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Thursday, 22 October 1970


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The House is debating the States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Bill 1970. 1 am not quite the sixth successive Labor speaker in this debate, but six Labor speakers have shown interest in this debate about the problems of the Australian Aboriginal people. It is true, as the preceding speaker, the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) said, that this Bill involves an expenditure of $7m. Of that amount, $4. 8m is provided for housing. The way to regard this is that $2.2m is left for expenditure throughout the 6 States for all the other purposes under the headings of welfare and difficulties.

I suppose that anyone with the slightest knowledge of the tremendous range of difficulties that prevail in this field would concede readily that this amount is grossly inadequate, lt has been pointed out by the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) and other speakers who preceded me that under many headings and many areas of problem there will be a more serious situation after this money has been spent than before it was expended. After all, the amount that is being allocated for housing is not that great when we consider it in terms of need. This is the point that the honourable member for Brisbane made: There will be more Aboriginal people needing housing when we have spent this money than there were before we commenced to spend it. If 400 homes at a cost of $10,000 each are built and if we take into account the cost of land and PC items, we have a total of $4.8m approximately. We need for Aboriginal people a great many more houses than 400. Do not let us get too carried away with the benevolence of the Government about this matter.

In the referendum on 27th May 1967, the Australian people gave a resounding imprimatur to the Commonwealth to attend to the long neglected problems concerning Australia's Aboriginal people. This was done by removing the discriminatory provision from section 51 of the Commonwealth Constitution to enable Aboriginal people to be counted in the census and, more importantly, so that the Commonwealth could make laws for Aboriginals. For that matter, the Commonwealth has enjoyed for many years the prerogative in this respect regarding Aboriginal affairs in the Northern Territory. But, notwithstanding its undoubted authority and the magnitude of the problem concerning Aboriginals Commonwealth indifference has put Australia on trial in the eyes of the world.

It so happens that this week we Wil be celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations. We will do so officially on Saturday next, 24th October. We have had a quarter of a century of United Nations activities. I suppose that there are many people in Australia who are concerned that Australia has been indicted in the United Nations in recent weeks by Aboriginal people. In blatant breach of the United Nations declaration and of the International Labour Organisation conventions, the indigenous people of this country have been deprived of their land and any administrative rights over their reserves. It would have been a very significant event during this twenty-fifth anniversary period if the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Wentworth) and if the Government had used some imagination. If they have no humanitarian motivation about this matter, they could have thought of it from the standpoint of the favourable public response to the announce.ent of a symbolic gesture and had said, for example: 'Yes, we will return to the Gurindji people some of their land, that is, some of the land that Vesteys has taken away from them'. Why do we lack this kind of imagination? Why did we miss this splendid opportunity when we have denied so much to these people about whom we all speak so proudly. I have had a note passed to me about the wonderful achievements of Eric Simms yesterday in the World Cup series. We have heard of Namatjira and many other famous Australian Aboriginals. But when it comes to an opportunity to do something practical we find that this Government is dragging the chain, very very badly.

Not very long ago, the State Ministers who are concerned with Aboriginal affairs met. In fact, it was in March of this year. They outlined a number of things for which they need finance. They called for the repeal of what they said was apparently discriminatory legislation. These are not Labor Ministers. These are the Liberal Ministers of the States who prevailed at March of this year. They contended that there was adverse discriminatory legislation concerning Aboriginals and this is what the amendment moved by the Opposition deals with. That is why we expect that some people of conscience from the other side of the House who have been disinterested enough not to join in this debate may be tempted to come over here and to vote with us to uphold the contentions of their own Liberal State Ministers so that this discriminatory legislation might be got rid of. The Liberal Ministers asked for it and we are moving to that effect tonight. We are giving honourable members opposite a chance to fulfil the aspirations of Liberal State Ministers.

The State Ministers asked also for further workshops. Apparently this is the technique by which Aboriginal leadership is encouraged. Apparently the State Ministers felt that insufficient funds were being made available or expended in this area. They contended that substantial expansion was needed in present housing and flat construction rates to meet the housing requirements of Aboriginals. At least this Bill contains some gesture in that direction. The State Ministers referred to education. They said that Aboriginal people were permanently handicapped by lack of opportunity in the pre-school ages. The honourable member for Brisbane, in moving his amendment, has emphasised that particular aspect as well, to fulfil the desires of the Liberal State Ministers.

They mentioned the difficulties which Aboriginal people were experiencing in obtaining employment. They said that Aboriginal people were hindered because of lack of accommodation and that urban hostels were needed. I readily concede thai I have been involved personally in a matter in which the Minister has taken a personal interest for the provision of funds for Aboriginal hostel accommodation. But let us all be very frank: This is insufficient and so much more needs to be done so that young boys and girls with potential who reside in areas where no job opportunities are available can be given the chance to come down to places where their secondary, technical and tertiary education needs can be accommodated. These are matters which give us concern and which cause us to speak fervently about the indigenous people of this land.

For many people, the 'lucky country' is a pious platitude. For the original Australians, luck ran out when Captain Cook rounded Cape Solander and entered Botany Bay 200 years ago. The Institute of Public Affairs recently said:

The poverty and ill health of too many Aboriginals is a blot on Australian society.

In Central Australia, the registered infant mortality rate is 21 for 100 live births. This rate is among the highest in the world. The mortality rate is 20 times higher than the rate for comparable European populations. One in every 6 Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory dies before it reaches the age of 4 years. The incidence of leprosy, yaws, tuberculosis, hookworm and scurvy is high. It has been contended that Aboriginal children lack vitamin C. My colleague, the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) has referred to the dedicated work undertaken by Dr Kalokerinos of Collarenabri in his identification of the vitamin C deficiencies and of the need to meet this with particular treatment involving ascorbic acid. Yet, there has been some reluctance, some pettifogging, in the approach on the part of the Government to this matter. The Government does not realise that the Collarenabri cemetery is dotted with little white crosses to which Aboriginal mothers go every weekend in mourning for young children who need not have died if there had been elements of compassion in this country over the last 200 years. Surely the time has come for us to realise that something has to be done in this regard.

We think of the discrimination that prevails in the Australian countryside. Many Aboriginal communities are denied the benefits of any communications at all. Some lack full time medical services. Most of these communities are without adequate expenditure on schools. Certainly there is nothing in the nature of sewerage and garbage services, nothing like electricity or gas, and nothing like running water. No thought is ever given to anything aesthetic such as a park, footpaths, roads, kerbing and guttering, and of course inadequate housing is the order of the day. We are told that 20,000 Aboriginal families need decent housing. In that context we can see that we are still just tinkering with this mammoth problem.

The area north of a line from Cairns to Carnarvon totals 500,000 square miles in which 50 per cent of the population are Aboriginals. These are the people who do not own land. While mining rights have transcended human rights we are extracting mineral resources and disregarding the human resources that are available. At Yirrkala the sacred grounds which I visited with my colleagues quite recently have been vandalised in the name of progress and vested interests as though we have no concern for the Aboriginal people and no pride in our own national history. At Weipa 140 square miles of land has been removed from the Aboriginal reserve for Comalco Industries. We also visited quite recently the Nabalco enterprise at Gove. I can recall that Dr Coombes who heads the Commonwealth Office of Aboriginal Affairs, expressed his concern that that company was going ahead with its $303 m project without the Aboriginal people being consulted in any shape or form.

We are told that over the years the Northern Territory Administration has spent $50m in piecemeal programmes which have failed to produce any significant groups of indigenes which are selfsustaining economic units. No social action groups or political organisations are permitted in this part of Australia. How can we help this self-motivating, self-generating programme about which some of my colleagues have spoken and in which Aboriginals can be involved in democratic processes in efforts to advance their own affairs? The Northern Territory work force has multiplied by 400 per cent since the Second World War but Aboriginal employment has fallen. Sister Keller, M.B.E., in commenting on Aboriginal employment said:

Men once proud - now sit idle or drag rakes over yards which do not need raking because it was said they could not be given food without earning it.

So we undermine whatever self-respect these proud people ever had.

I understand that if I curtail my remarks one of my colleagues will have the oppor tunity of entering this debate. I would now like to say a few words about land rights. In 1834 Sir Thomas Buxton, chairman of the Aborigines Committee of the British House of Commons said:

In order to do justice we must admit first that the natives have the right to their own lands.

In 1963, 129 years later, a select committee that went to Yirrkala had this to say:

Your Committee believes that a direct monetary compensation should be paid for any loss of traditional occupancy, even though these rights are not legally expressed.

Then in 1967 a committee of the Northern Territory Legislative Council made similar comments indicating that in its view these Aboriginal people have a right to the land which, from time immemorial, they have considered to be theirs. The land rights claim is specific. It is not characterised by ambiguities. It does not cover everyone's land; It does not aspire to take in Parliament House, Martin Place or the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It has a relationship to the sacred grounds and the traditionally used and occupied grounds such as the grounds which are subject to claims by the people at Wattie Creek and Wave Hill.

I want to conclude my remarks by saying that there is discriminatory legislation in this country. I could mention quite a long list but I will refer only to some of the legislation. There is the Migration Act 1958-1968; the Navigation Act 1912-1968; in Queensland the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders' Affairs Acts 1965-67; the Vagrants, Gaming and Others Offences Acts 1931-1967; in Western Australia the Licensing Act 1911-1968; the Native Welfare Act 1963; the Native (Citizenship Rights) Act 1944-1964. They are further indications of the fact that we have allowed the Aboriginal people to be treated in an off-handed and indifferent way which has undermined their pride. I believe that in consideration of these matters to which I have referred and others referred to by my colleagues, such as the deficiencies in educational opportunities and the shortcomings as far as health and housing are concerned, it is not good enough to make this limited amount of money available. We should support the. amendment moved by the Opposition in order that we can advance the Aboriginal people in a way which I believe is the aspiration of every Australian.







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