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Thursday, 2 November 1967

Mr HAROLD HOLT (Higgins) (Prime Minister) - by leave - Honourable members will recall that in a statement to this House on 7th September this year I announced certain decisions the Commonwealth Government had taken on Aboriginals following the referendum in May and later discussions with the States. I referred to the changes to the Constitution brought about by the referendum and to the Government's view that the prime function of the Commonwealth in Aboriginal affairs in the future should be to have a policy coordinating role in matters of common interest to the Commonwealth, its Territories and the Australian States. I also announced that the machinery to perform this function would be provided by an office of Aboriginal affairs to be established within the Prime Minister's Department. This arrangement was designed to bring it under my own central administration. By this means, we would have an effective channel of communication not only between the States and the Commonwealth on Aboriginal matters through the Premiers and myself, but between the Commonwealth Government, the Aboriginals themselves and organisations representing them.

I now wish to announce a further stage in the Government's proposals in this matter. The Government wishes to have continually available to it the best advice on Aboriginal affairs it can get on a national level, and it has therefore decided that the new office should serve a Council for Aboriginal Affairs, which will have two particular functions: (a) It will advise the Government in the formulation of national policies for the Aboriginal citizens of Australia, (b) It will consult with Commonwealth departments and authorities whose activities have a bearing on Aboriginal welfare. It will also act as the Commonwealth agency for ensuring co-operation between Commonwealth and State authorities at the official level. It will, like the Office, be within my jurisdiction as Prime Minister and associated with the Prime Minister's Department in Canberra. The new Council will consist of a Chairman and two members. The Chairman will not be a full-time appointment but, at least during the early years of the Council's work, he will devote a large proportion of his time to its affairs. One of the other members will be the Executive Member who will be the Director of the Office serving the Council. The third member will be chosen for his direct knowledge and understanding of the Aboriginal people. The Council will draw upon the knowledge and experience of anthropologists and other academic specialists as well as State and Commonwealth officials working in the field. It will also call into counsel members of Aboriginal communities and others concerned with their welfare and advancement. The council will concentrate at the outset on fully establishing the new Office of Aboriginal Affairs and, in consultation with other departments and with the States, but also will move as soon as possible to the formulation of proposals for Commonwealth policies in relation to Aboriginals.

I repeat here, however, what I said in September, that while the Commonwealth Parliament is now in a position, to make special laws, the Commonwealth does not seek to intrude unnecessarily in this field or into areas of activity currently being dealt with by the States. The Government believes that detailed administration to be most effective should be on a State or regional basis. I would add that since I made my first announcement in September of the Government's intentions as a consequence of the Referendum result, we have had many constructive suggestions and and much useful advice from representative people. This has been of considerable value to the Government and has helped us materially in this further development of our policy.

I am confident that both the Council for Aboriginal Affairs and the new Office will provide a powerful reinforcement for the continuing efforts that the Commonwealth Government, the Australian States and the Northern Territory are making for the advancement of Australian Aboriginals.

I now come to the question of the person to be appointed as the first Chairman of the new Council for Aboriginal Affairs. This is an important appointment to which, naturally, the Government has given a great deal of thought so that a person of strong quality and competence would be chosen. I am glad to report that following a series of discussions with Dr H. C. Coombs about his future, Dr Coombs will be taking up the position of Chairman.

Dr Coombssome time ago indicated to the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) and to me that, after 18 years as Governor of the Reserve Bank, he felt the stage was approaching at which he ought to step down. He also indicated that thereafter, if the Government wished, he would be prepared to assume other appropriate responsibilities. While the Government would be well content for Dr Coombs to continue as Governor of the Bank, it felt that it should respect his judgment in this matter.

In the light of this, discussion took place with Dr Coombs concerning the application of his abilities and experience in the field of Aboriginal affairs, and I am happy to report that we found him responsive and quite enthusiastic in this direction. He expressed to us a strong sentiment to assist in what he regarded as an important sphere of Commonwealth endeavour; hence the appointment that I have just announced. I may add that it has also been decided to appoint Dr Coombs as Chairman of the Council for the Arts, about which I made a statement yesterday. This is a field of activity in which he has already done most valuable work as Chairman of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust.

Dr Coombshas accepted certain commitments as Governor of the Reserve Bank during the first part of 1968 and he will not formally retire from that post until these have been fulfilled. The expectation is that this will occur about June of next year. He will nevertheless start immediately on his new tasks and effective arrangements will be made to relieve him of certain of his responsibilities in the Bank for this purpose. Perhaps I should state that Dr Coombs has stipulated that while he remains Governor of the Bank there should be no additional remuneration paid to him in respect of either of his posts with the Council for Aboriginal Affairs or the Council for the Arts.

At this point, although Dr Coombs will still remain Governor for some considerable time, I would like personally and on behalf of the Government to pay the highest tribute to him for his distinguished service to Australia as Governor of the Bank - service that has brought him international renown in high financial circles, where he has enhanced Australia's national prestige, and in many other major fields of endeavour.

Normally, arrangements relating to the Governor and the successor to the Governor of the Bank would be announced by my colleague, the Treasurer, but in view of the association that I have had in making this announcement to the House, he has gladly permitted me to supply this additional detail. I now come to the arrangements in relation to the Reserve Bank that arise as a result of the impending retirement of Dr Coombs. I am authorised by my colleague, the Treasurer, to say that Mr J. G. Phillips, the present Deputy Governor, will be appointed to succeed Dr Coombs. Knowing the admirable work that Mr Phillips has done over many years as an economist and central banker, the Government has great confidence in his ability to carry out the responsibilities of Governor of the Reserve Bank and Chairman of the Reserve Bank Board.

Mr Bryant - I ask for leave to make a statement.

Mr Harold Holt - I do not deny leave to the honourable member, but the Prime Minister of Laos is waiting to have discussions with me. Perhaps I could make my short statement on beef roads and then the House could deal with these matters as it wishes.

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