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Thursday, 22 October 1970


Mr KIRWAN (Forrest) - I wish to join previous Opposition speakers in supporting the amendment moved by the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross). In doing so 1 want to refer mainly to conditions in Western Australia, especially as they affect my own area but I also wish to cite as supporting evidence some New South Wales experience. As the basis of my speech I quote the petition which I presented in this House this morning as the first of a series that will be presented dealing with the question of Aboriginal welfare and housing in the south west land division of Western Australia. The petition begins with the paragraph: . . that there is a crisis in Aboriginal welfare in the south west land division of Western Australia resulting from a population explosion, poor housing and hygiene and unemployment and unemployability.

As previous speakers have said, these things are very closely related. The conditions under which Aboriginals live are due to their housing. The housing in which they live is due to the conditions under which their parents lived and the education which their parents received. The education which their parents received was related largely to the employment or the lack of employment that their fathers had and their need to move about the countryside. If they did not move about the countryside they lived in abject poverty, in those days relying almost solely upon rations alone without even social services to support them. Therefore the problem has been one that has been selfperpetuating. It is one that has been complex and until very recent years nothing of a serious nature has been done to try and rectify it.

Because the problem is still of a complex nature today I think that there is a need to provide more than just housing. There is a need to provide bousing where there is employment available to the men. There will be a need for understanding and patience on the part of employers in taking the men into employment. There will need to be decent housing provided of a standard that they can maintain and care for, housing for which they must be asked to pay rent and, if possible, be allowed to purchase at a very low rental even if it means some sort of reduction in the price or complete relief from having to pay interest. But at least they should be given the dignity of being able to buy or pay off their own home. This would help to give them more incentive to remain in employment, to give their children something better to come home to, to give them the opportunity to come home to families of which the father is in employment and is able to feed them well and therefore make them healthier, stronger and more resistant to disease.

Some cruel judgments have been made of the Aboriginals in Western Australia - and 1 suppose this goes for the eastern States as well. It is said that they will not hold down a job. 1 know some of the conditions under which they have been employed and some of the tricks put over them by white employers and 1 do not wonder that they have not held down jobs. I also know the conditions under which they have had to live at home. On some of the reserves in Western Australia these conditions are almost beyond imagination and they are provided mainly by the Western Australian Government In fact, I have figures here that show that the Western Australian Government up until recently has been spending from $200,000 or $250,000 up to $700,000 a year on reserves. The houses are unlined, the design is of a monotonous nature and they are all built on a single style. There are communal ablution blocks, if one can call them that, which are unimaginative in style and lacking completely in hot water facilities unless there is a copper out in the open. Of course, this means that if there is wet weather they cannot have hot baths. It means that to have a hot bath they have to use a bucket or an iron tub because no baths are provided. Only shower facilities are provided, and without hot water they have to have a cold shower, which is pretty dreadful in the inland of Western Australia in winter time. We find children at school complaining about the smell of the Aboriginals but I wonder how many of them would go to school in any different condition if they lived under the same conditions? 1 believe that if the problem is to be attacked realistically it has to be attacked at all levels. Provision must be made to train the women who have not lived in a home before so they will know how to act as a wife and housekeeper and how to look after the home. Encouragement must be given to the men to remain in . employment and settle in places where employment is available and to which they want to go. We have to allow them the dignity of making their own decisions and their own choices. Then we have to see that they are enabled to pay rent at a level they can afford, that they are shown the basic requirements of hygiene and nutrition so that their children may have an opportunty of taking their rightful place within the schools and later within society. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard a table which I have received from the State Minister for Native Welfare showing the amounts that have been received from the Commonwealth and the amounts that have been spent by the State on Aboriginal housing from 1955-56 to the present time. It reads:

 

These figures show where the money has been spent on Aboriginal housing by the Western Australian Government and the amounts that have been spent on reserves. These reserves should have been phased out long before this. They are a disgrace to the nation. It is a disgrace that governments should be spending money on building the types of houses that are being built and requiring human beings to live under the conditions that these people are being required to live under.

The second point made in the petition to which I referred is that there is a need to phase out native reserves in the southwest land division of Western Australia over the next 3 years and I think that that is the right idea. I believe that it is necessary and desirable. Here I want to talk about the places in Western Australia and New South Wales to which I said I would refer. In Western Australia we have rather large reserves on the edges of towns. The people are demoralised. It is hard to get them to send their children to school regularly and it is hard to get them to remain in employment. They are more inclined than the average Aboriginal to turn to drink and other vices and they generally behave in the way that most people think is the norm for Aboriginals. But I believe that it is the norm for any people living under similar conditions, no matter what their nation of origin. It is a characteristic of people living in poverty.

I believe that this can be illustrated by making a comparison with other towns where there are no reserves, where the men are in employment and, interestingly enough, remain in employment in the one job, and where they have been given the opportunity of paying rent and living in a housing commission home as is the case in my home town of Bunbury, Western Australia. If there is an Aboriginal problem at all there it is very, very minute. The Aboriginals give the police very little trouble. The men remain in employment and the children attend school. They have little trouble with disease. Their homes are tidy and well kept. They set an example for their own people and for many of the other citizens of the town. This is in contrast to those other places I have mentioned where there are reserves and where people do not have the same opportunities to take up employment and to live in decent housing.

Interestingly enough, this compares with the experience of places in New South Wales. One town, for instance, which I will not name, has had a reserve built on its outskirts. The people were settled there in unit type houses, all of a type and ail of a colour. Some of those who were moved into, these places became discontented and did not wish to live under those conditions. They moved away and took up what we believe to be sub-standard white homes. They moved into these homes. They improved them. The men found employment and remained in employment. They paid whatever rent they were required to pay. The Housing Commission noticed what they were doing and made available to them Housing Commission homes in the town. These people have moved into them. They have started gardens around them. They have improved the houses and looked after them. They have paid the rent and have remained in employment. These are some of the people who, because they wanted to make their own decisions as lo where they should live and how they should live, left the reserve. They are of the same people that are on the reserve, yet they behave in a different manner. They have a different tone about their life. They are, to all intents and purposes, different individuals because they live under different conditions.

Because examples can be taken across the nation from two vastly different places we see this as a socioligical problem rather than a problem of innate race. Therefore I believe there is need to phase out reserves within the next 3 years. The third point is that town housing must be provided for all Aboriginal families where the breadwinner has permanent employment or an age or invalid pension entitlement. 1 believe I have covered that. The next point is that such housing must be supported by the appointment of permanent homemaker assistance in the ratio of 1 homemaker to every 8 houses or part thereof. The homemaker referred to is preferably to be a person of Aboriginal or part Aboriginal race so that she can move easily amongst the people, be there to give advice and assistance wherever possible, guide them in the. care and upkeep of their homes and in the care of their children and be to them their own clinic sister and home adviser. There is such a person operating in Bunbury. I believe she contributes much to the development and the improvement in conditions that are taking place there. She helps these people face their problems. She may be a partly trained social worker. At least she does that sort of work to the best of of her ability and makes an important contribution. I believe that this sort of assistance to help people who do not have a proper home background to move into the situation and develop decent homes is a necessity. The Government may have to take the responsibility in this field to see that such assistance is provided.

The next point is that incentives of housing, homemaker services and training facilities must be created in centres of potential employment for those who are currently unemployed and unemployable. I believe that the reason for that also is selfevident. We must find places for Aboriginals where they have the opportunity of finding suitable employment. All the decisions made in regard to the future for Aboriginals must take these points into consideration. Insufficient State or Federal assistance has been made available to meet these requirements. Therefore the need of the Federal and State Governments to do all they can to see that this is no longer so, to see that this problem is not one that goes on from generation to generation as it has done in the past but is one that is met within our own generation; and instead of being a selfgenerating deteriorating circumstance becomes a self-generating one of betterment and improvement until these people take an equal place in society, as they are capable of doing, as has been demonstrated in too few cases because of the little that has been done to provide the conditions under which such could be the case.

Lastly, adequate finance to meet these requirements can be provided only by the Commonwealth Government. I think this is only too obvious and it is also unfortunately true that perhaps there is more concern within the Commonwealth - little as there is - than in the States. It is going to take the Commonwealth to stir the States into action, or to take complete responsibility itself if necessary', within a short period of time to see that this problem is met square on and that we act realising that these people are human beings who will react as human beings, given the opportunity, and therefore take their rightful place within our community. I support the amendment.







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