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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1772

Mr REEVES(8.03) —I notice that the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter), the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, has been present during only a fraction of this debate on the appropriation for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Finally he comes into the chamber now, in complete contrast, I might add, to the shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), who has been here during the whole of the debate on the appropriations of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The honourable member for Barker was, of course, in the Northern Territory in June 1983 with Mr Tuxworth, one of those great fighters for Aboriginal rights in the Northern Territory, when they tried to railroad a takeover of the Aboriginal Land Council at Borroloola. That is the level of his commitment to Aboriginal affairs in the Norther Territory. He would do much more for the Aboriginal people if he had a word with some of his political pals in the Northern Territory and tried to soften some of their hard, racist attitudes. He has a lot to do with them, so I suggest that he tells them that next time he is in the Northern Territory.

The performance of the Country Liberal Party Government in the Northern Territory in relation to Aboriginal affairs and other matters is a scandal in public administration. Yesterday I pointed to the waste in the Northern Territory 1983-84 Budget. The six Ministers in the Northern Territory will spend $2.5m on travel and entertainment this year. The CLP has decided to increase the size of the Legislative Assembly from 19 to 25 seats at a time when the Northern Territory's per capita expenditure on its legislature is already ten times that of New South Wales, and the Everingham Government is wasting $150,000 on employing David Combe as a lobbyist. We all know how little lobbying David Combe has done in the past six months! Anyone who has seen the conditions of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory will realise that this waste is a scandal. If the Northern Territory Government spent this money on Aboriginal settlements and communities those conditions might improve. It is all right for the honourable member for Barker to laugh and smile. He has seen some of the conditions. If he supports that waste, that extravagance on the part of the Northern Territory Government when those conditions afflict Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, he should be ashamed of himself as shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

I wish to raise a very serious matter in relation to the conduct of the Northern Territory Government. I believe that there is evidence to suspect that the Northern Territory Government is not spending the specific purpose grants made to it for certain specified purposes and, in particular, for Aboriginal purposes. It is such a serious matter that I believe it requires urgent and serious investigation by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) and all other Ministers involved in the allocation funds to the Northern Territory Government for specific purposes. The Commonwealth Government's Budget Paper No. 7 discloses that allocations have been made in the Aboriginal affairs area in the 1983-84 Budget for recurrent purposes in Aboriginal education assistance in the sum of $277,000, for capital purposes for Aboriginal housing in the sum of $ 9,584,000, and again for capital purposes for Aboriginal and environmental assistance in the sum of $1.8m. Those allocations total $11.66m.

About six weeks ago, I wrote to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory seeking details of the Northern Territory Government's expenditure of funds allocated to it for Aboriginal affairs. His reply was very short on detail. It contained no figures, despite the fact that I asked for those details. The Chief Minister said:

The Northern Territory receives only modest funding from the Commonwealth specifically for the provision of services to Aboriginal people, with the bulk of expenditure on Aboriginal people being funded, from the Territory's internal revenues and the general purpose funding from the Commonwealth. These two sources of course are not tied to any particular area.

It is those revenue areas and the general purpose funding area from the Commonwealth from which the Northern Territory Government manages to find $2.5m to spend on ministerial travel and entertainment, I might add. I suppose that, when it is spending $2.5m on ministerial travel and entertainment, $11.6m is really only a comparatively modest amount. The lack of detail in the Chief Minister's reply aroused my curiousity. I wondered what he was hiding. My suspicions were confirmed when I read the recent report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission.

The report is dated 29 September 1983. At paragraph 1.9, the Grants Commission makes the following observations:

These difficulties have been exacerbated by the second of the two problems referred to above. This relates to the structure of the Territory accounts, which make no accounting distinction between transactions by source of funds. There is therefore no distiction between recurrent revenue sources and loan funds or other sources earmarked for capital purposes.

In other words, all moneys-specific, general or capital-are put into the same money bin. With some luck at some stage, the money might just be taken out and spent on the purpose for which it was specifically allocated. As the Grants Commission points out, it is very difficult to trace the money in and out of the Northern Territory's money bin. No one can say with any certainty that the Northern Territory Government is spending the money allocated to it for specific purposes on that purpose. This applies specifically to Aboriginal affairs. That is why I believe that the Chief Minister gave me no figures; in effect there were none. The Territory Government's accounting system is so bad that it does not know. How can the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs be sure that the $9.584m allocated in this year's Budget for Aboriginal housing in the Northern Territory will actually be spent on Aboriginal housing? That is a specific purpose capital grant. I am suggesting that the evidence indicates that it will not be spent on Aboriginal housing in the Northern Territory. There is no certainty of that. That $9.584m is a massive increase of 118 per cent on last year's allocation. I must ask whether the Federal Labor Government's desire to provide basic facilities to Aborigines in the Northern Territory is to be frustrated by this unsympathetic Country-Liberal Party Government, that Government whose Deputy Leader is currently on a charge before the magistrate's court in the Northern Territory for authorising the bulldozing of a registered sacred site in Alice Springs?

I ask whether the Grants Commission will continue to conclude in future reports , as it did in this most recent report:

. . . that the level of service provided in the Territory was below standard or that standard services were not provided to some sections of the Territory's population, particularly some Aboriginal communities.

Will the Grants Commission be saying that next year, the year after and the year after that because the Northern Territory Government is not spending money that was specifically allocated to it for Aboriginal affairs? I can tell honourable members that a number of communities in the Northern Territory are forced to cart their basic water supplies in 44-gallon drums from water sources many kilometres from their communities. While that is going on Northern Territory Ministers are spending $2 1/2m on their own travel and entertainment. It is an absolute scandal. To give honourable members an insight into the way in which this Country-Liberal Party Government is likely to handle these Aboriginal housing funds, let me quote from another letter I received from the Chief Minister. In referring to the Northern Territory Housing Commission he said:

The Commission provides housing for Aboriginals in the main urban centres, off Aboriginal land, using a mix of loan and earmarked grant funds received under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement and funds provided or generated from sources quite outside the Agreement.

After referring to the fact that the Commission does not specifically identify whether funds will go to Aboriginals or to non-Aboriginals, he said:

Nonetheless the Northern Territory, in line with a recent decision of the Australian Aboriginal Affairs Ministers Council, will begin to collect statistics on a racial basis. We see this as a backward step, but are prepared to following the majority view.

The Commission--

that is, the Housing Commission--

estimates that up to 30 per cent of its tenants in major urban centres are Aboriginals . . .

A joint Commonwealth/NT Working Party is currently in the process of identifying and assessing the overall extent of Aboriginal housing needs in the Northern Territory, and, when it completes its work, will recommend a program which might overcome the backlog within a reasonable time.

In other words, these Aboriginal housing funds will all go into one pool. No specific Aboriginal program is operating in the Northern Territory, and it is only since recent pressure from the Commonwealth Government and the very responsible Minister for Aboriginal Affairs that the Northern Territory has finally agreed to keep statistics on its spending on Aboriginal housing. One must wonder why it has been so reluctant to do so unless it has something to hide.

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