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Tuesday, 25 September 1973
Page: 1451

Mr BONNETT (Herbert) - On the surface this Bill appears to be a mechanical one and could be classed as an enabling Bill - that is,, on the surface. But I feel it should be looked at more deeply, especially the background that led to its introduction. In his second reading speech the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant) said that the Australian Government would assume ultimate responsibility for Aborigines and would establish a Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, with offices in each State to give the Commonwealth a genuine presence in the States. This could be interpreted in many different ways as far as officers to staff them would be concerned, and I will deal with that matter later.

I have no quarrel with the provisions contained in this Bill, which is to facilitate the transfer of State officers to the Australian Public Service, because I believe that an officer is entitled in all fairness and justice to have his rights and privileges protected. The Minister has said that the State departments responsible for Aboriginal affairs have received an increasingly large part of their funds from Commonwealth grants and that they have channelled a substantial proportion of these funds through other departments in areas such as health, education and housing. He also stated that this involves duplication of effort between the Australian and the State authorities, which leads to confusion. But I ask the Minister in this respect: Does he intend his Department to take over the State departments in areas of health, education and housing, eventually or does he expect the States to continue administering these responsibilities as far as our coloured people are concerned? My concern is that there are so many cloudy areas, so much that has not been explained and I feel that these matters should be clarified completely.

In his second reading speech the Minister mentioned the consultative committee which he established early this year. I would like to know whether this body is to have an established office in each State, which it will staff? In fact I query the capability of this committee, which was organised by the Minister shortly after he took office. I query its capability to speak on the welfare of all Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, seeing that virtually all of this committee was nominated by the Minister and drawn from the ranks of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, except for a few other reputable people, who, in the opinion of a number of people, were appointed for window dressing purposes only.

Recently again we witnessed a high pressure public relations activity leading up to the proposed development of a so-called elected national Aboriginal consultative committee. I ask the Minister whether he hand picked the organisers of this committee, for again there seems to be a large number of members of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders appointed as such, and this organisation, as we all know, was presided over by the Minister.

Have these organisers been given the choice of selecting their own enrollers to move around the country enrolling only those coloured people who wish to be included on a roll to vote, or are all coloured people being given the opportunity to enrol. Are these organisers and the enrollers being paid, and if so, by whom, and how much is it costing the community. I think everyone is entitled to know, seeing that the taxpayers' money is involved. Are these organisers and enrollers eligible to bc candidates for this election to the consultative committee? If they are, would it not be reasonable to assume that they are being paid by the Government through the Minister to do their own campaigning and the preparation of this specific electoral roll.

Are the public servants who are expert in this field, be they State or Federal, supervising this exercise? If not I feel that our coloured community in this country is being badly served, instead of assisted, as it should be. From some of the comments I have heard regarding this enrolling procedure, I feel that the Minister has embarked on a course of procedure which could be called a little irresponsible which must be costing quite an amount of public money, in order to achieve the establishment of a committee that will completely belong to the Minister and therefore, I say, it could never be truly representative of the feeling of the Aboriginal and Island people. I have no doubt the Minister will reply to the effect that this particular exercise will mean that the Aboriginal and Island people will be free to determine their own future. But this I doubt very much.

I have heard also that the Minister intends to establish centres in some of the major cities, in Queensland for instance. Does he intend to staff these centres with State or Federal officers. How many does he anticipate being employed in this capacity and what if he gets no takers from the State Public Service to transfer to the Australian Public Service? Will he continue to employ these State employees in these centres if the State governments agree? If some do transfer, will they be known as his departmental officers? Does he intend to staff these centres with coloured people only and employ his departmental officers in another capacity? If so, in what capacity? There are so many loose ends associated with this changeover. It sounded simple when we first heard of it. I think it only right that the Minister should outline his ideas more clearly.

Is it his intention to have these officers regularly visit all centres. If it is, may I ask if he has yet received permission for himself or his officers to visit Yam Island in the Torres Strait Group, the elected chairman of which stated that he was not prepared to accept an offer of money on behalf of his people in return for allowing the Minister or his departmental officers to visit the island as the opportunity arises.

Will the Minister's departmental officers, be they State or Australian Public Service, be engaged in the development of the proposed turtle and crocodile farming planned for our coloured people? This additional economic avenue for development in my opinion is to be commended. I presume it will be owned by the Australian government. But if his departmental officers are to be so employed, to whom do they answer - the Minister or Senator Georges, who I believe has been appointed chairman of the board of directors of this project company, replacing a Dr Bustard, who was until recently chairman of this board. Why was Dr Bustard replaced? I would say that he would have more expertise in this direction than Senator Georges. But will the senator, as an elected member of this Parliament, be in a position to handle and direct finance and staff for this project, or will the Minister or his officers handle this, as they should. I cannot explain the move. I do not know the reason behind it, but I would say that it requires an explanation.

If this is the case is one permitted to ask: Will Senator Keeffe get the next berth in the next project?

In his second reading speech the Minister also said that the responsibility which the Australian Government seeks is responsibility for policy planning and co-ordination. How does he tie this statement in with his earlier statement in the same speech that the Government would assume the ultimate responsibility for our coloured people. It would appear from reading his speech that the major function of caring for our coloured people will still be left as a State responsibility. Would the Australian Government attempt to get the credit for it? The wording is too loose in my opinion and it should be tightened up.

Again in his second reading speech the Minister kept referring to the fact that there has been ready agreement in some States and that in a number of States there has been extensive discussion on a matter contained in this Bill. In some States it would be necessary for us to work out with the State authorities the best means of proceeding. We have only 6 States. How many are involved? Which are the States with which we are having trouble. I presume by his statement that all the States do not agree. I would have thought that the Minister would have tidied this matter up before the introduction of this Bill.

While I have said that this is a mechanical Bill, which deals with a Public Service officer's entitlement to have his rights and privileges protected, I think I have pointed out that there are a few cloudy issues associated with its introduction, which concern every Australian, but more particularly the Aboriginal and Island people. I would suggest that in order to avoid any queries regarding the Minister's administration of his important office he should deal more openly with the public and advise them fully of his intentions and plans for the welfare of our Australian coloured people. I think the first step towards this could be achieved by the Minister if he answered some of the queries I have raised today. I repeat that the Opposition will not oppose the passage of this legislation because it serves to protect the rights and privileges of the Public Service.

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