to fringe dwellers and such people for whom very little is done. There is great need to throw the financial resources of the Commonwealth behind those of the Queensland Government. A great deal has been done on the reserves, where there are quite substantial settlements. At Cape York the settlement contains 1,015 Aborigines; at Cherbourg 1,088; and at Palm Island 1,550. I could name 20 or more settlements which, if they existed within our community, would have facilities such as post offices, savings banks and the like which they do not enjoy at the present time.

It is necessary to provide for assimilation of the people in the settlements so that their standards may be raised to equal ours. If they so choose, they should be able to live in our community. If they prefer to do so, they may remain in their own settlements, which should contain the facilities available outside. At present the State does not have the resources to provide them. Some of the facilities are really Commonwealth matters which should be provided from national finance, thus removing some of the burden from the State Governments and leaving their resources free for other works. The Aboriginal community at Yarrabah contains over 800 people but is not connected by road with Cairns, which is only a comparatively few miles away. Where else in Australia is there a community of over 800 people which has no communication with outside except by small boats? Such conditions would not apply in our society, but they do apply in an Aboriginal settlement.

A special housing scheme is needed to provide in Queensland for 21,100 Aborigines living outside reserves. A low deposit housing scheme is necessary to enable these Aborigines to be settled properly in our community; not on reserves, but in the townships. Such a housing scheme can be brought about only if the Commonwealth grants assistance. I wish to affirm that we should not and would not want to take over the position entirely. I am sure that is not the intention of speakers on either side of the House. State Governments bave their land administrations and only through co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States can the problem be solved. I support the legislation proposed by the honorable member for Mackellar.

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