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Wednesday, 19 June 1996
Page: 1816

Senator ELLISON —My question is addressed to the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Minister, what is your response to a media release issued this week by the Independent member for Oxley, Pauline Hanson? What is your response to research by Ms Hanson of the benefits available to indigenous and non-indigenous Australians?

Senator HERRON —I thank Senator Ellison for his question. Most importantly, I would like to make it very clear that I am disappointed with Ms Hanson's statements regarding financial assistance to Aboriginal Australians. She made the comment:

Why the financial burdens and hardships of families of comparable income differ due to Aboriginality is a mystery.

I would like to point out to Ms Hanson that, if she cares to look at the research available, Aboriginal Australians are far more disadvantaged than non-Aboriginal Australians and therefore require greater assistance. Most disadvantaged groups in a democratic society are given some government assistance. That is not to say that we want to encourage welfare dependence. Most fair-minded people in this country would acknowledge that indigenous Australians are living in appalling conditions and do require assistance.

Over the last three months I have visited many Aboriginal communities that have taken the initiative to try to improve their situation. Many participate in CDEP, a work for the dole scheme, when they would be better off financially by being on welfare. In the Northern Territory I was impressed by a strong women program started by local volunteers to combat domestic violence and reduce health problems. These are two examples of Aboriginal Australians helping themselves to improve their living conditions, but there are many more.

I would like to cite some research taken from the 1994-95 ATSIC annual report which illustrates just how big the gulf is between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. For example, in education, while indigenous participation levels are improving, the gap with non-Aboriginal rates remains wide. I quote from the report that between 1985 and 1992 the retention rate to year 12 of Aboriginal students rose from 14 per cent to 25 per cent. Rates for other students in the same period, however, rose from 58 per cent to 78 per cent.

In the 1991 census, one in two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 15- to 19-year-olds stated they had left school at age 16 or younger, compared with one in four non-Aboriginal Australians in this age group. The 1991 census also showed that among 20- to 24-year-olds the proportion of Aboriginal Australians attending educational institutions was about one-third of the non-Aboriginal rate.

As Senator Chamarette mentioned earlier, maternal and infant mortality rates are higher for Aboriginal Australians, with Aboriginal mothers 10 times more likely to die than non-Aboriginal mothers. At any age, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are twice as likely to die prematurely as non-Aboriginal Australians. For Aboriginal people aged 25 to 44, the risk is five times greater. The list goes on and on in that regard.

In summary, I want to express again my disappointment over Ms Hanson's comments. She should stop and consider the hardship and disadvantage that many Aboriginal people face on a daily basis, often through no fault of their own.