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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1759

Mr PORTER(5.21) —I wish to discuss the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and I want to review both the financial commitment of this Government to the Aboriginal community and the performance of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding). As we all know, the Minister is not one to sell himself short. He is not known for his modesty and, unfortunately for the Aboriginal community, he has raised expectations and given undertakings which any responsible, competent government administrator would know could not be kept .

The Minister has made the claim on several occasions that this Government gives Aboriginal affairs a high priority and he has stated that the share of funds allocated to Aboriginal affairs demonstrates this so-called high priority. In reality, bearing in mind that this was an expansionary Budget with a very high deficit and an increase in overall government spending, the Minister has in fact managed merely to maintain the proportion or share of funds going to the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio. The Minister has disguised the fact that under the previous coalition Government, 0.4 per cent of the Budget was allocated to Aboriginal affairs, and under this Government the allocation is almost exactly the same.

Another misrepresentation by the Minister was made with regard to the allocation of funds for Aboriginal housing. He claimed the amount allocated had demonstrated the high priority the Government gave to Aboriginal housing. However, the proportion of funds going to Aboriginal housing under the Commonwealth-State housing agreement, of which the Minister seems so proud, is almost exactly the same as was allocated to Aboriginal housing in the last Fraser Budget. Let me make it clear that I do not in any way criticise the Minister for maintaining his share of the Budget, but I do suggest that the true story is somewhat short of the exaggerated claims made by the Minister. Finally on this issue, let me say that I will address the way in which the quantum of money is being spent on a later occasion.

I said earlier that the Minister has not only been making exaggerated claims but also giving undertakings and breaking them. He has been raising the expectations of the Aboriginal people, only to let them down subsequently. The Aboriginal people are sick and tired of people promising the world and falling to deliver. The Minister, soon after his appointment, started to talk about how he would introduce uniform land rights legislation and impose it on the States using the full extent of the Commonwealth's power.

Now land rights is one of the issues closest to the hearts of the Aboriginal people, and the Minister no doubt thought that this was just what the Aboriginal people wanted to hear. He disclosed these plans in a number of closed and selected Press briefings. Then, in the Northern Territory when he was asked when all this was going to happen, as reported by the Centralian Advocate on 20 April , the Minister said:

Land rights was a Commonwealth responsibility and by the end of this year, new legislation to cover common ground between states and the Commonwealth should be ready.

That was in April. As this year draws to an end we ask: Where is this legislation? It seems that the Minister has changed his mind about the year in which we will see this land rights legislation. Australian Broadcasting Corporation news reports now indicate that the legislation is not due until the end of next year. But this is only one example of the Minister giving undertakings which he has failed to live up to.

Let me give another example. The Minister pretends to believe in consultation with the Aboriginal community. Shortly after his appointment he went up to the Northern Territory to discuss the future of the Koongarra uranium deposit with the traditional owners. The Minister was told by the Aboriginal people that they wanted the mine to go ahead. According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald on 20 April he said:

I have listened carefully to your argument and I disagree with it.

So we now know that the Minister's definition of consultation is to listen to the Aboriginal people and then press on regardless with his own firmly held views. The Koongarra people were anxious for the mine to go ahead because of the financial benefits which the Aboriginal community will receive and the jobs which will be created. The Minister pressed them not to finalise their negotiations with the mining company until the Government had made a decision on whether any new mines could go ahead. When pressed on the issue, according to the Sydney Morning Herald the Minister stated:

. . . that the Federal Government would make a decision within 10 weeks on whether the new mines would go ahead.

In April he told the traditional owners he would give them a decision within 10 weeks as to whether they could proceed with an agreement to mine uranium at Koongarra. In fact, when uranium mining was debated in Caucus in July, this very same Minister moved that a decision should not be taken and that the issue should be referred to another committee for further consideration. How on earth the Minister, in all conscience, could move such a motion in July when he had given an undertaking in April to the Northern Territory people that the Federal Government would make a decision within 10 weeks, I just do not know. One would think he would go to Caucus and say: 'Look, I have given an undertaking to the Northern Territory people; we need to make a decision'. Instead he moved a motion further to delay the decision.

I am sure the Committee will understand that the Aboriginal people became sick and tired of this Minister and his false undertakings. Eventually, in the absence of any positive response by the Minister, the Northern Land Council sent a telex informing him that it was to give a message stick expressing its concern about this whole issue. The message stick, according to the telex, was to be conveyed to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister for the people of Australia. The Minister, who pretends to want to uphold Aboriginal culture, again displayed his double standards when, instead of conveying the message stick to the Prime Minister as requested, he in fact pocketed it and remarked to the Press that he though it was a clothes peg. As if this action was not contemptible enough--

Mr Holding —That is untrue; completely untrue.

Mr PORTER —The Minister said that it is untrue. He should come up to my office and listen to the recording of his interview.

Mr Holding —You are a liar.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member for Barker will address his remarks through the Chair and the Minister will restrain himself.

Mr PORTER —I can understand the Minister's concern. He may come and listen to a recording of the interview where those words were used. His comments are on tape ; they are in my office and he may come and listen to them. As I said, if that action was not contemptible enough, when the matter was raised by the Opposition , despite the telex, he attempted to bluff his way out of it, as he is now, saying that he did not realise the message stick was meant for the Prime Minister. It seems that the Dawkins disease of selective amnesia is catching.

But it is not only when the Minister is out amongst the Aboriginal communities that he has this tendency to exaggerate and mislead. On 19 May, I asked him a question in the House. The question was a genuine one seeking information on the very serious problem of Aboriginal unemployment. Unfortunately the Minister totally failed to answer the question. Instead, being a very political animal, he tried to deflect the question by attacking me personaly. He said that all would be made clear to us in time. He said that I need to have no fear that 'the neglect which characterised the policies of the previous Government' would be remedied and attended to. That is another fabrication. As I have already explained, this Government has allocated exactly the same proportion of funds to Aboriginal Affairs as did the previous Government; so his bluff and filibuster are again without substance. Finally, in answer to a question I raised with him in this House, he said:

At the first available parliamentary opportunity, I will make a much fuller statement on all the objectives of this Government in terms of the needs of Aboriginal people.

Having misled the Aboriginal people all around Australia he informed the House on 19 May that at the first available opportunity he would tell us all. Yet, nearly five months later, no such statement has been made. The making of a statement to this House is totally within the Minister's own control. He has had five months to prepare a statement, seven weeks of parliamentary sittings in which to give it, and yet again he has failed to live up to his commitment- another promise given and a total failure to deliver. The silence is deafening. I simply ask the Minister: Why does he continue to adopt this course of action- giving undertakings and promises and failing to deliver? I have mentioned only three or four cases; there are many more. The Minister must lift his game. The Aboriginal people want a man of his word, not a man who plays politics for politics sake.