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Thursday, 22 October 1970

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - I do not want to delay the House for too long, but I am moved to speak on the States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Bill for a number of reasons. First of all, I have in my electorate a number of Aboriginal people with whom I have been in fairly close contact. Secondly, I believe that there has been a good deal of damaging criticism of what is being done to help Aboriginals and very little appreciation of the value of the work that is being done. No-one would deny that much more has to be done. But anyone who has worked among these people, in my area at any rate, will realise the great strides that have been made. I pay a tribute to the people who have been associated with this work.

I know that the Queensland Minister who is responsible for Aboriginal affairs, the Hon. N. T. E. Hewitt, is very much concerned about this matter. He has discussed with me the way in which the State and the Commonwealth could best cooperate to the advantage of these people. At the moment he is waiting for me to make some arrangement whereby we can visit some of the areas and discuss with the Aboriginal people themselves some of the problems which they face. I pay a tribute to the local welfare committees in these areas. The people on these committees have devoted themselves unselfishly to Improving the conditions under which Aboriginals live.

We realise that there is a need to provide housing for Aboriginals, and this Bill does move in that direction. It is easy to say that we are not going far enough or fast enough. It would not matter at what rate we went; the Opposition still would say that we were not doing enough. It would not matter how much . money was being spent; the Opposition would want more money spent. However, this Bill introduces measures which will be of very great benefit to Aboriginal people. They will help the progress and development of Aboriginal people; they will help also in providing housing and Aboriginal welfare.

I point out to those who say that not enough is being done - I agree that not enough is being done - that there are many fields in which the finance which is available to the Government does not allow enough to be done. But the States have some responsibility in this field, and the money provided under this Bill will be added to that which the States are providing for this work. Money alone will not solve the problems facing Aboriginals. In addition to the need for finance, an educational system is required. I have met and talked with liaison officers, and I know the problems which they face. Those who understand this matter know how difficult a problem this is.

I find that some of these Aboriginal people are ready and prepared to accept responsibilities if they come to live within a certain community. But others have told me that at this stage they are not ready or prepared to accept those responsibilities. So they will have to be trained or educated to accept, these responsibilities, to understand what is required of them if they are to succeed. I want to point to another field in which achievements have been made. I refer to some of the settlements on the outskirts of some of the towns which in the last year or two have disappeared completely as a result of work done by the State and Federal governments in cooperation with the local authorities in these areas. Those people who have moved out of those fringe areas and shanty dwellings are now a credit to the town itself and they have good jobs. This has been done because they have been encouraged to do it. Some have not been happy about it. Some of the shanties have been bulldozed by local authorites who have come in for any amount of criticism for doing it even though they have provided dwellings because some of the people have come back and found there were no more shanties and they were disappointed about it. It is a very difficult problem and it is one that is not easily handled. The person who knows the most about it and who has been mixed up with it most will find it is very real.

I pay tribute to those people who have spoken on this matter and who have the problem at heart and are trying to do something about it. But there is no one in this House who is more dedicated to this work than the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth). He has been criticised because he has not done everything. He has taken a tremendous interest in this problem and he has a great knowledge of the subject. He has instigated moves which are proving of benefit to our Aboriginal population and he will continue to do that. I could mention the director for Aboriginal Affairs in Queensland, Mr Pat Kiloran with whom I have discussed this problem on a number of occasions. While I say the problem is there and it has to be resolved and work has to be done, it is not something that can be solved overnight. It is not something that can be done with money alone. The measures that will have to be used will require people who are endeavouring to encourage our Aboriginals to lift their standard of living and will require people who have a specialised knowledge of this subject. Such people are not easy to find. Liaison officers are already doing a very good job in this field and they deserve all the encouragement they can get. What I look forward to is the close co-operation of the 3 arms of government - Federal, State and local - in this field. I know when we are tackling a problem of this kind we find very many difficulties. I have paid plenty of tributes tonight because 1 believe there has been too much criticism and breaking down of the efforts that are being made.

I would like to talk about the local tribal council at Cunnamulla where a lot of criticism has been levelled about what has happened. There is a local tribal council there which has people handling particular aspects. There is a finance coordinator, someone specially allotted to deal with housing, someone for education, someone for health, someone for legal aid and someone for employment. This is their own tribal council and is the sort of thing that will do a lot of good. This can be advanced into our Aboriginal population - I feel it cannot go very quickly but still it is going - and these people deserve a pat on the back for the efforts they along with the welfare committees in these places are making.

There was some talk of employment. Let me pay a tribute to the Parroo Shire Council at Cunnamulla which proportionately employs a high percentage of Aboriginals in its work force. It has suffered a lot of criticism but at the same time it is trying to do what it can, and most people engaged in this work are. I accept the fact that not enough is being done but do not decry the work that is being done because great strides have been made. I pay tribute to the Minister and the Government for what they are trying to do. I trust this will be encouraged by close co-operation, by recognition of the progress that is being made and by trying to improve, on that progress to develop those factors which are providing so much benefit to the Aboriginal population throughout Australia.

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