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Tuesday, 26 September 1972
Page: 1896

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) - I do not propose to keep the House for very long. I am grateful to the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) for exchanging his order on the speaking list for mine to enable me to keep another commitment. I listened with great interest to what the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) said. He made the point that many of the matters in the Opposition's amendments were State responsibilities. I was a little shocked at this because this Bill is cited as the States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Act 1972. Surely, if it serves any purpose at all, it is to enable the States to meet State commitments. In effect, what we are saying is this: These are state responsibilities. This is the legislation whereby the Commonwealth provides a certain amount of money to the States. At this point of time the States are not doing enough and the Commonwealth is not doing enough to assist them. Item (h) on the Opposition's amendment states: its failure to assist the States in meeting these responsibilities beyond their own financial capacity.

The point has been made previously in this debate that it has been only a few years since this referendum was carried - a mere 5 years - and that against this background the Commonwealth is doing a pretty fair job. I should like to remind the House and members of the Government parties in particular, that when this referendum proposing an amendment to section 31 of the Constitution - not the one concerning the census - was put to the people of Australia for the first time in 1944 by the Curtin Government as part of the search for adequate Commonwealth powers to handle the problems of post-war reconstruction and development, members of the now Government parties opposed this referendum. By opposing the proposal in 1944 they ensured that the Commonwealth was kept out of this field effectively for another 23 years. That is another point that should be taken into account.

There is an increase in expenditure under this legislation to $ 14.5m as compared with $9. 2m in the previous year. Let us look at the exact terms of the Opposition's amendment. Clause (a) states: its failure over a period of more than S years to exercise the full and direct responsibility in Aboriginal Affairs. . . .

In other words we are saying that the Commonwealth is not doing enough. It is not providing leadership. It is not providing enough money. Clause (b) in the amendment states: neglecting to consult with the Aboriginal people.

I do not believe that effective consultation with the Aboriginal people is being carried out. In the estimates of the Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, there is a provision under the Office of Aboriginal Affairs for consultation and liaison with Aboriginal panels and associations. In 1968-69, $40,000 was provided and $25,000 spent. In 1969-70, $26,000 was provided and $23,000 spent. In 1970- 71, $23,000 was provided and $4,418 spent. In 1971-72, $16,000 was provided and $2,750 spent.

Over recent years instead of having the sort of consultation that took place at Townsville in earlier times, this Government has sought to consult the representatives of various State Aboriginal liaison or advisory bodies. In Queensland, the State which I know best, the Aboriginal councillors represent only those Aborigines who live on settlements. So as far as the consulting of these people is concerned, they represent approximately one third of the Aboriginal people living in Queensland. If I might say so, the representation is filtered because a certain number of these representatives are appointed by the Queensland Director. At Woorabinda every person on the Aboriginal council at the time when the Labor Party's committee paid a visit was an employee of the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs. I have no doubt that some of these people are very sincere and worthwhile but they are not the direct representatives of the Aboriginal people en masse. In many cases they tend to put over the ideas of the Queensland department. I know that a conference was held recently. I do not believe that one can achieve anything of lasting value by gestures like a national conference. I believe that the establishment of Commonwealth regional offices and the setting up of local liaison with Aboriginal people in the field are much more effective means of finding out what the needs and aspirations of the Aboriginal people might be.

The question of land rights has already been dealt with. The Government has gone a very little part of the way. I believe that the problem substantially involves the

Country Party. Why does not the Government face up to this issue and realise that within the guidelines laid down in the policy adopted by the Labor Party there are only a limited number of reserves and Aboriginal communities to be cared for? It does not mean unscrambling the pastoral industry in vast areas of the Northern Territory, Western Australia, or Queensland. Land rights can be given in this quite affluent society of ours to the Aboriginal people living on reserves and in significant communities without causing a violent confrontation with the pastoral industry or with anyone else. Our record in this area is of course very poor.

Paragraph (d) of the amendment moved by the Opposition refers to the provision of decent housing for Aboriginal families. When I spoke on a similar Bill 2 years ago the Minister then responsible for the administration of Aborigines made some projections of the housing needs of Aborigines. He cited research that had been carried out in Sydney and elsewhere indicating that 80 per cent of Aborigines already living in houses needed re-housing. He suggested that the rate of new family formation was about 1,100 or 1,200 Aboriginal families a year. The Minister told me that the figures showed that we were making some impact on the Aboriginal housing programme. On the following day I placed a question on the notice paper which remained there for over 6 months. This question asked for detailed information to support the Minister's statement. In fact the amount of information that the Minister was able to give me about the housing needs of Aboriginal people was very slender indeed. If we are to meet the needs of Aboriginal housing we ought to be providing about $30m a year for the next 10 years. On the last census figures, as amended, there, were about 140,000 Aboriginal people in Australia.

We are told that the average number in an Aboriginal family unit is about seven. That means 20,000 homes would have to be provided at a cost of about $200m. We are, told that the rate of new family formation is 1,100 or 1,200 a year. That would mean another 1 0,000. homes would have to be provided over the next 10 years. If this problem is to be solved in a reasonable time we will need about $300m. The proposal that we advance to the Minister is that instead of making available $8,250,000 to the States for their responsibilities the Commonwealth ought to be making available about $24m and should spend the balance of the S30m in the Northern Territory. It is only when the Commonwealth makes available money of this order that it will be able to make, in conjunction with the States, some impact on Aboriginal housing.

Unfortunately, because of the pressure of time, I am obliged to leave the rest of the paragraphs in the amendment in the very capable hands of my colleague, the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant). We all recognise the wide range of environments in Australia and that the Aborigines in various parts of this continent have different needs and priorities. No-one advocates that we can determine them at the present moment. We believe we have to find out the needs on an individual basis of communities and families. When the census information is available to us - hopefully at the end of this year, if not early next year - then the Minister and all of use should have a much better idea of the priorities. There is still the basic necessity to consult with the Aboriginal people. The honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) and the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) pointed out that too many of the decisions concerning Aborigines are being made for the Aborigines and not by them. Honourable members will realise from reading our amendment very carefully that Aboriginal welfare is very much the concern of the Australian Labor Party. For that reason I commend the amendment to the House.

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