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Tuesday, 26 September 1972
Page: 1885


Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - The Opposition welcomes the substance of this Bill. Any provision for Aboriginal advancement is naturally wholeheartedly welcomed by the Opposition. But on behalf of the Opposition I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: while not opposing the provisions of the Bill, the House condemns the Government for:

(a)   its failure over a period of more than 5 years to exercise the full and direct responsibility in Aboriginal Affairs voted to it by more than 90 per cent of the Australian electorate in the referendum of May 1967;

(b)   neglecting to consult with the Aboriginal people;

(c)   refusing to restore land rights to Aborigines living on reserves or in significant communities;

(d)   failing to provide decent housing for Aboriginal families;

(e)   failing to provide employment opportunities particularly in rural areas;

(f)   making insufficient provision for education ranging from pre-school to technical training, adult education and education at university level;

(g)   its indifference to indefensible levels of neonatal, infant and child mortality, malnutrition and disease;

(h)   its failure to assist the States in meeting these responsibilities beyond their own financial capacity and (0 its failure to provide the leadership which is a clear Commonwealth responsibility.'

The Opposition is aware of the claim that will be made that over the last 5 years a substantial amount has been provided for Aboriginal advancement by both the Commonwealth and the States. I am very much aware of the figures that were included at page 1748 of Hansard of 30th September 1971 when a similar Bill was debated. The figures showed the amount of expenditure by the States, the Commonwealth and the Office of Aboriginal Affairs from 1967-68 to 1971-72. I will not give details of those figures. The total provided by those 3 bodies in 1967-68 was shown as $ 19.9m, and in 1971-72 $44.26m was to be provided. The amount had more than doubled in 5 years. Whilst being well aware of that, the first point I want to make is the substantial and growing need. From figures of the population of persons who describe themselves as Aboriginal we find that in 1966 there was a total in Australia of 80,207, more of them being in the Northern Territory than in any State, the Northern Territory being followed in numbers by Queensland and Western Australia. Those who have done work on population statistics since 1966 point out the rapid rate of population increase, the high birth rate which prevails, the survival rate, which is high despite the extraordinarily high rates of those who suffer from disease and the quite indefensible levels of neonatal infant and child mortality to which the amendment ls directed. The need in this area is a need that is increasing. The magnitude of the problem in every respect is not diminishing - it is increasing.

The needs can be seen most vividly in respect of education. Statistics from the Bureau of Census and Statistics show that at the 1966 census there was an astonishing difference between the rate at which Aboriginal people gained access to education and the rate at which the nonAboriginal component of the population gained access to education. I will refer to just a few figures. Of persons 50 per cent or more Aboriginal, 0.36 per cent of males and 0.34 per cent of females were undergoing education of matriculation or higher standard. Comparative figures for the non-Aboriginal population were 11.32 per cent for males and 8.22 per cent for females. There were 1.42 per cent of Aboriginal males and 1.47 per cent of Aboriginal females receiving education at intermediate level as against 16.36 per cent for non-Aboriginal males and 17.61 per cent for non-Aboriginal females. There were 11.81 per cent of Aboriginal males and 12.61 per cent of Aboriginal females attending secondary school compared with 24.62 per cent of non-Aboriginal males and 24.47 per cent of non-Aboriginal females. There were 41.19 per cent of Aboriginal males and 41.41 per cent of Aboriginal females attending primary school as against 34.72 per cent of nonAboriginal males and 36.96 per cent of non-Aboriginal females. There were 39.97 per cent of Aboriginal males and 39.23 per cent of Aboriginal females receiving no education at all in contrast to 10.97 per cent of non-Aboriginal males and 10.6 per cent of non-Aboriginal females.

These education statistics show the astounding disparity that exists between the Aboriginal population and the nonAboriginal population in Australia. In the absence of another set of census statistics it is difficult to make a comparison, but the statistics of the number of Aboriginal young people in schools and universities that we do have show that there has been no appreciable improvement in that time and that the overall situation of Aboriginal children has shown no significant improvement on the figures revealed for the 1963 census. So the situation of the overall population is still substantially the same. By way of further comparison, on the basis of the 1966 figures 3.6 per cent of Aboriginal people 45 years and over had no education compared with only 1.1 per cent of nonAboriginal people. The difference begins to diminish slightly as we come down the age scale. For instance, 5 per cent of those between 20 and 24 years of age had the intermediate certificate or better compared with 50 per cent in the case of nonAboriginal people. No doubt this situation will take a considerable time to improve and it will be quite a number of years before any appreciable difierence is noticed no matter what is done. This seems to me to indicate a far greater degree of urgency to meet the needs of people who are alive today than is recognised by the programme to which this Bill gives effect.

The answer that Senator Douglas McClelland received this year to a question showed that statistics were not kept in such a way that those who were Aboriginal were normally enumerated in statistical collections, but the number of persons who took up Aboriginal study grants for the first time in 1969-70 and 1970-71 were listed by the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in answer to that question. In 1969 there were only 15 people in the whole of Australia who were shown in the records as receiving these grants. In 1970 this number had dropped to 13 and in 1971 it was 26. However, 8 of the 26 listed as having received Aboriginal study grants were attending Education Department teachers colleges or kindergarten teachers' colleges. That was the most significant increase that had taken place. Teaching was improved, but apart from this there was no overall improvement in the number of people receiving those grants at tertiary institutions between 1969 and 1970. We can be satisfied from the figures we have that so far there has been no upward trend in the statistics in respect to education and that the magnitude of this education problem remains.

The next matter I want to look at is land grants. The principles that have been set out already in a statement by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) seem to me to be generally satisfactory, and I wish to refer to them. They are: To investigate ways of providing a simple, flexible form of incorporation for Aboriginal communities; to amend the law under which land is reserved for the use and benefit of Aborigines so that a reserve cannot be revoked in whole or in part without an effective opportunity for a review both by the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory and by both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament; to complete as expeditiously as possible programmes to delineate and protect areas of land both within and outside reserves for Aboriginal religious and ceremonial purposes. But when one refers to the attitude of Ministers in relation to this matter, the reason why no progress whatever has been made in meeting the needs of the Aboriginal people for land immediately becomes apparent. As long as the attitude exhibited by the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) dominates the Government - I am satisfied that the Australian Country Party attitude does dominate the Government in respect of this - there will be no progress.

In 1971, Mr Hunt said that the Government's attitude on leasing was based on a rational land use policy.' But what is a rational land use policy'? The Minister went on to say that such a policy 'did not provide for the issue of titles to land simply because certain Aboriginals claimed their ancestors had a traditional association with it regardless of its economic use'. The Minister then said that Aborigines 'have a right to areas of special significance, but just to set aside land because they claim it tends to perpetuate the Aboriginal tribal system was no justification'.

The Minister for the interior quite clearly dismisses the essence and the substance of the claim of Aboriginal people for land in the first place. He seems to be unable to appreciate that rational use of land by the Aboriginal people is precisely the kind of use that he dismisses in the 2 sentences that 1 quoted. As long as a government is influenced by people who take what I call the Country Party attitude to the use of land - that is, we must make money from the use of land; it must be on a kind of commercial foundation - there will be no progress made by a government towards meeting the need of the Aboriginal people to acquire land grants, which in fact do relate especially to the claims that they make that their ancestors had a traditional association with the land, and that they have a right to areas of special significance to perpetuate the Aboriginal tribal system, irrespective of the economic or commercial use of the land. It seems to me that this problem must still be overcome and that the Government is open to a fundamental criticism for its complete failure in the last 5 years to overcome this difficulty.

If one refers to the available information in relation to health, as in education, the striking thing that hits the observer is the shockingly high adverse statistics on Aboriginal health that are available. On many occasions, statistics have been quoted in this House which tend to show that the infant mortality rate in the Northern Territory is between 8 and 20 times as high as the normal rate for people in Australia. Figures as high as 208 deaths per thousand have been quoted with authority in this House. We have seen claims that, although Aborigines account for only a little more than 1 per cent of the Australian population, they account for 10 per cent of Australia's infant deaths, 28 per cent of the deaths of 1-year olds, about 10 per cent of the deaths of 2 to 4-year olds and 94 per cent of the deaths of lepers. Similarly, if the figures were available on a satisfactory basis for such things as tuberculosis, they would show that the statistics applying to the Aboriginal people were relatively as bad as those areas to which I have just referred.

It k impossible to be satisfied that, in the last 5 years, there has been any appreciable improvement in these matters. From time to time, as an explanation for the failure to achieve any improvement, the Government has said that the health problem stems from the nomadic background of the Aborigines - the fact that they are in mobile groups - but of course this is merely to say something about the problem and not to provide a justification for cbe problem not being more satisfactorily attended to. I think we can be satisfied that there is no upward trend in the statistics in relation to the health of the Aboriginal people in the last 5 years.

I refer now to housing. Here is an area where, at least in the Northern Territory, I think there is some evidence that there has been an improvement. But housing is still at a generally low standard. It can be shown that perhaps one-fifth of the Aboriginal population directly affected by Commonwealth expenditure has been able to live In improved housing by either obtaining new nouses or having the ones they lived in Improved. But we have evidence that as late as 1970 about half of the Aboriginal homes in the Northern Territory had separate laundries, 46 per cent had kitchens, only 11.5 per cent had electric, gas or oil stoves and 57 per cent had electricity. I would concede that there has been some improvement in the area of housing in the period for which the Commonwealth has exercised greater responsibility but I think that, especially in this field, some imagination is needed. It is most inappropriate for the Aboriginal people everywhere to be asked to live in homes of a Western pattern. It is a pattern which does not fit into the kind of environment in which they must live and I think a good deal of imagination should be used to design a completely different kind of house. I think the imagination used in the transitional housing in places around Alice Springs, Darwin and elsewhere seems to be little better than that used in their previous housing.

That I think is the broad picture which will be filled out in greater detail from the Opposition side. It is the broad picture so far as material things are concerned and insofar as statistics can be quoted. However, I emphasise that there is still an inadequacy of statistics in regard to Aboriginal people. Unlike sheep, Aborigines were never counted until 1966 and we are still far behind in getting an adequate idea of their position statistically.

I turn finally to what has been called the existential crisis in which the Aboriginal people find themselves and which is related to material things. It may even apply in the field of housing, where some appreciable gain has been made and not merely the maintenance of the existing position. These things can contribute very little to the solution of what has been identified as the existential crisis. As we know, Government policy in relation to the Aboriginal people has gone through several phases. The first phase of policy was merely to eliminate them. Then we reached a stage of great progress and the policy became one to integrate and to assimilate. This was clearly laid down in the statement read by the Prime Minister - I referred to it a while ago - as the policy of the Government. But integration and assimilation in Australia or in any other country mean a loss of identity. When we talk about assimilating or integrating a migrant or an Aboriginal person we really mean that he is to cease being a migrant or cease being an Aboriginal person and that in some kind of way he has to become an Australian. I do not think that objective is satisfactory. We need to pursue a policy which will not assume that a person must cease being an Aboriginal. Our policy ought to be directed at the maintenance and development of his personality as such a person. Assimilation and integration as objectives tend to have the opposite effect.

We talk about education for the Aboriginal people. Of course, we do not educate them. We do not try to educate them. We do not use them to educate themselves in their own culture. What I think is probably needed here is a good deal more education of Australian white people about the culture of the Aboriginal people so that they can appreciate it and appreciate its extraordinary significance and so that they can acquire more respect for the Aboriginal people derived from the knowledge of this culture which, in many ways, is superior to our own. Nowadays we tend to gain our appreciation for an Aboriginal person if he or she turns out to be a good tennis player or a good footballer. If they do the kinds of things we do and if they do them as well as we do we think they are wonderful people. But the important thing is that we need some kind of education of white people in this country so that we will begin to appreciate the Aboriginal people for being themselves, for knowing what they themselves are.

In the application of Commonwealth Government policy there is a very great need for us to aproach the Aboriginal people not as though we are superior and know what should be done about them but in such a way that they have the power to make decisions about what should be done about themselves and to call upon Commonwealth and other assistance as they need it. They ought to have the authority to make decisions, good or bad, successful or unsuccessful. Those who are concerned with Aboriginal advancement ought to be taking the position that we will help them to make those decisions, not that we will tell them what the decisions ought to be. In the absence of this, in this existential crisis in which the Aboriginal person in Australia lives, there is a lot of concern today about the Aboriginal people turning to violence, as though that is a terrible thing. But it is not so much violence as it is indignation and anger. Some white people seem to think that Aboriginals have no right to show any indignation and anger about the position in which they and their people have been living for centuries.


Mr Graham - But if it were violence it would be terrible, would it not?


Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - It would be unless we were using it. If the authorities were using violence against them, if white people were using it against them as they have done for decades and as it was used out here the other day, without any appreciation at all or attempt to understand those Aboriginal people, that would not be such a terrible thing according to the views of honourable members opposite. But if an Aboriginal person happened to use a little violence and pushed a policeman over, that would be a terrible thing. I think this should be put in its proper context. What happened on the lawns outside Parliament House under the supervision of the Minister for the Interior, who is in the House now, was an example of how stupid the Government can become in applying violence to a situation of this kind, ft is certain that anger and indignation will rise in the younger people in the Aboriginal community because of the circumstances in which they are forced to live.

Finally, the Australian Labor Party will assist the States and any other organisation or body that can. do worthwhile work in relation to Aboriginal advancement, but it is a Commonwealth responsibility and in this field the Commonwealth still takes a very secondary role. A number of incidents have occurred in recent times, including one in South Australia where land that was available was suddenly lost because the Commonwealth did not take the initiative. The Commonwealth still has not accepted a primary role in respect of Aboriginal affairs. Much has still to be done. Much is still beyond the financial power of the States to do. The Commonwealth still has to face the responsibility of undertaking the effective government in relation to Aboriginal advancement that the referendum gave it and which for some time. I agree, the Commonwealth looked as though it would undertake. But in recent times the sense of urgency and acceptance of that responsibility which seemed to be present in the Minister have significantly disappeared. Recent trends have been to meet this situation with a lesser sense of urgency than ever before. So I think that the amendment is thoroughly justified and I ask the House to support it.







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