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Wednesday, 23 April 1980
Page: 1743

Senator CHIPP (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democrats) - My contribution will be brief. That is not to be interpreted as a reflection on the importance of the Aboriginal Development Commission Bill but purely as the result of the state of my health which is deteriorating minute by minute. I want to associate the Australian Democrats with this Bill and to compliment the Government, in particular the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney), on what I think is a magnificent piece of legislature which they have developed with the ultimate patience, compassion and consultation with the Aboriginal communities and many other people in bringing the Bill before the Senate. I also introduce a personal note into the debate. I think it was an act of absolute graciousness that the Minister allowed my distinguished friend, Senator Bonner, to deliver the second reading speech. I do not know whether anyone has mentioned that previously but I think it was a very nice gesture and I appreciated it.

I will give briefly the history of this Bill. In November last year the original Bill was brought down. It was left to lie on the table to allow public comment and discussion during the summer parliamentary recess. One wishes that sort of procedure was adopted on the many Bills of an important nature which are brought before the Parliament. One thousand five hundred copies of the Bill with explanatory notes were distributed to Aboriginal individuals and communities and other interested bodies throughout Australia under cover of a letter from the Minister. There was a genuine desire for consultation. The wisdom of the Minister's course was illustrated by the number of objections, criticisms and suggested improvements that came from all over Australia.

I believe that everything contained in this Bill is good. However, an even bigger plus than the good things contained in it is the manner in which the Minister and his Department have shown the Aboriginal communities that they are prepared to discuss these matters, to listen to Aboriginal objections and to accept reasonable amendments. That sort of action will bring a sense of mattering to the Aboriginal people who hitherto, over so many years- with good reason- have felt ignored. Many Aboriginal organisations, including the National Aboriginal Conference, the Council for Aboriginal Development, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, the New South Wales Aboriginal Legal Service and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service Co-operative Ltd made detailed submissions on the Bill. In general terms they favourer a reduction in the role of the Minister, an expanded role for the all Aboriginal Commission and the creation of powers and responsibilities greater than those contained in the original Bill. Again, it is to the Government's ultimate credit and to the Minister's credit that after careful examination of those representations the Government adopted more than 40 amendments. I commend the Government for that.

The main functions of the Aboriginal Development Commission are to acquire land for Aboriginal communities and groups, lend money to Aboriginals for housing and personal purposes, lend and grant money to Aboriginals for business enterprises and to give advice and make recommendations to the Minister with respect to the furtherance of the economic and social development of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. For these reasons I support the Bill. I would like someone in the centre of Australian politics to complement the contributions made from both sides of the chamber. There have been contributions and criticisms from the Australian Labor Party which do have merit. The debate has not degenerated into a party political point-scoring contest and I commend all honourable senators who have taken pan. I regret that the Australian Democrats cannot support the amendments moved by Senator Gietzelt, whilst sympathising with the spirit behind them. Amendment (a) states:

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.

I understand that a great number of those submissions already have been made available to members of the Labor Party who wished to have them. I do not know that Senator Gietzelt, Senator Robertson or Senator Keeffe in their speeches unduly complained that important, massive documents have been withheld from them. They made the point that there were certain matters of which they were not informed but I think the thrust of their complaint was one of principle rather than detail. In any of these matters some documents and submissions must remain confidential to protect the person making those submissions. Paragraph (B) of the amendment states:

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 various land councils;

The wording of that amendment is a bit hairy. The way in which I interpret what I think Senator Gietzelt means is that the Minister could not make an appointment to the Commission unless it agreed with the recommendations or the advice given by the National Aboriginal Conference and the various Aboriginal land councils. That would restrict the Minister's power to being a mere cypher for any recommendation put up to him.

Senator Cavanagh - That is its intention.

Senator CHIPP -I am sure that the Bill does not go quite that far. It makes him confirm. As I understand it, already the Bill imposes a responsibility on the Minister to confer, to hear advice and then to act. Senator Gietzelt 's amendment would compel the Minister to accept all the advice from the National Aboriginal Conference and the land councils.

Senator Cavanagh - There is Aboriginal control.

Senator CHIPP - Yes. Senator Cavanagh has been a distinguished Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Let us not play games. If Senator Cavanagh were in government at the moment there is no way that he, as a Minister, would accept that amendment. With great respect, I suggest that he knows that. Senator Bonner, in his second reading speech, stated:

The Government believes that the Minister cannot meet his responsibilities as required by the Administrative Arrangements Order, which will confer responsibility on him for this measure once it is enacted, without the power of general direction.

Senator Gietzelt - If the NAC nominated a panel it would be much better than that of the Department. That is the only other process.

Senator CHIPP - Yes, but I am just saying that in the administration of government under our system a Minister must have regard to the Administrative Arrangements Order. If the power to appoint people who have the authority to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers money is taken away from the Minister, that will fly right in the face of the Administrative Order. I understand that the Bill, as it is, forces the Minister to consider, to consult, and to weigh the advice and recommendations. In our system of control of public funds, that is all that we can hope for. Part (C) of the amendment reads:

That the Government should assure the Senate of its commitment to maintain and increase its financial assistance to the Commission.

I support the thrust of that amendment but I think Senator Gietzelt moved it tongue in cheek because no government could possibly give a pre-Budget commitment on any matter. We have to consider the Minister's integrity, his past performance and the spirit of this Bill to realise that he would be the one pushing very strongly in Cabinet for an increased commitment to the Aboriginal Development Commission. I do not believe that such a provision has been written into a Bill, or been passed by this Senate, and no responsible government would do it. In conclusion, on behalf of the Australian Democrats, I strongly commend the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Government for this progressive, enlightening and generous legislation.

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