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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1769

Mr MAHER(6.13) —I was appalled by the comments of the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron). I was particularly distressed by his comments that money is made available for kindergartens for Aborigines when it should not be, that too much money is spent on Aboriginal health and all these other ridiculous comments he made. Last year I, in company with other members of the Australian Labor Party's Caucus committee on education visited the electorate of Kalgoorlie in the Kimberleys of the north-west of Western Australia. The honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins), Senator Coleman and other people were with us. We spent a week visiting Aboriginal settlements around the Great Sandy Desert and other very isolated parts of Western Australia including Broome. I did not believe what I saw. I have never come face to face with leprosy in this country. I was amazed to see enormous numbers of people afflicted by this disease which I did not believe existed here.

The honourable member for Maranoa has today criticised the expenditure on Aboriginal health. It is almost unbelievable that in a rich country such as Australia an honourable member from a very fortunate area of Australia should criticise the Aborigines for the expenditure that this sensitive and caring Government is making available for Aboriginal health, let alone schooling and things such as kindergartens. I could not tell honourable members what I saw in some of the places that passed as schools in Western Australia under the previous non-Labor Government. We went to settlements that brought tears to my eyes. We visited the big Christian Brothers school in Broome which is run for Aboriginal boarders. An adjoining school for Aboriginal girls is run by an order of nuns. The brothers told us that every child comes from a family whose members are on the dole. There are no jobs. All the Aboriginals leave school in Year 10, several years before matriculation. They go back to settlements where there are no jobs and no future. Yet these young people fortunately have some stimulation at these schools.

As we got away from Broome, the biggest centre of settlement, we found that there was no such thing as a kindergarten in most places. At one settlement we went to-Louisa Downs out of Halls Creek-there was one teacher, a young woman from Melbourne, trying to teach a small group of Aborigines. The school was so poor and so run down that it had not even got registration from the Western Australian Government. The honourable member for Maranoa talked about the waste of money on education and Aboriginal health. We went to Turkey Creek which is the nearest centre to the CRA Argyle diamond mine which we read so much about now. This diamond mine, right in the middle of an Aboriginal sacred site has kimberlite pipes going into the centre of the earth. I was interested in what the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) said about land rights for Aborigines. I was appalled at how little compensation CRA is giving to the people of Turkey Creek. Leprosy was a terrible problem at Turkey Creek.

All the Aborigines at Turkey Creek asked for was half a million dollars to buy a neighbouring station property so that the people could have somewhere to raise cattle. Instead of giving them that, what did the paternalistic people running this diamond mine do? They said: 'No, we will not give you half a million dollars, but each year we will give you $100,000 and that has to be spent in the way we direct'. The Aboriginal elders asked why they could not commute five year 's worth of this $100,000 payment. They still would not agree to that. These Aboriginal people were not able to buy the property they wanted on which they could have had their own land rights and on which they could have combated some of the alcoholism and some of the other problems of Aboriginal communities.

As I went around with the honourable member for Fremantle, Senator Coleman, our guides and the other people who were with us I was delighted to see the work that is being done to combat alcoholism amongst Aboriginal communities to give them heart and a spirit of their own. I was most disappointed when I returned and found that the Western Australian Government at that time had prohibited the Benedictines from selling Kalumbura, a big and very old mission station in the most isolated part of the Kimberleys. There was a proposal to sell this station to the community. These Benedictines had been there since 1900 when they came up from New Norcia. When they wanted to withdraw the then Western Australian Government intervened and stopped the sale to the community so that the community did not get its land rights. I trust that the Burke Government has undone some of these appalling acts by the previous Administration in Western Australia.

In the few minutes left to me I want to touch on the estimates for the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I was very disappointed in the comments of the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). All I can say is that Franca Arena MLC, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, must be really putting the fear of the Lord into the honourable member for Denison. He attacked this sensitive woman who has enormous contacts throughout the ethnic community and who is not just an Australian of Italian extraction. She is a real ethnic. For the honourable member to attack her tonight for her comments on various matters was very poor. His Government, the Government of the Liberal- National Party, allowed the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to degenerate so that hundreds of applications for naturalisation and residency were found on a dump in Sydney about a year ago.

Now we have a very compassionate Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs ( Mr West) who is doing everything possible to help people from Sri Lanka. He is helping the Tamils and the Sinhalese to come to Australia. He is doing everything he can to help the Australians who have families in Lebanon. I know he is because I send him quite a lot of work and quite a number of representations. He has already done a lot to help the people who have come to Australia from Poland under refugee schemes. I have had people in my office crying with thanks, they are so pleased that their families have got to Australia from Poland or from Poland via Austria. It is very sad that people are separated from their families. They worry if there is civil strife and unrest in the countries they are from. Any of us who talk to Australians who were born overseas know their sadness at Christmas time or at times of national holidays or holy days in their country of origin when they are separated from their parents, their brothers and sisters and their kith and kin.

I want to praise the work of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. It is a very difficult department to run. It is a very difficult department to work in because all of the matters are potentially politically sensitive. They always have been that way. I believe the Department is doing its best. I believe the review tribunals under the previous Government which were filled with members of the theatrical profession could perhaps be re-examined. It is very good to have our actors and actresses in work. It probably pays much better than reading for the talking books at the Royal Blind Society of New South Wales. Nevertheless, I think there are other people in the community who are also expert at weighing evidence, in a compassionate way, at appeals.

The Citizenship Branch has a very difficult problem in the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. We all know that it has been overloaded with work by the demands of the armed forces that all New Zealanders and all British take out citizenship. I feel that much of the delay is caused by unnecessary police screening. We have people here who are screened to enter this country. If they are here, why is their citizenship delayed if they committed an offence some years ago? They are here; they are in some sort of hiatus. I feel nothing is gained by stopping permanent residents from becoming citizens because they had some minor offence recorded against them some years ago. I am sure the Minister will very sympathetically expedite these applications for citizenship.

I know the Minister is doing everything possible with adult migrant classes which are essentially designed for Australians who are of ethnic background or permanent residents who have an education. What I find difficult are people who, through no fault of their own, had no education at home. Perhaps they grew up during the war, recession or world depression. These people are the despair of the migrant English teachers. They have had no formal studies and they are very hard to teach English. I feel that that is an expensive area. It is an area I know the Minister will consider. But many of these people miss out on job opportunities and miss out on the quality of life. There are matters that we take for granted. I feel a lot more could be done for them. In speaking on the Budget estimates tonight, I encourage the Minister to look at this important area. We all take for granted our ability to read and to speak English, but vast numbers of people in my electorate and in the electorate of many honourable members on both sides of the House cannot read English, will never read English and need assistance.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.