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Tuesday, 26 September 1972
Page: 1906

Mr HOWSON (Casey) (Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts) - in reply - I think I should remind the House at the outset of the purpose of the Bill we are discussing. It is for the purpose of making grants to the States for Aboriginal advancement in this financial year. Also I remind the House that this legislation deals only with the actual $ 14.5m which is to be provided to the States for certain purposes this year. However, looking at this matter in the wider sphere I would like to say, as I said in my second reading speech, that the Federal Government will provide this year, in conjunction with the State governments, a total of $65m for 140,000 people.

The honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) said that there was no mention in my speech of aims and goals for the Aboriginal community. The purpose of my speech was to deal with grants to the States in this financial year. But let me go back to the statement that was made by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on 26th January. The Prime Minister said that the eventual aim is that Aboriginal Australians should be assisted as individuals, or if they wish, as groups, to hold effective and respected places within one Australian society, with equal access to the rights and opportunities it provides and acceptance of responsibilities towards it. He said that at the same time they should be encouraged and assisted to preserve and develop their own culture, languages, traditions and arts. He went on to say that we recognise the rights of individual Aborigines to effective choice about the degree to which, and the pace at which, they come to identify themselves with the Aboriginal society and that we encourage and assist them to develop their culture, languages, traditions and arts so that these can become living elements in the Australian society.

Having said that, I ask the honourable member for Fremantle where is the difference between that aim and his aim to encourage the Aborigines to become a distinctive people. I am sure, having listened to the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), that he does not believe that we should favour the equivalent of Bantustans, ghettos or any other form of separate development. I presume that the honourable member for Fremantle does not believe that is the answer. If it is not the answer I find it difficult to understand where his aim and ours are very much at variance.

I listened to what was said by the honourable members for Wills, Brisbane (Mr Cross) and Fremantle. I gather that they wish the Aborigines to develop as a distinctive people. Does that mean that the Aborigines should stay as they are? I do not think it does because one of the parts of the Opposition's amendment asserts that we should provide more employment for Aborigines and that we should be doing more in the field of health so that the standard of health and the way in which health services are provided are similar to the bases of those provided to other Australians. The amendment also said that their housing should be similar to ours. If honourable members opposite say that education, health, employment and housing services should all be on those lines, surely they are advocating that in the long run we shall be moving towards one community, preserving distinctive cultures of Aborigines but certainly moving in the more material things of life to one common community. That is the aim of this Government.

I do not believe that honourable members opposite have properly thought out the differences between their policy and our policy. I have met with Aboriginal people and I am certain that the desires of the Aboriginal people are changing year by year. The more, people who come out of the education system and the more people who ask for the sort of employment that has been mentioned this afternoon, the more changes there are in the fundamental desires of Aborigines. Therefore, the essential task of this Government is to maintain a flexible policy towards Aborigines in order to find out as the years go by how we can achieve those aims that I believe rightly have been set out.

The second point that has been mentioned is consultation with the Aboriginal people. I cannot agree more with honourable members opposite when they say that we should be doing much more than has been done in the past to consult directly with the Aborigines. I do not believe, for instance, that the way in which the honourable member for Wills suggested consultation should take place - that is through the Federal Council of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders - is the answer. What is quite clear is that there are different aims, desires and goals for different parts of Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. The aims and goals of the people who live at Redfern are not the same as those of the people who live in Arnhem Land. It is because of this that I do not believe that one representative in this House would be able to state the aims of the Aboriginal people. I think that at this stage in our development it is wiser for me to endeavour to get together as broad a cross-section of Aboriginal representation as is possible throughout the nation. As the honourable member for Brisbane said, there are advantages in having direct consultation with the various groups who live in small communities throughout the continent. But at the same time there are also advantages in getting all the groups together so that they can understand that the aims and goals for those living in parts of the Northern Territory are different from the aims and goals for those living in the urban areas and that, therefore, there are advantages from time to time in getting together on a national basis. I refer to this system of advisory councils for which I have been labouring over the last year. I am not attempting to suggest that the representation is perfect at this time but I believe that it is the best that can be devised at this moment, and we shall work towards improving it as the months go by. I do not think anybody has done more than I have as Minister to try to ensure a better consultation direct with the Aboriginal people rather than through intermediaries.

My third point concerns our relationship with the States. Here again I think there is a slight inability on the part of the Opposition in its amendment to think through this problem, because there seems to be some conflict between paragraph (a) and paragraph (h) of its amendment. Paragraph (a) reads: its failure over a period of more than 5 years to exercise the full and direct responsibility in Aboriginal Affairs . . .

Paragraph (h) reads: its failure to assist the States in meeting these responsibilities . . .

What is the attitude of the Opposition towards our relations with the State governments? Does the Opposition believe that ali responsibility for Aboriginal affairs should be taken over by the Commonwealth Government? Should we have schools for Aborigines only in Redfern and Brisbane? Should we take over all responsibility in relation to Aboriginal land rights and mining rights? I think that we would find it very difficult to do this under the Constitution. I am certain that the only way in which we can work effectively for the best advantage to the Aboriginal people is to work more closely with the State governments and State Ministers. I believe that the meeting I had with State Ministers in Darwin this year showed that generally all of us believed - State and Federal Ministers alike - that we are working towards the right goals as set out in the Prime Minister's statement of 26th January. Therefore, I reject the Opposition's amendment, particularly paragraphs (a) and (h), because we have been moving towards helping the States. There has not been too much comment during the course of this debate about the level of aid to the States; rather comments have been related to whether that aid should be better directed.

The next matter with which I feel 1 must deal is this question of land. Firstly, 1 think the Opposition has omitted to realise what the Commonwealth Government is doing in the field of delineating and protecting the sites of special and sacred significance to the Aboriginal people. 1 hope that honourable members opposite will study the report of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies which deals with this matter. I have referred to that report once already in this House. I have accepted all of the recommendations contained in the report and 1 am now putting into operation as rapidly as possible means whereby we. in conjunction with discussions with the Aboriginal communities, can delineate the sites that are of special and sacred significance to Aborigines and preserve them for all time for the purposes which they desire. That is the first point I wish to raise.

My second point concerns another facet of the recommendations of the Institute, namely that those sites that are of importance historically but not of importance to living Aborigines should be treated as sites which all Australians should be encouraged to visit so that they can understand to a greater degree than has been possible in the past the essential aspects of Aboriginal life and tradition. This is another recommendation of the Institute which I have accepted, and I hope that the Aboriginal communities will assist in pointing out to visitors, to tourists and to all Australians interested in these things, the essential significance of the sites. These sites which have been of significance to the Aboriginal people for 4,000 years bear the same sort of relationship to Aborigines as do churches and other sacred areas to other parts of the Australian community.

I have not as yet really heard from the Opposition where our policy dealing with general purpose leases in the Northern Territory differs from the land policy that it is advocating. The honourable member for Wills said that he did not wish to see the land provided to these communities on a freehold basis. I ask him this: ls there very much difference between a general purpose lease which we are advocating and the type of land tenure system that he is putting forward? I am certain of one thing, and that is that our policy must be flexible because the desires in relation to the use of land and land tenure will change in the next 20 or 30 years, and we must not tie down the future to the present to the extent that we shall not be able to change these things if the Aboriginal communities desire them to be changes. So again I think that honourable members opposite should think a little more deeply and spell out a little more clearly what are the differences between their policy and our own.

Other matters have been referred to today and I must deal with them very quickly. First of all, in the field of education it was suggested that we should do more towards helping to educate Aborigines in their own tongue. 1 think what we have done in the language laboratory at Alice Springs, what is being taken up on Elcho Island and what has been achieved already in parts of the north and south of Australia and in Western Australia shows that we have been moving in that direction over the last year.

The honourable member for Lalor suggested that there should be more imagination in the field of housing. I hope he has studied the report of the seminar that took place on Aboriginal housing at which we asked imaginative architects from the Australian Institute of Architects to meet Aboriginal communities and to develop Aboriginal styles of housing to meet their own needs. The house at Finke is one example, but there are others. 1 believe we have been imaginative in this field. We are ahead of what the Opposition would desire to take place in the field of housing, because over the last 4 years we estimate that we have provided sufficient housing for more than 14,000 members of the Aboriginal community. Before we go much further we will have to look again at this question of flexibility and ask ourselves: Will the Aboriginal communities stay in the places where they are now? Have those tribes which were nomadic only a few years ago when the honourable member for Fremantle and 1 were on the House of Representatives Select Committee on Voting Rights for Aborigines ceased to be nomadic? Will those tribes in the Docker River, Uendumu, Kapunda and Hooker Creek areas remain there or will there be further movement? Will we be able to find continuing employment for the people in those areas? If not, will we have to encourage them to move to areas where there are greater opportunities for employment? If there is to be movement, should we be providing inflexible types of housing and other types of accommodation in those areas. Until we have the answers to these questions, 1 think there should be flexibility. Certainly we should be doing more for employment in rural areas. A tremendous amount has been done in the last year and, through the outstanding efforts of the Department of Labour and National Service, employment opportunities in the urban areas have been increased. I could not agree more with the Opposition that we need the results of the 1971 census as rapidly as possible. Until we have many of the figures that will be provided therein, we will not be able to get all the answers that honourable members on both sides of the House desire.

In the general fields of housing, education, health and employment the informa tion I presented in my second reading speech has shown that considerable advance was made over the last year. As I said at the time, I am not complacent about this but I do believe that if honourable members opposite accept the fundamental aims to which we are moving - I have not heard, even though there has been a lot of talk today, in what way the Opposition's fundamental aims really differ from our own - then I think that what I have put to the House is in line with what the Aboriginal people desire. I hope that over the coming year there shall be greater opportunities for consultation, and if there are ways in which the present allocation of funds needs to be modified in order to give greater emphasis to some facets of the programme and less to others, we will do what we can to achieve them. But in the meantime I feel certain that what we are doing is on the right line. We have been thinking out where they wish to go and we will help them to achieve their eventual goals. For all those reasons I reject the amendment put forward by the Opposition.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Dr J. F. Cairns' amendment) stand part of the question.

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