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Wednesday, 7 March 1973
Page: 292

Mr BRYANT (Wills) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time. There has been a slight demarcation dispute, one might say, in relation to procedure in this matter. I am working on the assumption that most of the members of this Parliament can read, even those in the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party.

Mr Peacock - This is a second reading speech.

Mr BRYANT - It does not matter what it is. It is a statement of fact - a statement of procedure. I believe it is time that the Parliament took a very close look not only at some of its procedures but also at some of the matters before it. I circulate a statement of activities over the last 2i months and a statement of the amounts of money that have been allocated under this Bill. This Bill is a short one. It is a simple statement giving notice of intent to add to the States' expenditures the sum of $7.5m. That amount is about 50 per cent more than was granted by the previous Government for a whole year. I will now outline the Government's reasons for doing that.

I believe that the situation in which the Aboriginal people of Australia find themselves is a national disgrace. One per cent or a little more of the Australian population is of Aboriginal ancestry. Perhaps 50 per cent of them are people who are almost totally of Aboriginal ancestry. The other 50 per cent are Aborigines clearly defined amongst themselves, whose attitudes are clearly expressed and who are clearly accepted by their own Aboriginal community. I do not believe it is possible for a civilised country to allow the situation m which they find themselves to continue. In the first instance they are faced with a great deal of social depression. We all know of Aboriginal families who are satisfactorily housed, satisfactorily placed and satisfactorily employed in the community. They are the models to whom we can all look. But on the other hand, almost 90 per cent of the Aboriginal community is living in a state of absolute, acute social depression which a wealthy country such as ours should not tolerate any longer. This Government does not propose to allow that situation to continue any longer than is humanly possible. It has launched an attack upon all the problems which face the Aboriginal people.

Let me refer first of all to the housing situation. Nobody knows at this moment how many houses are needed to rehouse adequately the Aboriginal people of Australia. At the last census the Aboriginal affairs committee of my party made some effort to have the census conducted in such a way that we would be able to find out. This was impossible. But one could guess that if there are 25,000 to 30,000 Aboriginal families in Australia, some 20,000 of them are inadequately housed. In most cases it is not housing at all. The same situation applies in education. Only a handful of the Aboriginal people are receiving tertiary education. Only a handful of them have reached the top classes in secondary schools. This is a terrible waste of human talent. There is no evidence to suggest that the Aboriginal people have not the same intellectual capacity as anybody else in the community. We have not resolved the question of how to make sure that they are able to proceed through our education system or even how to make the education system adequate for them, but the Government proposes to launch an all out attack upon this problem.

If a large number of people in Australia are unemployed it will be found that many of them are Aborigines living in Aboriginal communities. In some areas of Australia 90 per cent of the Aboriginal community is never in full employment. Those people are the victims of every cold, chill wind that blows: So the Government is opening a program of employment, through municipalities and other authorities, to overcome that problem. One of the most serious matters for which there, is no possible justification is . what one might . call administrative discrimination. If one drives to an Aboriginal reserve anywhere in Australia one will notice that the municipal authority has stopped making the road half a mile from the reserve and that the Post Office has not bothered to take a telephone to these people. Even in very large Aboriginal communities such as those in central Australia or in Torres Strait there is a totally inadequate postal service. I do not believe that this is justified. No Australians with any sense of the equality of humanity would believe it was justified.

I suggest to my colleagues on both sides of the House that the next time they go to the Northern Territory they should take a look at the Alice Springs airport to start with. It has been designed for the average traveller, with green lawns, a swimming pool and first class buildings. Then honourable members should take a trip to the closest Aboriginal reserve, wherever it is, and compare the standards. During my recent trips to the centre of Australia I visited some of these places and I asked the people who were with me: 'Is this place on the same continent and under the same control of the government that is building Canberra?' My Government will launch an attack on that kind of discrimination.

To the Aboriginal people land is the ultimate desire and requirement. They have a feeling about land which is not understood by most of us, although when one considers how closely the Australian people are applying themselves to the preservation of their environment one can get some understanding of it. So the Government is going to take steps to protect the interests of the Aboriginal people in the land of Australia.

One of the most devastating areas of neglect - it could be called a disaster area - is that of health. Throughout Australia we have not attempted to produce for the Aboriginal communities the same health services as we produce for the rest of the community. Australia is a community that places great stress upon health services. We are one of the communities which lowered the infant mortality rate to about 20 deaths per thousand births almost SO years ago. Yet throughout large areas of Australia - in central Australia, northern Australia and Western Australia - the infant mortality rate is amongst the highest in the world. But health is not concerned only with infant mortality. It is not concerned just with health services as such. We have now to apply ourselves to this area with the same vigour as we do to many other areas of social aspiration.

The Government, of course, accepts the fact that it has a direct responsibility for every Australian. I know that my colleagues opposite and State authorities will call out about centralism, bureaucratic control and so on. But it is not that. The referendum of 1967, in our view, gave the Australian Government absolute and unchallenged constitutional authority to deal with the Aboriginal people as it should, and directly at that. There is no need for us to allow for any intermediate administrative authority to prevent the carrying out of our programs. We accept that responsibility. Fortunately, throughout Australia, there are authorities which carry out their responsibilities with a proper sense of the needs of the Aboriginal people, but of course in many areas they cannot. State authorities will say that they cannot do so because they do not have the wherewithall. In other areas, nobody has found the social answers. But we propose to deal directly with the Aboriginal people where neces sary. We accept the direct and full responsibility for the people themselves. For instance, the Queensland Government has neglected education for many years. It seems to me that it has neglected education more deliberately amongst Aboriginal communities than amongst communities elsewhere. So we have made direct grants to the Queensland Government for the purpose of building schools. I just cannot understand why we should have to do this. But wherever there is a need - even if it is somebody else's responsibility - this Government will still accept the responsibility because it does not believe that constitutional requirements should stand between people and their direct and human needs.

While I am speaking about Queensland, I hope that members of this Parliament will take some care to read the communiques from the Australian Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Chief Minister of Papua New Guinea about- the situation in the Torres Strait Islands. This is not the moment to debate this matter or to talk about, it but the Premier of Queensland has been .totally misleading in this situation.

Mr Peacock - You know my- view on this matter, but you wrote to the Tones Strait Islanders and said that you would support them.

Mr BRYANT - The honourable member for Kooyong interjects to ask a question about letters that I have written on the matter. I suggest that the honourable member should do what I suggested everybody else should do, namely, that he should read the communique issued by Mr' Somare and our own Prime Minister.

Mr Peacock - You are dissociating yourself from your own letters, are you?

Mr BRYANT - The Premier pf Queensland has been totally misleading and mischievous in the way that he has handled this matter.

Mr Peacock - That is not what you said in your letter to them last year.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes (CORIO, VICTORIA) - Order! The honourable member for Kooyong knows that he is not permitted to debate across the table.

Mr BRYANT - No, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it is still interesting that trie honourable member is alive enough to- -

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -I am in control of the House, thank you. I was informing the honourable member for Kooyong that he is not permitted to debate across the table and I ask him to refrain from doing so.

Mr BRYANT - The Premier of Queensland asserts that the. Australian Government proposed to hand islands and people over to Papua New Guinea. That is not stated anywhere in the communique. The whole principle on which it is based is clearly stated for whoever wishes to read the communique. However, in the last 3 months this Government has taken steps to change the situation as it affects the Aboriginal people of Australia. One of the first actions of the new Labor Government when it took office on 2nd December was to issue a direction that Aboriginal language teaching should take place in the schools of Australia. We recognise that this is a very difficult task. Those of us who have been concerned over the years with this situation know that it is going to be very difficult to fulfil that aspiration. But those of us who are concerned with education believe that there is no way in which we can overcome the disabilities with which the Aboriginal people find themselves afflicted in our schools unless we take steps to encourage education in their own language.

The Government expanded the secondary grants scheme so that Aboriginal children would receive grants immediately they entered secondary school. This Bill is designed to make direct grants to the States, principally to overcome some of the disabilities from which the States have suffered over the last 12 months because of the failure of the previous Government to grant them enough money to carry out their own programs. The Government has appointed Judge Woodward to examine the situation relating to Aboriginal land rights. Advertisements have been published throughout Australia and all those who are concerned with the Aboriginal people and their rights have been invited to place their submissions before the Commissioner. Again, this is going to be a difficult matter to resolve, lt will not be terribly difficult to define the land rights of the Aboriginal people in regard to existing reserves. But when it comes to the consideration of the situation of people in urban areas and all those who have been away from their tribal lands for perhaps 2 generations, we are. in a difficult position. It win be difficult to solve their problem, but the Government invites all those who have thought about this matter to place their views before the Commissioner.

One of the most interesting exercises upon which we have embarked has been to consult the Aboriginal people themselves. We have done this because we believe that for too long the Aboriginal people have been placed in the situation where people have done things for them and to them but never with them by consultation. So, recently, I convened in Canberra a consultative committee representative of the Aboriginal people. We could not design a direct Aboriginal consultative body in the short time that was available; so we invited a fair representation of all the Aboriginal communities of Australia - some 77 of them - to Canberra to discuss the question. They have embarked upon a program of establishing a representative body based upon an electoral system to be designed by themselves so that it will be, in effect, the continuing consultative body to the Government and particularly to the Minister who, for the time being, is myself. If there is a social key to the situation it is in this continuous consultation with the Aboriginal people. When it comes to housing, they should be consulted about the form their housing will take; when it comes to education, they must be consulted about the way in which it should be directed. And so it will be with the community programs which we hope to develop.

We on the Labor side of the House have never believed that Aboriginal communities should be treated as anything else but communities in themselves. There is just no reason why they should not be of the same standard and character as any other Australian community. So, we are taking steps to establish - with the Aboriginals and by consultation with them - community centres or municipalities in which they will conduct their own affairs. We are taking steps to hand the responsibilities for their programs and for the direction of their lives back to the Aboriginal communities. Therefore, the Government has embarked upon a total change of direction in regard to the Aboriginal people. Tremendous problems exist. As I pointed out earlier, practically every authority in Australia under-performs in regard to Aboriginal people. It is the task of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Parliament, and particularly of myself as the Minister, to see that all authorities throughout Australia perform for the Aboriginal people with the same vigour and quality of effort as they do for everybody else.

The problems are continental in scope. In any one day we consider matters that relate to the Torres Strait or to central Western Australia or to the urban communities of Melbourne and Sydney. Therefore, I have called upon all members of this Parliament, from both the Senate and the House of Representatives, to place before me their views on the programs that could be undertaken in their communities. I do not believe that the Minister - in this case, myself, for the time being - is able to solve these problems alone. I do not believe that the Department is able to solve the problem by its own unaided efforts. It will take a total mobilisation of the intellectual, political and social resources of the people of Australia. That is why I have called upon all members of this House and of the Senate, regardless of the political Party to which they belong, to take part in this program. With that in view, we hope that the legislation before us, simple and short as it is, is a step towards overcoming the terrible disabilities with which the Aboriginal people have been beset.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We have at least started things moving.

Mr BRYANT - I know that I have the goodwill of all members of this Parliament, no matter what is said to one another across the floor of this House, in this endeavour. I have been heartened by the fact that colleagues of mine with whom I have had vigorous and almost violent disputes at the political level over the last few years have come to me with their views about the situation in their own electorates. I believe it is my task to take action on that information. The Government will be unhibited by any considerations of the Constitution or protocol. There is only one objective, and that is to remove the disabilities which the Aboriginal people of Australia suffer. Therefore I commend the Bill to honourable members.

With the concurrence of honourable members, I incorporate in Hansard the following information:


7 December - Announcement of a freeze on further leasing or exploration licences on reserves in the Northern Territory. 13 Decembers-Grants to two voluntary organisations announced. 14 December- Statement on tribal languages and skills to be taught. 15 December- Statement, on land . rights - Woodward Committee announced. 20 December - Minister's statement on intention to confer with Aboriginals. 21 December - Grants-in-aid announcement. ($103,000 Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Northern Territory) 22 December - Panter Downs purchase announced. (440,000 acres $100,000) 9 January - Cabinet agreed to$10.85m appropriation to Aboriginal Advancement Trust Account for 1972-73. 11 January - Minister announces plans for Aboriginal consultative committee. 12 January - Aboriginal secondary grants scheme extended. 17 January to 22 January - Minister's visit to Queensland and Northern Territory Aboriginal settlements. 18 January - Statement on conditions on Palm Island, and request to Queensland Government to transfer responsibility. 19 January - Yarrabah grant announced. ($20,000 to purchase school bus) 19 January - Wee Waa investigation of conditions of itinerant Aboriginal cotton chippers. 19 January - Nomads grant announced. ($80,000) 25 January - Charges arising out of Aboriginal Embassy dropped. 26 January - Announcement on Gurindji land. 31 January - Visit to remote Aboriginal settlements in Western Australia. 1 February - Mitakoodi Housing Association grant. (Cloncurry $100,000) 1 February - Aboriginal field force statement. 4 February - $2.9m grant to Western Australia. 9 February - $2.9m grant to Queensland. 15 February - Visits to remote Aboriginal settlements in Northern Territory. 16 February - Announcement of measures to allow an increase in the number of Aboriginal Housing Associations in Northern Territory. 21 February - Aboriginal consultative Committee meets. 21 February - Report of Wee Waa investigation. 22 February - Announcement of proposals for additional Aboriginals to be employed in Public Service. 26 February - Aboriginal appointed to working party on homeless men. (Social Security) 26 February - Purchase of 286,000 acre property, Mt Minnie for Noualla group of . Aboriginals in Western Australia. ($35,000) 28 February - Legislation to repeal discriminatory sections of Migration Act introduced. 28 February- Request to Queensland Government to transfer reserve land to Aboriginals. 2 March- Turtles and crocodile farms. ($100,000) 7 March - Grants to New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. ($1.6m) 7 March - Oodnadatta Housing Society grant $90,000.


Debate (on motion by Mr Peacock) adjourned.

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