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Thursday, 6 December 1973
Page: 2606

Senator BONNER (Queensland) -As has been stated by Senator Laucke and my Country Party colleague, Senator Lawrie, we in Opposition do not oppose the Bill. We support it and I particularly welcome the Bill because it makes available about $32.2Sm for Aboriginal advancement. I am most relieved to note that about $14m will be channelled towards better housing for the Aboriginal people of Australia. Once again, I must stress that Aboriginal people in Australia today are in varying stages of development and contact with white society. Despite the criticism I have received for using those terms, I will continue to do so because I know that what I say is true. I do not mean to denigrate in any way any of my Aboriginal fellows when I say that. One needs to face up to the facts of life. I am an Aborigine and have moved amongst my fellow Aborigines, particularly in my own State. Especially since coming into Parliament, I have had an opportunity to move around the other States, seeing the conditions under which many Aboriginal people are living.

I am sure that my colleagues on the Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment will agree with me when I say that Aborigines are in varying stages of development. I do not think that money or legislation provide the whole answer to the question of the future of the Aboriginal people of Australia. I am also very pleased to note that $Sm is being made available to local government bodies. In my own State particularly, these organisations have played a very prominent part in finding and providing employment for the Aboriginal people in many areas. The problems of employment, housing, and education for Aboriginal people are real problems indeed that need to be tackled with a sense of responsibility and concern in order to ensure that the Aboriginal people are provided with a program of self-help and not a program of handouts, under which money is made available without complete and proper supervision over how it is spent, without ensuring that it is used in the best interests and to the advantage of the Aboriginal people.

Over the last few months, I have noted with some concern the amount of money that has been made available. From some of the discussions that have taken place in this Parliament and in Estimates Committee hearings it appears that the expenditure of some of the money has not been properly supervised. Consequently, because of lack of supervision and perhaps unwise spending on the part of those responsible, the Aboriginal people are not truly benefiting from the large sums of money made available. During the course of the last few weeks, I have levelled some criticism at the Government for establishing a consultative committee. I do not back down from what I said. I still maintain that establishing this committee was not in the best interests of the Aboriginal people, yet I agree that there must be consultation with Aboriginal people. This must be done in the areas in which the Aboriginal people live. The people involved must meet with the Aboriginal people in the local area and environment to look at the problems with which they are faced in these important fields of housing, employment, education and health.

A department has been established and is being maintained by expenditure of a sound amount of money, and I believe it is the responsibility of the officers of that department to consult with Aboriginal people in their own areas. The officers could go to places such as Charleville or Cunnamulla in Queensland, meeting the Aboriginal people there and looking at their problems and opportunities in housing, employment, education and health. They could discuss these problems with the Aboriginal people, finding out from them what they believe should be done on their behalf for their advancement. The officers should consult not only Aboriginal people but also the rest of the people in the area so that they can see how those people feel about integration. Do the people want Aborigines living in their community? Such an approach by the officers would help to bring about a better understanding and relationship between the Aboriginal people and the rest of the people in an area.

That is the type of consultation that is so sorely needed. Having done that, the officers should get all the Aboriginal people together and ask them to nominate a competent Aborigine in the area in whom the other Aboriginal people have confidence and who they believe can do the job in the best interests of the people, liaising with and working amongst them. By this means, the Aboriginal people will be represented by a local person who understands the problems in the community and who has a proper and easy communication with his fellows in the area. In this way, many of the problems faced by Aboriginal people today could be solved, particularly in the important fields that I have already mentioned three or four times- housing, employment, education and health. In these fields, the Aboriginal people are facing and have faced for several years real problems.

As I have said money and legislation are not the solutions to the problems of the Aboriginal people. If these problems are to be solved people will have to get their hands dirty. Work must be done amongst those who are need of counselling and guidance. A program of self-help must be introduced to help Aborigines to better themselves in the community so that they can become respected and responsible members of it as fellow Australians, not as something separate. Let us forget about this idea of separate development. We do not want separate development. We are Australians first and foremost. If the Government is fair dinkum, let it ensure that there will be consultations on the spot with Aboriginal people so that they can take advantage of some of the opportunities available to them today. I certainly support the Bill. I sincerely hope that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) will see to it that his Department keeps more careful scrutiny on the expenditure of this money so that it is used in the best interests of the Aboriginal people for thenadvancement.

My colleague mentioned money being made available to some of the voluntary organisations. These organisations work in all the States, doing a remarkably good job. Unfortunately, some of these organisations, because of a lack of training, education, or business sense, have not always been wise in the way they have spent this money. I do not believe that parliamentarians should criticise or condemn the Aboriginal people for what has happened. What we should condemn and criticise is the Department that has allowed this to happen by its lack of supervision to ensure that the organisations were equipped to handle sensibly the money made available to them. There are quite a number of these organisations in Queensland. Despite what governments can do, as you Mr Acting Deputy President, and I know, they cannot do everything. There must be voluntary organisations in various social service fields and not only in the field of Aboriginal development.

Some voluntary organisations can do much better work because they are more closely in contact with the people, knowing the needs of the people better than they are known by a government department. I agree that the voluntary organisations working in the field of Aboriginal advancement must certainly be given some financial assistance by the Government. But by the same token I plead with the Minister to ensure that these organisations are properly geared to handle the amounts of money that are allocated to them so that it can be used in the best interests of the Aboriginal people.

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