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Tuesday, 26 September 1972
Page: 1900

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - I could think from the remarks made by the apologists on the opposite side of the House that the Aboriginal situation was much more rosy than it is. In fact it is a deep disgrace that the Parliament should have to be considering an amendment, offered in all sincerity, in terms such as this and at a time such as this. I am minded to look back 15 years when I moved on behalf of the Australian Labor Party for the discussion of a matter of public importance - this very subject. The terms of the discussion were: the failure of the Government to care for the well-b:ing of persons of aboriginal and part aboriginal blood by not providing State Governments with sufficient funds and not extending the payment of social services benefits to and on behalf of these persons.

We have made some progress since then. Now the Government is making some money available to the States. The Opposition says that it is not enough while honourable members opposite say that it has been quite magnificent. But what does it really amount to? A total of $14m, about the price of one Fill aircraft. We have fixed up the social services benefits more or less although there are still some very serious defects in some areas, such as unemployment benefits. During the course of that debate I quoted the following which was written in 1 839:

I am distressed for the blacks - I cannot feed them as I would - I have no clothing for them - I find I shall be obliged to relinquish giving them flour as my stock is growing short.

That was said of the situation that existed then in Victoria. A little later I discovered some remarks by a former leader of the Country Party and former Minister for Trade and Industry, the right honourable Sir John McEwen. To this end he said when he was a Minister back in 1939 that he had envisaged a long range policy. The Country Party is long on long range policies and long on statements but it is short on real action, and the Liberal Party is no better. It is a long, long haul. It is a disgrace that a country as wealthy as Australia should find any difficulty in supplying the material needs of no matter how large a minority. The Aboriginal minority is about 1 per cent of the population. There is no excuse for Aborigines to be badly housed. There is no excuse for their economic situation to be depressing. There is no excuse for the inadequacy of education and health services anywhere in Australia. There may well be plenty of excuses for not having found a solution to the social problems of people of 2 cultures living together. That, I will admit, is something to which we still have to find the answer. But there is no excuse for us to have to be debating in all sincerity today the matters that have been placed before the House.

Let us take one of them - land rights. Honourable members opposite just cannot see what it is all about. The honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) speaks about land rights in the same way as we speak about land for the development of housing, for the development of cattle and sheep stations, sugar production or mining. They regard land as a useable, convertible, private proprietary asset. That is not what it is all about. It has little to do with the actual commercial properties of land at all. It has to do with a whole attitude of mind, but it seems to be very difficult to get that through to honourable members opposite. One is gratified that the Labor Party has come wholeheartedly to the view that the concept of land rights is fundamental to our social conscience and the well being of the Aboriginal people of Australia. We have debated land rights in this House so often. We have discussed it at great length. We had a select committee about 9 years ago which went to Arnhem Land and examined the grievances of the people of Yirrkala. But no matter how much we speak, how much evidence we can produce or how often anthropologists and others deeply concerned with the Aboriginal people produce attitudes, ideas and concepts about this problem, we cannot get past the materialistic concept of honourable members opposite. This was the case with the honourable member for Angas {Mr Giles) and the honourable member for the Northern Territory. They have a different way of looking at it.

There is no point in mentioning the 94,000 square miles or whatever it is in the Northern Territory to which the Aborigines have access. Even if they have access to it, who runs it? It is not even run by the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) but the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt). The Minister for the Interior is the emperor of that part of the Interior republic, where his writ and the authorities' writ run. Most of the houses that have been built in many places in the past - we may have changed the policy in recent months - are built for staff. There has to be a total change in our attitude. I have heard statements from Ministers, particularly from the Country Party, that what we are sponsoring is apartheid, that we want them to live separately.

We do not want anything of the sort. We are not sponsoring anything to which can be applied any normal English terminology. I thought that my colleague, the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley), hit it in a masterly fashion when he pointed out the mysticism behind our own concept of crown land and so on. All we have to do is accept the principle that there are parts of the Australian continent which are Aboriginal domain. We might have to pass an Act and somebody might dredge out of history or out of the Aboriginal language or our own language some terminology which breaks away from the concept of tenure, of freehold, of exploitation, of assets creation and of commercial profitability.

What is wrong with people living in a community on their own, away from other communities? Are they not still part of the country? Being a part of a community has no geographical significance whatsoever. Is the man who serves in the lighthouse at Wilsons Promontory, tens of miles from anywhere, still a part of the Australian community? Of course he is; it is the way one feels about it. We on this side of the House are determined that we will do whatever is necessary to satisfy the spiritual longing of the Aboriginal people in regard to land rights. Nobody is going to say here and now that the South Australian exercise has provided a total solution to the problem. We do not know exactly what the total solution is. We probably will need to establish some sort of land claims commission so that in certain areas land can be set aside in traditional ways.

Surely it would not be difficult for this Parliament with the power it has at its disposal to pass an Act - an Aboriginal lands Act - and declare all those reserves throughout Australia which presently have dotted lines around them Aboriginal land so that they could be tinkered with only by Act of Parliament. They are all vulnerable. Nothing is more vulnerable than a piece of Aboriginal land in Australia at present. In most States and certainly in Commonwealth Territories, parts of this land can be excised by simple proclamation. 1 remember the shock we all felt back in 1962 and 1963, when the battle was joined about the lands of the people of Yirrkala, to find that Arnhem Land, which we thought was inviolate, could have pieces excised out of it simply by proclamation.

We must find a new concept and I would think that any parliament worth its salt, with all the powers at its disposal and with the campaigns and the spiritual longings of the Aboriginal people to support it could easily think up some Aboriginal lands Act which would set this out, even if after that we had to find the way in which the land was to be owned and controlled. I am not in favour of freehold land in this situation anymore than I think I am in most other circumstances. I deplore the tinkering that is occurring at present with the situation in Canberra. So, that is what we are talking about when we speak about land rights. I can think of no reason at all why an Aboriginal community, even if it is 200 miles from anywhere, cannot be a satisfactory Australian community, asserting its own individuality and still being a part of the Australian scene. Other parts of the world have found answers to these questions; why cannot we?

I do not suppose anything demonstrated more effectively the Government's attitude to this matter than its attitude to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. In the Cocos Islands, thousands of miles away, lives Mr CluniesRoss who apparently owns the area lock, stock and barrel, body, baggage, chassis and all. We were having trouble with him. Of course, he is a man of great distinction. He has been to Oxford and he is white. So the Government sent a Minister of the Crown thousands of miles to see Mr Clunies-Ross. Only the best form of transport was good enough to take the Minister for External Territories (Mr Peacock) to the Islands to negotiate. I do not know how many times the Minister for the Interior walked across the road to Parkes Place to negotiate with the people over there. Certainly, the people who were camped on the lawns came inside the House. But how many Ministers of the Government walked across and sat on the grass to negotiate with them? That is all we ask. We should deal with people with a proper sense of dignity and if it is not possible at this stage to get across to the Government the actual spiritual situation in regard to land rights, then the members of the Government Parties are a lost cause.

My colleagues and I are also sponsoring the demands for housing. There will be hundreds of Aboriginal families who will go to bed cold, hungry, wet, miserable and uncomfortable tonight. Nobody is suggesting the provision of Melbourne suburban type houses for the people in central Australia but surely nobody suggests that we do not have the wit and the will and the financial capacity to solve the housing problems of people, wherever they are - the people of Torres Strait, which is one of the neglected areas of Australia, the people of Arnhem Land or of central Australia. I recall when we first visited Yirrkala the people there said: 'We do not want too much of a house at this stage'. I think the thing that impressed them most was the septic system which was installed at the school; it was sewered. They said: 'We would like that to start with and a house of this sort of size and some amenities so that we can grow with them'. That is not asking much. To talk about a handful of houses throughout Australia at this stage I think is a disgrace. Australia is a wealthy country. We are able to spend SI 00m or thereabouts on an opera house, all raised from raffles. If we can do that, we can do anything.

My colleagues have specified the difficulties existing in regard to health. Surely this should worry everybody. It has been gratifying to hear over the last few days that the members of the medical profession are getting upset about it. They are publishing articles. Members of the Opposition have been talking about Aboriginal health for 15 years. I have a report about the health of the people living at Cunnamulla. I shall just take a page at random. It refers to the situation of Aboriginal people and says that Aboriginal children provide at least 10 per cent of all infant deaths, at least 28 per cent of all second year deaths and about 9 per cent of the deaths in the 2 to 4 years age group. Yet, the Aboriginal or partAboriginal population comprises only about 1 per cent of the Australian total. There are different figures for different parts of Australia. Australia was one of the first countries to conquer infant mortality and we were probably one of the first to conquer tuberculosis but apparently this will be the last thing we will do for the Aboriginal people. Therefore, we are sincere and earnest about the amendment that we have placed before the House.

Somehow, we must find answers to some even more difficult questions. One such problem is the economic development of areas in which young Aboriginal people will grow up. They will grow up in an environment which is totally different from that in which their parents developed themselves. So, despite the rejection by Aborigines, and perhaps in the concept of land rights and the materialistic view of things, we must do something about this in the North. I do not think it will be of any use for the country if the Aboriginal people have to leave the north and settle in Sydney, Melbourne or elsewhere. When we are talking about decentralisation we must do something about this. We must do something about the employment of Aboriginal people who have settled around the towns. There are thousands of them throughout Australia and they are the first victims of unemployment. Their education is poor and their general social stability has always been bad. They are the first victims of the winds of economic change. Retraining programmes are necessary and we must accept the view that many of them will be failures for the first, the second and the third time. Those of us who have been concerned with Aboriginal organisations, as I have been, over the years have found what a difference 10 years make to a person's maturity. We have become accustomed to a person reaching a certain stage at the age of 14 years, another stage at the age of 18 years and, if he has not started to make the distance by the age of 20 years, he is a bit of a lost cause.

In general, my experience from observation leads me to believe that we must at least be prepared to persevere with the Aboriginal people for another 15 to 20 years after we have given the average young Austraiian away because, for all sorts of reasons, Aborigines mature into our view of things at a much later stage. We have the administrative capacity to handle any number of individuals as individuals. When people say what happens in the south, that we cannot do such things from Canberra or that it is all different over there, it leaves me cold. We have a community that can administer every Australian. The Commissioner of Taxation is able to pursue every person to the last cent of his income tax. We are able to track down young Australians all over the place because they have not registered for national service. We are able to ensure that anybody, no matter where he is, votes effectively at Federal elections. We have to start to treat the Aboriginal people with the same individual concern for each person as we do, say, under the repatriation system.

My colleagues have raised the question of education. It is certainly long past time that we began to teach much more about the Aboriginal people inside the ordinary Australian schools. I expect we will have achieved something when a number of secondary schools are perhaps teaching some Aboriginal languages as a second language, because I presume that most of the teaching of second languages has nothing to do with the advantage of having learnt them but is more to do with the appreciation of other cultures. The Aboriginal person, no matter how and where he lives, has to be bi-cultural. The rest of us can do as we like. We arc part of the majority and everyone else has to put up with us. But the Aboriginal young people, particularly those who live in the north who are still associated with their tribal backgrounds, have to develop in 2 cultures.

One other point I want to make deals with consultation with the Aboriginal people. I have been associated with the Federal Council for the advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders since its inception. Those of us who have belonged to it for all these years are gratified that it has such a singular impact on the community. None of us is conceited enough or presumptuous enough to say that all or any of the things that have happened have happened simply because we were associated with it. It is an operational unit whose tentacles cover the whole of the continent, sometimes in a tenuous form. It has people in contact. Generally speaking, the Council does not have members as such. People are affiliated with it. The difference between the kind of council which the Minister created and the operations of the Federal Council are that the Federal Council has let itself grow in a more haphazard way. When it goes to Alice Springs anybody can go.

What we should be doing now is setting up operational conferences or discussions throughout Australia to which anybody within reaching distance - 150 miles or 200 miles.- can come and talk and think col lectively. My personal observation is that the continuing conferring and coming together with the Aboriginal people more than any other single factor has raised their morale, their self reliance and their total self respect. If there is any gratification one can obtain from having been called all sorts of things in this business it is from the fact that the Aboriginal people now stand up and speak for themselves. Sometimes they speak in voices with which I disagree, but 1 do not mind that. The essence of the contract is that they are speaking for themselves. This is what we have to do.

If, as 1 suspect, the Government has on occasions attempted to form another organisation to speak for or to represent the Aboriginal people, I think that is divisive. Those of us who are concerned with politics should know full well that the going concerns are the ones which ought to be sponsored and encouraged. I place on record my respect for all those who, over the 15 or 16 years in which the Federal Council has been in business, have selflessly and in all sorts of dedicated ways thought and worked for and expanded the opportunity of the Aboriginal people of Australia to be an effective part of the community. Some of the founders, such as Mrs Blackburn, are dead now. Some like Dr Duguid are still alive and well. I think that that organisation has a basis upon which any sorts of operations could be expanded.

I am not too sure that, in the councils which the Minister creates, he pays quite enough respect to people - not to people like me. I am an incidental part of it. I am just a national runner. But those Aboriginal people who created the Federal Council, who have kept it alive, who have been about and have carried on the battle sometimes in a most hostile environment, ought to be given a great deal more respect even though they are grateful for the occasional assistance for fares and such things when it turns up. The main thing is that it does not matter what the Aboriginal people say as long as they start to speak up loud and long. After all, we are used to a lot of eccentric views being expressed, particularly from the other side of this House. But we do not suppress honourable members opposite nor do we pay them less respect for it.

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