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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 306

Mr RUDDOCK(5.09) —The proposal to re-establish the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs certainly is welcome. As one who chaired that Committee under the former Government, I am certainly pleased that its work will continue. I believe that the very substantial and excellent reports of the Committee on the circumstances facing Aboriginal people in the area of health, legal aid, alcohol problems and the like are well known to honourable members and have added very considerably to our knowledge and ability to be able to respond with specific programs which are of assistance to Aboriginal people. I know that it is important, from the point of view of Aboriginal people throughout Australia, that they know that there are people in the Parliament who are interested in their circumstances and desirous of seeing efforts undertaken that might be of assistance to them in ensuring that the programs that are in place are the most beneficial and most likely to lead to an improvement in their situation. All too often we hear of the importance of Aboriginal self-determination and self-management. I believe the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs was well able to enunciate support for those sorts of initiatives in the reports that it brought forward. It brought those views forward in a bipartisan way and, I believe, a very helpful way.

I would like to encourage those who join this Committee to consider the report of one of the earlier committees on Aboriginal health. In one of the last reports that I was associated with, the report dealing with Aboriginal town campers, the fringe dwelling report, reference was made to the earlier report on health and the need for much of the material that was collated at that time to be reviewed again, for information upon the standards and present health profile of Aboriginals to be looked at carefully to see whether the efforts that had been undertaken as a result of the Committee's recommendations had brought forward an improved situation. The Committee was also keen, at that time, to look at the area of Aboriginal housing, an area of tremendous problem and difficulty and one where the programs could, I think, be quite critically reviewed.

I notice that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) is to establish a special committee on Aboriginal education. During the last Parliament a reference that had been earlier part heard was not completed. A great deal of information was obtained in relation to Aboriginal education and the reference was not completed. I was disappointed that so many people who had given evidence and who were keen to be assured that their views were taken into account in the recommendations and likely recommendations of that Committee's report when it came to hand, were, of course, left in the situation where their evidence was really quite in limbo and perhaps, in a sense, not even relevant. So I think it is appropriate that in the area of Aboriginal education there is to be a proposed select committee to complete that reference and to ensure that the evidence that was available is properly availed of by the Parliament and not left, in that sense, part heard, without any deliberations occurring in relation to what ought to be the recommendations that flow from the evidence that was given.

There is only one other matter that I will address. It is perhaps not for me to make this point. The shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, my colleague, the honourable member for Higgins (Mr Shipton), might well recall that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs was always very keen to advocate that the Aboriginal Affairs Committee look at and offer advice on the area of Aboriginal land rights. It may well be an area in which the Committee itself might be able to offer some helpful advice and the shadow Minister and his colleagues might be able to offer the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs some constructive suggestions as to the way in which Aboriginal land rights legislation might be modelled. I think it is appropriate that the Parliament look at the question as to whether or not it should be consulted in a more detailed way about some of the proposals that the Minister will be putting. I note that in relation to this Committee the notice of motion of appointments states:

That a standing committee be appointed to inquire into and report on such matters relating to the circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and the effect of policies and programs on them as referred to it by-

(a) resolution of the House, or

(b) the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

That means that the Committee itself cannot seek its own references, it cannot initiate its own inquiries. Its activities and the areas into which it is going to inquire in effect have to be regulated by the resolution of this House or by the reference that it receives from the Minister. The Minister was, of course, always keen, when he was in opposition, to see that the committee had a right to seek out its own references. He has not put before his colleague the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) that the resolution in this case be altered. I think that is an important matter to simply draw to the attention of honourable members. Perhaps the Minister, when he later looks at the debate that has taken place in relation to the establishment of this Committee, might recall well his interest in the question of land rights and his view that the Committee ought to be examining this particular issue, when it was a matter being considered by the former Government. He might like to consider giving to the Committee a reference on that issue as I am sure there are many members on this side of the House who would be ready and willing to offer some views on the subject.

Mr Shipton —Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to make a brief statement on the same subject.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —You do not need leave.

Mr Young —Come on. We are only setting up a committee.