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Wednesday, 23 April 1980
Page: 1737

Senator KILGARIFF (Northern Territory) - I support the legislation relating to the Aboriginal Development Commission. As has been indicated, this is probably the most important piece of legislation ever relating to the Aboriginal people of Australia. Perhaps it could be placed side by side with the Aboriginal land rights legislation. When one looks at it, one can see that it is probably the most important act to take place over the last few decades. I think it is indicative of the calibre of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) that this Bill is before us today. I believe that the process he has followed over the last year has brought about a Bill that has been subject to proper consultation and has given Aboriginal people throughout Australia the opportunity to look at it and to comment on it.

I now turn to the method by which it was introduced. I think it is important to note that this legislation was introduced a few weeks ago by an Australian Aborigine, Senator Bonner. I believe that this gesture by the Minister must surely bring satisfaction to the Aboriginal people. I think I should also say this: Senator Bonner, in his own right, has proved himself to be the person who should introduce this legislation on behalf of the Minister. He is an Aboriginal and since he has been a Queensland senator he has done many things on behalf of the Aboriginal people. He has become very well known throughout Australia. I know that in the Northern Territory, where I come from, no matter where he goes, whether it is Papunya or Yirrkala or any other isolated settlement, he is well known, respected and liked. I feel sure that when the Aboriginal people in those areas see what has been done in this Bill, they will regard it as a milestone.

As I have said, it is an important piece of legislation. I wish to reflect on what has happened in the last few months and to recall to mind the fact that the Bill was introduced into the Senate by Senator Bonner on behalf of the Minister and then was circulated throughout Australia. Some 1,500 copies of the Bill, together with explanatory notes, were distributed far and wide, to city dwellers and to the people out in the isolated areas. They have all received copies so that they could comment on it.

From the comments received, one can see that there have been numerous submissions made orally at meetings with the task force which was set up. Eleven formal written submissions outlining the views and proposals of various Aboriginal organisations have been received, and overall many amendments were proposed. It is most interesting to see that at the time the original piece of legislation was introduced, the Government had gone quite a long way in meeting the requests of the Aboriginal people by setting up this Aboriginal Development Commission. But despite that, when the Government and the Minister considered the amendments that had been proposed- (Quorum formed). Now that a quorum has been formed, I note that there are only three members of the Opposition present in the chamber. The previous speakers have left the chamber. After considering the proposals and amendments received from these various Aboriginal organisations throughout Australia, the Government then took further steps. It is to be commended for what it has done. The Aboriginal people, the organisations and the people throughout Australia who felt that further steps should be taken put forward proposals and in practically all cases they have been accepted. The action that has been taken by the Government since the original Bill was introduced- that is, heeding the requests of these submissions that have been forwarded- has brought about a reduction of the role of the Minister in favour of an expanded role for the Commission. I believe this was very reasonable. The Minister has heeded the request, and what he has actually done- ( Quorum formed). This situation reminds me of a rhyme which starts off with ten bottles hanging on the wall and the number being reduced one by one. Before the quorum was called there were three members of the Opposition in the chamber. Now there are two. Perhaps after the next quorum is called there will be only one.

The Minister has reduced his responsibility. He has handed more powers to the Commission and to the people concerned. I draw the attention of Senator Gietzelt to the fact that Senator Bonner in his second reading speech said that the Commission had seven Aboriginals on it. Now the Commission comprises 10 Aboriginals. It is comprised completely of Aboriginals. As I have indicated, in the second version of the Bill the powers of responsibility are greater than those contained in the original Bill. The responsibilities and functions of the Commission are very encompassing. The Bill states:

The functions of the Commission are . . . subject to and in accordance with this Act . . .

(a)   to assist communities and groups of Aboriginals to acquire land;

(b)   to assist Aboriginals to engage in business enterprises;

(c)   to assist Aboriginals to obtain finance for housing and for other personal needs, and to provide such finance:

(d)   to assist in the training of Aboriginals in relation to matters related to the functions of the Commission:

(e)   to administer and control the Capital Account;

(f)   to give advice and make recommendations to the Minister with respect to the furtherance of the economic and social development of Aboriginals: and

(g)   such other functions in connection with the furtherance of the economic and social development of

Aboriginals as the Minister determines by notice in writing given to the Commission.

One also realises that the Minister has retained very few powers other than an overdirection of the Commission. Any direction that he gives will be tabled in both Houses of Parliament within I think some 15 days of the advice being given. If this advice and direction is ever given it is also to be included in the report. There has been some comment on the make-up of the Commission. First of all we have seen that it is now an all Aboriginal commission. One must also realise that the matters which the members of the Opposition have brought up regarding resignation, acting appointments, removal, termination, et cetera, are just the usual processes that apply to any members who are appointed to a commission.

I point out once again the means of appointment of Aboriginal people to this Commission. It has been said that the National Aboriginal Conference will have no say in the matter of appointments. I would think that the NAC, as the national Aboriginal body in Australia, would have plenty to do with the appointments to this Commission. It would be only natural because already the Minister and the Government encourage the NAC and rely on it for advice in many matters. Because the NAC is regarded as the number one Aboriginal body in Australia, naturally the Government and the Minister would look to the NAC for recommendations for the membership of the Commission. As well as consulting the NAC one would expect that the net would be thrown much wider because Australia is a big place. Aboriginal people live throughout Australia, whether in cities or, as I have said, country towns or isolated areas. The net should, as far as possible, be thrown much wider to enable a reasonable representation of these people no matter where they come from. I do not think that it will be an easy task but the fact that Aboriginals tend to be appointed is good. With the assistance of the NAC and other Aboriginal organisations, we will see the setting up of a suitable board to take over these vast responsibilities- and they are vast.

There is a further amendment to the Bill which provides that the Commission can be given other functions. I do not disagree with that but in my mind I see the Commission, as it develops, taking over more and more functions as it becomes more specialised and experienced. This is something I have supported and advocated over the years. I see this Commission perhaps growing like the commissions that we see in the United States of America which handle Indian matters.

If we go that far possibly there would be practically no Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs. That is only my thinking. But I see the functions of this Commission developing to such a degree that it could be almost wholly responsible for matters relating to Aboriginals in Australia.

There have been many comments in relation to the Bill and to the functions of the Commission. I would like to refer briefly to clause 45 of the Bill which relates to committees. Because I come from the Northern Territory I, particularly, and others have been very wary of representation. Having felt the heavy hand of centralism over the years- it is only in the last year or two that we have been unfettered and given responsible self-government- we are very strong on regional representation and authority. I see no reason why this principle should not apply also within the Aboriginal Commission. Throughout Australia there is a need for a person or persons representing Aboriginals, to gather information and so on in order to assist the Commission. I think that is very desirable. I believe that one has to be wary. In the setting up of these committees I would expect that the Commission would, when considering remuneration and allowances, and in these days of heavy administrative costs, take due regard of the fact that the costs of the operation of committees are not such that they will whittle away the funds of the Commission to a large degree. Over the years a lot of the funds that have been allocated for Aboriginal affairs have been ill spent although this would not have been done deliberately. I suppose it was done through inexperience. The money has not really got down to where it has been required at the grass roots level with Aboriginal affairs, whether it has been for medical needs, education, housing or what have you. In the setting up of the committees- which I support- I hope that the administrative costs will not be so heavy that they will be detrimental to the wants of the Aboriginal people at the grass roots level.

I am most interested in the Aboriginal Development Commission, a fact which I think is very obvious. In the Bill we see that the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and the Aboriginal Loans Commission will no longer exist. I believe that is a correct decision. The two organisations have been set up in the interim period to do certain things. I think they have done their best but their time is limited and the time has come for their replacement. Their replacement by the Development Commission is a further step forward. When one looks at the operations of the Aboriginal Loans Commission one will observe some of the problems that it has experienced. It has been rather upsetting for applicants, who have gone before the Aboriginal Loans Commission, and who have found that, for one reason or another, they cannot be considered for a loan. I would expect that under this new organisation, the Aboriginal Development Commission, these people who have not been catered for before can be catered for now.

I see some situations which I regard as rather unusual. I refer to the operations of the store at Bathurst Island and the Nguiu Council. They built up a most progressive business, training Aboriginal people. That is probably one of the highlights of the success of Aboriginal business organisations. Unfortunately not all businesses have been like it. In their expertise, desire and indeed because of health requirements for a new store, they were unable to receive a loan from the Aboriginal Loan Commission despite the fact that I think they could contribute some $ 100,000 as a deposit on such a loan.

I do not wish to take the matter any further. I am only indicating that I expect that we will not have the experiences under the organisation that is being established through this legislation as have occurred before. ( Quorum formed). Being a private enterprise person I believe that the Aboriginal Development Commission can be of tremendous assistance in supporting Aboriginal businesses in the future. It can bring about employment and very many things that will be of considerable benefit to Aborigines. I look forward to development once again in certain areas now that this Commission will have powers, responsibility and finance. In this context I am not referring to the cities. I am not a city person. I am from the Northern Territory, from one of the isolated areas. I was going to say that I am from the sticks. I see the Aborigines being encouraged back into gardening, fishing and farming enterprises. (Quorum formed). Fishing, gardening and farming can bring good health and much employment to the people.

In closing my remarks I will spend some minutes speaking on Aboriginal stores in the Northern Territory. This is big business. Many of the stores have a million dollar a year turnover. Many of the people involved have had little experience in running stores. Because of our unwise actions of some little while ago in giving Aborigines self-determination and leaving them to themselves without expertise and guidance a lot of the stores are in trouble. I look to the Development Commission to assist and support these stores. Many have suffered tremendous monetary losses either through inefficient management or through the people responsible for running the stores actually removing the money and touching' the Aboriginal people.

I attended a meeting in Katherine some three or four weeks ago in which Aboriginal leaders and their store managers gathered with representatives of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. These people were looking for some method of overcoming the problems I have mentioned. I look forward to the Commission's being able to assist in overcoming the problems. I hope that as so much money is involved and as the stores affect so many Aboriginal people this organisation will have an umbrella type of function with regional bases of which the community stores will become part. I hope that the Commission will see that leaders work very closely with store managers or associations. All stores involved must liaise closely and frequently with the Commission so that any problems can be quickly identified and appropriate action taken. I hope that a simple and standardised bookkeeping and accounting system will be incorporated and that advice will be given on commodity mark-ups, store layouts and comprehensive training programs for Aboriginal people so that they can eventually take over the stores. I hope that the stores are given the opportunity of receiving the assistance of the Commission in the recruitment of non-Aboriginal managers. I support the Bill and look forward with interest to its enactment. I commend the Government and the Minister for the introduction of these most important measures and once again I congratulate Senator Bonner for the part he played.

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