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Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3175


Senator WOODLEY(7.29 p.m.) —I rise to speak in the adjournment debate tonight to condemn the government for what I believe is a most mean-spirited action in removing funding for a very small but very significant program to assist South Sea Islanders—the Australian-South Sea Islander community development project. I need to tell the Senate that two National Party members, one a former member and one a present member, were instrumental in harassing the Labor Party when it was in government to make sure that this program was put in place. I guess tonight they hang their heads in despair, having come into government to discover that their government has abolished a program which they were instrumental in having initiated.

Those two members are the former member for Dawson, Mr Braithwaite, and the member for Kennedy, Mr Katter. I give them credit because it was a longstanding and consistent representation and campaign that they conducted on behalf of South Sea Islanders. I guess it is only Queenslanders who would understand the history and who would have the kind of commitment which kept Mr Braithwaite and Mr Katter at the Labor government to make sure that the program was put in place. I wonder what they would say tonight. They are not here, but I thought it might be useful, in a moment or two, to read from the speeches that they made in the other place in urging this program on the former Labor government.

Before I do that I want to turn to a very patronising letter from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to the South Sea Islanders explaining to them that their program would no longer be funded. It begins:

Thank you for your participation in the consultations on the Australian South Sea Islander Community Development Project which were conducted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) and the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs earlier this year.

. . . . . . . . .

I attach for your information a copy of the report on the consultations.

. . . . . . . . .

The report has been considered by the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon Phillip Ruddock MP, who has decided that the Commonwealth will not continue to provide funding for the second and third years of the Community Development project.

Let me underline that. The project was funded for one year by the former government, and they had promised to fund it for three years. The mean spirited action of this current government has meant that this program is cut off in the middle of its progress. The letter goes on:

As you will note the report emphasises that priority areas for improved service provision are in the fields of education, housing, health, legal and employment services. Key Government responsibility for the provision of services in these areas is mainly that of state and territory governments.

That is a joke and is simply a way of passing the buck. I think the Senate needs to understand the history of this project and how it came about. To do that, I turn to the speeches of Mr Ray Braithwaite and Mr Katter made in the other place in 1993 and this will give the Senate some idea of the importance that they placed on getting this particular program funded.

I read first of all from the speech of Mr Braithwaite. He moved:

That this House acts urgently to respond to the recommendations in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission's report entitled The Call for recognition to ensure:

(1)an end to the discrimination against the descendants of South Sea Islanders;

(2)acceptance of programs to provide these persons with equal opportunities in building, health, education and legal representation;

(3)the retention of their culture, arts and heritage; and

(4)that descendants of South Sea Islanders remain proud Australians.

Mr Braithwaite goes on:

The report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission on the situation of Australians who are South Sea Islanders was handed down on 15 December 1992, which was some nine months ago. My motion calls for this House—and, through it, this government—to act urgently to respond to the six recommendations that are listed in that report. Perhaps, in contrast to a history of 125 years or longer of discrimination against these people, a nine-month delay may not appear too long to some people. But it is too long; and I would hope that this House, all political parties, and the government would act without delay to end this discrimination against South Sea Islanders and their descendants.

Mr Braithwaite achieved that goal and got the Labor government to fund a very small but important program. Now we find that Mr Braithwaite's high hopes have been dashed by the action of the current government in cancelling that program mid-term.

Let me read a little from a more colourful speech, as you can imagine, from Mr Katter. He spoke about the history of the South Sea Islanders in Queensland. He said:

To hide this dreadful trade in human lives behind the often misunderstood term of blackbirding belies some of the terrible stories that are today well documented. Those stories include those such as the horror that occurred on the brig Carl on the night of 17 September 1871 when the part owner and captain of the vessel, one Dr James Patrick Murray of Melbourne, and his crew shot some 80 natives that they had kidnapped from the Buka Passage in the northern Solomons when they tried to break out. These men, some only wounded, were thrown overboard to drown or be taken alive by sharks. The estimable Dr Murray got off scot-free when he turned queen's evidence. Even though the state government of Queensland tried to legislate against the forceful removal of Pacific Island natives, only one charge of slave trading was ever laid in the sad history of blackbirding—and that case failed.

I want to add my plea to that of former member Ray Braithwaite and current member Mr Katter and make a plea to this government to restore that funding. I need to ask where is the current member for Dawson, De-Anne Kelly. I wonder if she would also support this plea. There has not been much heard from her about this issue. I urge the government to reconsider what I believe is a mean spirited and penny- pinching action, and to restore the funding to this very important but really, in money terms, very small program.