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Tuesday, 10 October 1972
Page: 2270

Mr COLLARD (Kalgoorlie) - I intend to address my remarks to that section of the estimates dealing with Aboriginal welfare. It is quite obvious that the present Government has a very scant regard for the Aboriginal people generally and places very little importance upon the urgent need for substantial improvement in their general welfare and conditions.

Mr Garland - Have you read the Budget?

Mr COLLARD - The Minister for Supply, a Minister from my own Stale, says: Look at the Budget'. In other words he believes only in the importance of money and nothing else. Of course one has to go a long way beyond that in relation to Aborigines. The remark by the Minister shows that he has very little knowledge of their needs. Aborigines are not different from us, other than in colour and custom. The portfolio of Aboriginal Affairs should be looked upon as a very important and responsible portfolio; but notwithstanding its importance, the Government has appointed as the Minister in charge of Aboriginal affairs a man who has very little interest in these people and certainly has very little knowledge of their customs and problems. I hope that no-one will think that I am casting a reflection on the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) in that regard. I am not, but if he does not have much interest or much knowledge in these matters, that is it. The sources at fault are the Government and the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) for giving him that particular portfolio to handle.

A further indication of the Government's lack of interest is the fact that the same Minister has been given several other areas of ministerial responsibility - tourism, arts and the environment - to take up the bulk of his time. So it is clear that the Government considers that Aborigines are worthy of only a bits and pieces Minister. In a report which appeared in the Melbourne Herald' of 12th August reference was made to him as an odds and ends Minister. The article suggested that the present Minister seemed to be ill-fitted to cope with the mounting Aboriginal demands. It went on to say that the Minister was no match for Country Party Ministers who see Aboriginal land rights demands as being the thin end of the wedge which could threaten existing land ownership in the outback. In this area Mr Wentworth, the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, ran foul of the Country Party. He had a reasonable understanding and sense of sympathy for the Aboriginal people, but apparently he pressed their case too hard and clashed with Mr Nixon, then the Country Party Minister for the Interior, who was also responsible for the administration of Aboriginals in the Northern Territory. As a result of Country Party pressure and Liberal Party apathy and disinterest a change in the Ministry occurred. As far as the Aborigines are concerned, it is a change for the worse.

In order to illustrate the attitude of the Liberal Party to Aboriginal affairs I refer to an article which appeared in the Australian' of 23rd March last. It reported the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) as having referred to the Minister as a shreds and patches Minister presiding over a rag bag of responsibilities of minor importance. If the honourable member was correctly reported one can assume only that he and his colleagues look upon the Aboriginal people as a lot of ratbags and of very little importance. If this is the general attitude, and it certainly appears that way, it is no wonder that the Aboriginal people have expressed their resentment and lack of confidence in the Government generally.

Of course, there can be no doubt where the Democratic Labor Party stands in this regard. Members of the DLP also would have thrown their weight against any suggestion of land rights for the Aborigines. The DLP attitude was made quite clear in an article appearing in the Melbourne Herald' of 7th August which stated that the DLP at its State conference had rejected a motion calling on the Government to recognise land rights for the Aborigines. The article reported that Senator Little of the DLP had said that the only thing worth preserving in Aboriginal culture was bark painting. It is a shocking thing to say, but at least it proves where the DLP stands in relation to protecting the land rights of the the Aboriginal people. One can well imagine the brick wall that the Minister must run into when he tries to put up any recommendations of his Department in respect of moves towards Aboriginal land rights.

It is utterly impossible and ridiculous for one Minister to try to handle the several responsibilities that the present Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts has had placed upon him. If he is to do the job properly there is ample room in Aboriginal affairs alone to keep him fully occupied at least for a few years until the several problems have been largely ironed out. To the best of my knowledge, during the period of 18 months or so that the Minister has held the portfolio he has never visited, let alone made a detailed survey or investigation of the situation, in the north, north-west and north-east of Western Australia where several thousand Aborigines live. Many of them are forced to live in deplorable conditions which the Minister would do well to study. I know that he travelled in that area as a member of the Committee examining Aboriginal voting rights, but that is a long time ago. The fact that he has not been there since shows that he does not have the interest he should have or that he has other responsibilities which have not allowed him the time to do so. I hope the latter is the case. If so, it further highlights the need for a Minister to have Aboriginal affairs as his sole responsibility.

I have said previously in debates in this House that housing, education, health and employment are the 4 main areas which require full and urgent attention in the interests of the Aboriginal people. These areas require urgent attention in a general way and not only with regard to Aborigines. There are general problems for all people in these fields. There is a serious lack of schooling opportunities and facilities for the majority of children, particularly in the outback areas of this country. The same is true of housing. The general situation in relation to hospitals and doctors is far from satisfactory. In each of the 4 areas there is a general need for overall improvement. If this general need was properly dealt with, if sufficient finance was made available, it would not be necessary to place so much emphasis upon the Aboriginal situation alone. Much of it would be attended to in a general manner. However, in some cases - not in all cases - in particular areas we have to adopt a different approach in the first instance.

Some well-meaning people err in believing that all Aborigines can be treated in the same way, regardless of the part of Australia in which they are living. That is not so. In certain parts of my own electorate of Kalgoorlie some of the Aborigines need teaching. They need to be shown what is required and what particular forms or lines should be followed in their own interests and the interests of their children, even the unborn children, in relation to such matters as malnutrition and health generally. Quite a few Aboriginal people do not realise the need for a proper system of hygiene or what can be the result of lack of it for themselves and families in the immediate and distant future. lt must be remembered that it could well be that before the Aborigines mixed with whites or other people the hygiene question did not have the same significance. There was then nowhere near the same incidence of some diesases. They were continually on the move and certain contaminations which are now apparent were not seen in those earlier days. Hygiene precautions were not so necessary. But today there is a need and to satisfy that need it will be necessary to finance and to equip medical and nursing terms to be operating continually out in the field, teaching and helping the Aborigines wherever they are, on stations, in camps, on reserves, or no matter where they are.

Very little progress will be made in some of these areas towards correcting malnutri tion, infant mortality diseases and general health matters if we simply sit back and wait for the people to come to the hospitals or medical centres. The children and the parents have to be taught that it is just as important to observe the standards of hygiene at home during weekends and school holidays as it is when the schools are in session. They must be taught that certain actions taken by them will greatly relieve the incidence of disease and will be a very large extent help to lower the infant mortality rate. These lessons can be learned only if the Government is prepared to provide sufficient finance.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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