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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1780

Mr PORTER(8.47) —I rise again in this debate not in any way to try to discuss the comments made by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) in reply to my initial contribution because he failed to contradict in any way any of the points I made. I am sorry that the Minister is not here to oversee the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. One would think that he would be here for the debate on his own estimates. I refer to the contribution of the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves). As I understand it, he suggested that during my visit to one of many Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, I had in some way attempted to influence a meeting of the Progress Association that was taking place during the evening. I think he referred in particular to my visit to Borroloola. Is that correct?

Mr Reeves —No. I was saying that the Country Liberal Party friend you were with was doing precisely that-railroading the local Progress Association.

Mr PORTER —I am surprised that the honourable member for the Northern Territory makes such allegations. I accept certainly that I have been to a large number of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. I see it as part of my job to meet as many of the Aborginal communities as I can. In the Northern Territory I have been to Borroloola, Yuendumu, Walpiri, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine, Darwin and Milingimbi. I have visited the Tangentyere Council, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association and so on. I have tried to meet as many communities as I can. If the honourable member alleges that in the day and night I spent in Borroloola I or the people who were in my company in some way tried to influence the local people I think he grossly underrates the intelligence of his own constituents. Certainly, I find it flattering to think that on a one day visit I could somehow influence the good people of the Northern Territory. I can understand that the honourable member for the Northern Territory is somewhat concerned about the Northern Territory. It was interesting that one of the real complaints that I received when I was in Borroloola was that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on that day had sent a plane in to take members of the Aboriginal community out of Borroloola to see him in some other town. The complaint that was made to me was that the Minister, in fact, did not go to Borroloola because they had wanted to see him. I regret that the Minister was not able to go to Borroloola but I made it quite plain that I did not have any control over the Minister.

Finally, it is pretty clear that the honourable member for the Northern Territory made the fairly wide, sweeping allegations he has made tonight without in any way justifying those allegations because he finds himself in a very embarrassing position. Mr Chairman, you would know-and I think the honourable member for the Northern Territory would know-that before this Government was elected the previous Government was in favour of the building of the railway line from Alice Springs to Darwin. Unfortunately, the Government has made a decision against the interests of the Northern Territory people and the honourable member has found himself in a very difficult position because, before the decision was made by the Hawke Government, he supported that proposal. He now finds that he has to withdraw support for that proposal and suggest that he is in favour of the decision of the Hawke Government not to build that railway line.

The Hawke Government has made a number of decisions which have been contrary to the best interests of the Northern Territory. So, the honourable member for the Northern Territory now comes into this Committee and tries to find other excuses to lay some blame at the feet of the Opposition for the problems that he is facing as a result of the Hawke Government's decisions which are, as I say, against the interests of the Northern Territory.