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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1922

Mr ANDREW —by leave-As a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs I assure the House that I will be brief in making some comments about what became known as the Baryulgil inquiry. I endorse the sentiments of the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter) who, in his opening remarks, explained that this inquiry set the scene for what could have been a classic confrontation. Sadly, as the honourable member for Barker has said, the Press and the media focused on the issue of asbestos mining at Baryulgil and what began to emerge was a classic confrontation between what was perceived to be big business and what was perceived to be a disadvantaged minority. This confrontation was compounded by the fact that individual legal proceedings were already in train and it was important that the inquiry did not in any way prejudice those legal proceedings. This is an emotive issue. Indeed, the publicity that had been given to this issue prior to the inquiry meant that a sense of exploitation had already been created amongst the community at Baryulgil. It was in this climate that the Committee met. The climate was one of concern that in many cases the community at Baryulgil had already had its hopes of compensation raised beyond what was a reasonable limit.

Much has already been said about the history, and the location of the mine and the medical details of the people who appeared before the Committee. I endorse the comments of the honourable member for Moore (Mr Blanchard) in paying tribute to the Chairman of the Committee. I do it, recognising that frequently there are occasions on which the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and I will disagree. We are almost constantly at political loggerheads and, going into an election, that is unlikely to improve. But I am very grateful for the balanced approach that the Chairman brought to this inquiry.

I say simply that, with the benefit of hindsight, it was easy to be wise about what should have happened to the community at Baryulgil and what should have been done with asbestos mining at Baryulgil. Now that in 1984 the hazards of asbestos are well documented, it is easy simply to refer to asbestos as some sort of dirty word. But we need to remember that, when the mine that was under survey was at its peak, it was at its peak because the community was demanding asbestos related products for housing, industry and drainage. It is in recognition of the fact that work hazards existed in this environment that the recommendations that the Committee has made have been brought forward. But we should recognise that the demise and closure of this mine has not in itself solved problems. The closure of the mine has not created an idyllic place for the people of the Baryulgil community to live. The closure of the mine has meant that what was once a community enjoying high levels of employment is now a community suffering the tragedy of high levels of unemployment. That unemployment is in itself a health hazard.

As has already been outlined, basically the recommendations facilitate opportunities for Aboriginal people to look again at the claims they may make if they feel they were disadvantaged, provide a chance for a medical service to be established and look to the future of the Baryulgil Square community and the school. I thank the staff of the Committee and the advisers for the help they gave to the Committee. I hope that the report as handed down will prove to be a hallmark in future similar investigations.