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Wednesday, 23 April 1980
Page: 1726

Senator GIETZELT (New South Wales) -On behalf of the Australian Labor Party I desire to move an amendment to the second reading of the Aboriginal Development Commission Bill 1980. 1 move:

At end of motion add, , ' but the Senate is of the opinion:

(a)   That, while not opposing the integration of the lands fund, loans fund and grants in aid (enterprises program), the Parliament must have access to the submissions which led to the integration of such programs;

(b)   That the appointment of the members of the Commission should be selected by the Minister acting on the advice of the National Aboriginal Conference and the various land councils; and

(c)   That the Government should assure the Senate of its commitment to maintain and increase its financial assistance to the Commission ',

Once again we have a Bill before us which is a product of some panic, confusion, compromise and desperation. For example in 1978 the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Viner, announced that legislation would be prepared for consideration of the Parliament. It took almost a year for the current Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) to decide to bring down legislation. In the latter part of 1 979 he announced that such legislation would be placed for the consideration of the Parliament. With a great deal of fanfare and dramatics the responsibility for that matter was subsequently given to Senator Bonner. If honourable senators look at the claims made on that occasion by honourable senators who were concerned they will see that there was a degree of consultation. But we suddenly find that such consultation was nothing but a mirage and a fantasy, for the Bill we now have in front of us contains no less than 40 amendments. This is in spite of the fact that some 18 months had passed since the proposal was first suggested by the Government.

Where was the breakdown in the first preparation of this legislation and what were the reasons for the proposals? When we look at that breakdown we see that there is more and more evidence- as we found in respect of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill which will be discussed later in the day- of inadequate consultation. Senator Bonner said that the amendments were the product of consultation with bodies such as the Council for Aboriginal Development. But this body was consulted the first time round. Are we entitled to draw the conclusion that the second set of comments are different from those which were in the initial consultation or are we entitled to say that the first consultation was nothing more than a sideshow or a flourish, which really was not borne out in the subsequent consideration? It is clear that there is some reason for this breakdown in consultation and for this lack of communication between the Government, the Minister, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Aboriginal communities. The Government has the submissions which it refers to in the debate. They include both sets of commissions, separate sets of commissions, commissions which state that there were 1 1 submissions from the Aboriginals, oral submissions and submissions from the six State governments.

It is true that the Government has the advantage and the advice and that it has drawn certain conclusions as a result of these submissions, but nowhere are those submissions available to the Parliament. Yet we have other members of the Government talking about freedom of information. The truth of the matter is that the Parliament is not getting this information. Perhaps we are getting the product of the information but that is for the Senate to determine. However, nowhere are those submissions available for the consideration of the Parliament. This is another example of the Executive style of government which we find repugnant and which I am sure the Parliament ought to regard as repugnant and completely unsatisfactory. If there were consultation in the first instance and if communication had been going back and forth to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs surely we would not be in the position where we have a substantial rewrite of this legislation, which is what we have at the moment.

When we talk about these submissions we can only draw the conclusion that the Government has accepted some of them, rejected some or maybe rejected the greater part of them. Consultation is an example of the fraudulent way in which this Government operates. It brings into relief the way that the Opposition and the Australian people have of, time and again, expressing no confidence in the Government or of showing no acceptance of its sincerity in these and other matters. After all, this Government's policy, in its Liberal Party philosophy, is about selfmanagement. Yet the very tenets of this legislation still deny that basic factor. It goes some way along the road but it does not implement the Government's policy considerations. Selfmanagement means just that. It means the ability of communities to run their own affairs. What are we to do in respect of the appointment of members of the Aboriginal Development Commission? How does the Government propose they should be chosen? Those members will still be chosen by the Governor-General and the Minister. In that sense this area still smacks of the mistakes that have been made by governments in the past- I emphasise 'governments in the past'- and of a degree of paternalism which has been characteristic of the way in which they have operated in regard to Aborigines. Previous governments have not recognised the evolution and the changes which have taken place in the Aboriginal communities which now choose to determine their own affairs. Governments have not recognised the fundamental principles of self-determination that we have spoken about in this place from time to time.

The Minister will have absolute control over all of the appointments to the Aboriginal Development Commission. There is no mechanism to remove the risk that the Commission may be unrepresentative of tribal, urban and rural Aborigines and of the States and the various regions and unresponsive to the needs of the people involved. As we know, the great weakness in this representative type of democracy is that we are not yet able to appreciate fully what is meant by participatory democracy as distinct from representative democracy. A person appointed under this legislation may lack the confidence of the Aborigines and of the National Aboriginal Conference. Political pressure of one sort or another could, correctly or incorrectly, be alleged as the basis for the appointment by a Minister. The relevant Minister may have a proper understanding and approach to the way in which appointments can be made. The Opposition is challenging the principle.

As we know, there have been changes in ministerial appointments, and there always will be.

We cannot therefore accept that because there may be confidence in one Minister the confidence will be applicable to another. If a person is to be appointed from Queensland, for example, will we be assured that the Minister will not be subjected to some pressure from the Queensland Government of the kind that is synonymous with the Queensland Premier or the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs? Honourable senators opposite have referred several times to the way in which they have been characterised by the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. We know of the great conflict even between this Government and the Queensland Government about these matters. We leave ourselves open to the charge that some pressure can be applied inadequately, incorrectly and improperly. What happens about the appointment of an Aboriginal who belongs to a political party? Will the holding of a political or ideological viewpoint in the Federal sphere different from that which may obtain in the State involved be sufficient to disqualify the person from appointment? What sort of representatives will we have? Nothing in the Bill defines the fundamental issue about who shall represent the Aborigines in these matters.

Whilst 1 concede that the Government and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs have agreed to a more general application of Aboriginal representation on the new authority, the Bill nevertheless still stops far short of the ultimate objectives. Can a Minister be wrongly influenced? I am not talking necessarily of the existing Minister. We are talking of principles. Could a Minister be wrongly influenced because a prospective appointee is or is not a member of the NAC, a public servant or an executive member of a particular Aboriginal organisation? Will a person be chosen on the basis of his or her known preferences on certain priorities? What happens if a person is actively involved in anti-mining activities? Will he be disqualified from appointment because he holds a certain view and pursues his democratic rights in opposing certain Government policies from time to time?

What would happen in the case of a person with prior criminal convictions? Senator Bonner will agree with me that it is very easy to get a criminal conviction in Queensland. I can also say that with respect to my own State. Many Aborigines in the States of the Commonwealth have criminal convictions because of the prejudice of the State police forces. Will such a conviction be used by some Minister as a reason for a person's not being appointed? Will preference be given to persons with tertiary or secondary educational qualifications? Surely these important matters ought to be decided. The basis of a decision could differ very greatly from Minister to Minister as well as from government to government. The decision of course could be very different from that reached by the NAC or other Aboriginal organisations.

Ministers and governments are not infallible, so the legislation should contain sufficient safeguards to prevent personal judgments. Clause 13 subclause 3 enables a Minister to make an appointment for up to five years, and all commissioners are eligible for re-appointment. What will happen if Aboriginals lose confidence in the Commission or the commissioners in the meantime? What safeguards have we to handle that problem which, of course, we must consider when taking into account the evolution of thinking that has taken place even in the last five years in Aboriginal communities? Surely not one Government senator would disagree- certainly no honourable senator on my side of the House disagrees- that there has been a great change in the attitudes of Aboriginal communities. The communities have become articulate and want to be involved in matters that affect their general welfare. Some Aborigines would argue that the NAC is a very responsible organisation but others would say that the organisation is not yet fully representative. This occurs because of the way in which the whole movement for Aboriginal rights has developed in this country. The need to take these matters into consideration is the reason why we have moved the amendment.

Clause 16 provides for the Minister to appoint a person to a vacancy which may arise on the Commission. Such appointees can lose their position at any time and be subjected to terms and conditions of their appointment which may unreasonably restrict them in the performance of their duties. We know of the problem that exists in our own Parliamentary Library. We are all aware that the view of the Chief Librarian is that certain members of the Library should have a secondary position in respect of their responsibilities as citizens of their country because they work in the national Parliament. The Librarian has stated in his report that he does not believe that certain objectivity criteria have been carried into effect. I know many of us here, both on the Government and Opposition side, would thoroughly reject this view expressed by a head of a department. It is an indication of the thin line that operates between the rights of a person to have views, to be involved and to be active and his being put in a negative employment position.

The NAC is the only nationally elected organisation of Aborigines. We concede that it has a grass roots knowledge of the needs and aspirations of its constituents. It is for that reason that we say that this organisation should have the vital role in the management and direction of the Commission's fund and policies. That really is putting into effect the principles of selfmanagement to which I understand the two major political parties in Australia subscribe. In the past moneys have been made available for land acquisition, for housing loans and business enterprises. The Commission will be required to decide how future funds will be spent and how priorities will be drawn up. There is no requirement on the Commission to maintain the level of expenditure in any given area. It could refuse to fund land acquisitions for present farming purposes or urban housing. We believe that the potential for conflict over priorities in the allocation of funds is incontestable. Unless the NAC has a role in this process it is possible that at least seven Aborigines will be a law unto themselves. They will be subject to the charge of being unrepresentative and not responsible to other Aborigines. That is the weakness that the Opposition sees in the current proposal before the Senate. That is an area I want to look at in more detail.

One of the bodies which the ADC will replace is the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, which was set up by the Whitlam Government in 1974 as an independent statutory authority- it is therefore responsible to the Parliament and not directly responsible to the Minister- for the purchase of land in the States and alienated land in the Territories. Spending by that body has been hampered under the Fraser Government- the Budget Papers show that that cannot be contradicted- not only through lack of funds but also because of the Queensland Premier's refusal to transfer pastoral leases, delays by the Federal Government because of obvious areas of conflict which exist between the desires of the Minister, the Department and maybe even the Government, in view of the maverick position adopted by the Queensland and Western Australian governments.

Every year the new allocation of funds gets smaller, whilst the amount carried over from the previous year, unspent, grows larger. In 1978-79 the appropriation was 27 per cent lower than that for the previous year. In the first Fraser Budget the funds which initially were allocated by the Whitlam Government were cut. In the second Fraser Budget, that for 1976-77, no additional funds were made available to the Commission. The funds carried over from the previous year at that stage were frozen by ministerial directive.

Let us look at some of the events which have occurred. Unfortunately, the Glenore Station incident, when the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs intervened in a purchase, is one of many such incidents. I am referring principally to the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs when I recite these events. Questions in relation to the preferential treatment given to the Mount Isa Mines company concerning the MacArthur River section of the Borroloola land claim in the Northern Territory remain unanswered. In Western Australia, the ALFC is hampered by hostility from the Western Australian Lands Department. It must surely be recognised that there are areas of conflict between what the States see as their responsibilities and our desire as a national Parliament to fulfil completely our obligations towards the Aborigines.

The Commission's tender for Laurell Downs Station on behalf of the Junjuwah community was unsuccessful, even though that community's purchase offer was $5,000 higher than the next highest bid received. The injustice is seen to be even greater when one considers that the community wished to use the small piece of land as a training centre for pastoral and agricultural work. The land passed instead to a neighbouring pastoral station, Quanbun Downs. That is discrimination at its worst. It is something which we do not see being resolved by trying to reach a concensus with that State, which adopts an obstinate and discriminatory attitude. Then there was the request for an area of land adjoining the Lambadina community's reserve. That request still has not been granted, even though the land formerly held temporary reserve status and the community vastly improved it by sinking bores and so on.

In recent years the Federal Government has tended to restrict purchases by one means or another and then to penalise financially the Commission for not spending all its funds by the time the next Budget rolls around. Moneys allocated to the Commission are now down by 79.5 per cent in real terms on the allocation in the last Labor Budget for 1975-76. That flows from the Government's absurd philosophical and ideological belief that the only way in which the economy can be made to work properly is to cut back on public sector spending. The whole philosophy of this Government, as it is expressed in every other speech made by Ministers, whether it be in the Parliament or in all the speechifying that goes on when addressing various organisations throughout Australia and on television, is based on the view that everything will be all right if we just cut back on public sector spending. Cutting back on public sector spending when it affects Aborigines is very regressive and against the best interests of resolving the problems concerning the land rights of and land use by Aborigines. I think that the situation is summed up in a letter which the Western Australian Premier wrote to the Kimberley Land Council in which he stated:

The Aboriginal people, whether as a race or as tribes or as individuals, do not have by reason of their aboriginality any legal claim to the territorial land of Western Australia. Nor have the Aboriginal people any moral claim of the exclusive right to their possession of the lands of this State.

That view has not been repudiated by the Federal Government or the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Obviously that is an expression of the view held by the Liberal Party in that State. That that party supports this Government is apparent from its electoral procedures- the way in which it plays a decisive role in preselection ballots and the internal procedures of a political party of this Government. The past two Federal Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs have come from the ranks of that State party. I am sure that the view expressed by the Western Australian Premier is not the view of the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, but I am absolutely certain that it is the view of this Government that if it had to make a decision between mining development and protecting the rights of Aborigines the Aborigines would run a bad last on every occasion. Every time such decisions are to be made by governments such as the Court Government, the Queensland Government and, according to the views that so often are expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) the Federal Government, that is what will happen. We have seen this oft expressed view reach its zenith in the problems which exist at Noonkanbah in Western Australia. If the Western Australian Government continues with its present course of action, confrontation and bloodshed will result from the determining of matters concerning the rights of Aborigines in that region.

What has to be said about this legislation is that it is clear that the ALFC has never had the independence that the Whitlam Government intended it to have; that the entire Fraser Government has been determined to keep the funds of the ALFC under the control of the Minister; and this Bill will make legal what has been happening surreptitiously over the years. This

Bill will legitimise the way in which the process has been allowed to deteriorate over the last four or five years. The Chairman of the ALFC has accused the Department of Aboriginal Affairs of pessimism about the future of the Commission and of either 'incompetence or deliberate admin.sitrative delay' in business affecting the ALFC. He described the directions issued by the Minister as administratively unworkable and added: 'I think that they may also be illegal '. So we are not enjoying that nice, smooth working relationship that second reading speeches and other comments made by Government members have led us to believe exists. Whilst the Commission was established by the Labor Government as an independent body, it is now required to inform the Minister of all its intentions and its reasons for those intentions. The Commission has to convince the Minister that its reasons arc sound or it will not receive the money required. The Commission has never been given a chance under the Fraser Government. I and my party believe that this Bill will improve very little the fundamental premise we outlined when we established the Commission in 1974.

The other body to be brought into the Aboriginal Development Commission is the Aboriginal Loans Commission. Suffice it to say that the waiting time for loans from that body is seven or eight years. The Government has changed some of the more patronising clauses and for that we are grateful. But the basic overbearing nature of the Bill remains. I am sure that in this debate my colleagues will reveal the Government's sleight of hand for what it is. The Government and the Minister claim that this Bill constitutes a step forward in Aboriginal self-control, selfdetermination and self-sufficiency in their affairs. The Bill in its present form does precious little in that respect. The Bill gives the Minister sweeping powers in relation to the membership, funding, operations, functions, decision-making and policy of the Commission. The Minister will be telling the Commission what to do and how to do it. No matter how well intentioned the Minister may be, the Bill rejects the fundamental principles that I thought we stood for in the Parliament- those of self-determination and self-management. The Bill is nothing but a compromise. It will have our support because it seeks to take a short step along the ultimate road which must be recognised finally by the national Parliament, that is, the road to full selfdetermination and self-management of the affairs of Aboriginal communities in Australia.

The amendment we have moved requires the Government to make available to us submissions from the Aboriginal communities and the views of the State parliaments. We would like to see in writing what was said by the six State governments. After all, the Senate is the States House. We are entitled to know how the State governments view this Bill and whether the Federal Government has bowed to their pressure or stood up to it. Until we hear otherwise we are entitled to doubt the sincerity of the Government in this matter. We again draw to the attention of the Senate the need to appoint members ofthe Commission on the advice of the National Aboriginal Conference and various land councils. We believe also that we ought to have some indication by the Minister of the Government's financial commitment which, alter all, will be the lifeblood of the Aboriginal Development Commission. Unless it has adequate funds it will not be able to fulfil even the limited functions which this Bill seeks to encompass.

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