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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2270


Senator PETER BAUME(5.49) —I do not wish to raise matters which were raised during consideration of the estimates, but a couple of matters have come to my attention which require some answers. One matter concerns an Aboriginal group operating in the far western suburbs of Sydney, the Aboriginal Christian Fellowship. Local newspaper reports have indicated that this Aboriginal group, based in Mount Druitt, has been using some of its funds to pay the parking debts of the son of the director of the group. As a former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, clearly I am pro-Aboriginal in my views. However, one of the things I was very much aware of when I was a Minister is that the operation of all these organisations has to be absolutely squeaky clean. Nothing more quickly destroys public confidence than evidence of any misuse of public funds. I refer to an article in the Mount Druitt-St Marys Standard -a newspaper with which I am sure the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) would be familiar-of Tuesday, 12 November 1985 headlined `Public Purse Pays Police Warrants'.

The director of the group is a very distinguished Aboriginal Australian. He was, I believe, Chairman of the National Aboriginal Conference when I was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I am referring to Pastor Bill Bird. The Mount Druitt-based Aboriginal Christian Fellowship is a group which receives public funding from several sources, but it certainly does receive some Federal funding. I have been shown a photocopy of a cheque dated 29 October 1985. In one person's handwriting the cheque has been made out to the Secretary of the New South Wales Police Department, and it has been signed and countersigned. In another person's handwriting an amount of $839 has been filled in. It appears, and apparently it has been admitted, that money from the Aboriginal Christian Fellowship has indeed been used to pay the debts of a young man named Bird and that he is the son of Pastor Bill Bird. That is okay. The Aboriginal Christian Fellowship can use its funds for whatever it wishes, but several matters concern me.

My first point is that I was in Mount Druitt a couple of weeks ago with the Sydney City Mission examining the issue of emergency cash relief. As honourable senators know it has been a problem since 1 October when the New South Wales Government withdrew a certain amount of emergency cash. Some areas have been hard hit. The Sydney City Mission, which operates in Mount Druitt, invited me out to talk to some of the people seeking cash for emergency relief and to investigate the problems.

On the day I visited the Sydney City Mission at least three Aboriginal women were waiting there for some help. They were in desperate straits. I am not going to raise again the whole question of emergency relief, but these women had children who had to be fed but they had no money and they had problems. They were facing imminent eviction. These situations involved a whole range of issues for which emergency relief is sought and needed. From what I have been told subsequently, it transpires that each of those women had tried to get funds from the Aboriginal Christian Fellowship which, by the way is a good organisation which has been offering services in the Mount Druitt area, but they had been sent away because it had no funds. Then I discovered that it is using the funds that it does have to pay the police fines of the son of the director.

Before I criticise the Fellowship too much, I have to know whether it is in receipt of Federal funds and whether the money it used to pay the fines was derived from government grants. It may well be that it was, but it may not have been derived from Commonwealth Government grants. Am I correct in assuming that the Fellowship is funded for some of its functions by the Commonwealth Government through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs or some other appropriate agency and that for other functions it is funded through the New South Wales Department of Youth and Community Services? Is it possible to receive an assurance that the money that was used to pay the parking fines of the young man, who, by the way, may be going to pay the money back to the organisation, was not provided by any Federal grant? That is a simple question. As I have said, we need to be able to reassure people that Aboriginal organisations are squeaky clean in the way they operate. There may be a simple answer to this matter, but it certainly did not make good reading in the local newspaper.

Another matter I wish to raise relates to two reports on the social impact of uranium mining in Arnhem Land. I notice that some officers whom I know well are in the chamber to advise the Minister. We will all recall that when I was doing that job, we were funding a group of social scientists in Arnhem Land to examine and to report upon the social impact of uranium mining on the Aboriginal population of that area. I am reminded that on 25 March 1982, I tabled in the Senate a report from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, to which the task had been subcontracted, on the social impact of uranium mining on Northern Territory Aboriginals. I made a ministerial statement in relation to that report. On page 17 of the second report, the AIAS consolidated report to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, there are a list of findings and a list of volumes which are either to accompany that report or to appear subsequently. Volumes mentioned are `The Impact on Aborigines of Money Deriving from Uranium Mining', `Documentation for the Social Impact of Uranium Mining Project Data Base', and `Profiles of Oenpelli'. The report goes on to say:

Additional and subsequent volumes will be produced on these topics . . .

It lists a series of topics, including `Educational Needs of Aborigines in the Region', `The Social History of the Region', `The Laws Relating to Aborigines and to Uranium in the Region', and `Aborigines and Development'. It promises to make available papers from a special seminar conducted by the Anthropological Society of New South Wales and a transcript of a workshop on social impact assessment held in Canberra in August 1983. It says that two other volumes have been produced, namely, `Land Tenure in Western Arnhem Land' and `Hard Copy of Baseline Data'. A list of those documents can be found at page 17 of the consolidated report on the social impact of uranium mining on the Aborigines of the Northern Territory, which was tabled in 1984.

The question that arises is: Where are all the accompanying reports which were mentioned at page 17 of the consolidated report? When will they be tabled? It seems that only a few of them, if any, have yet appeared. There is real concern among those interested in the anthropology and sociology of this region that these documents appear. If they have not appeared, will they be tabled? If they are not to be tabled, what will be done to make the information publicly available as promised on page 17 of the later report? What action has the Department of Aboriginal Affairs taken to study, to use or to implement the information and recommendations contained either in the main report or in the other reports which were promised to be tabled?

I would also like to know whether the subjects of the study-the people living in Oenpelli and the people of Arnhem Land who were under study-have been informed of the results of the work which was carried out on them. It is my understanding that when they agreed to participate in the project, they were promised that they would be told of the results and they would be made available for such use as they could make of them. If they have been informed, who undertook this briefing? For example, was it one member of the group which did the work? Let me ask specifically: Was it someone who understood and knew what the work and the findings were about? I then ask: If monitoring of the physical environment in the Arnhem Land region is continuing, is there not a need still to continue the social monitoring of the people alongside the physical monitoring, especially since the money effects of mining will be long term-the impact of money, health problems, changing social organisation and a combination of problems which will all make themselves evident? Surely they are part of what the social monitoring was all about. Is a continuing assessment being made of social monitoring in the region similar to that which was the subject of the major study to which I have referred?

I ask finally: Is it not a fact that the last six-monthly report to the Minister to be tabled was for the period 1 April 1982 to 5 November 1982? I now realise that that is the 1982 document to which I referred earlier. If that was the last six-monthly report, why was it the last? Were any reports prepared following that time? If so, what has happened to them? I understand that the Minister may not be able to get me those answers straight away, but they are matters of concern. It may be necessary to go to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies for that information. I would be grateful if the Minister would do so, because there is some concern about the lack of concerted action in relation to this matter.