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Tuesday, 26 October 1971
Page: 2503

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) - We would have reason to be depressed if we felt that the speech of the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) expressed Government thinking. He appeared to be gratified with the situation of Aboriginals as it exists in Australia today and to find as his only ground of criticism a description of a building that was put up by the Gair Government many years ago and he invited the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) to consider that as a Labor achievement. We ill need an attack of modesty on this. Although constantly there have been rising expenditures on Aboriginal affairs, nevertheless it is always possible, it seems to me, for someone like the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) to point out that Aboriginal infant mortality is rising, Aboriginal neo-natal mortality is rising and Aboriginal child mortality is rising. Although from time to time we have new statements and new government offensives in some direction on Aboriginal welfare always there later comes the shock.

The honourable member for Kennedy appeared to believe that the aspects of Aboriginal policy in Queensland that are not gratifying belong to the far past. I invite the honourable member's attention to the January 1970 issue of the entirely non-political 'Medical Journal of Australia'. I refer again to one of the conditions mentioned by the honourable member for Prospect - the condition of chronic protein deficiency in Aboriginal children which precludes normal growth, which warps the development of the brain and which determines that these children will never be able to function academically and educationally equal to other children. If one were to say that this was something intrinsically Aboriginal that nobody can help, one might with regret make the statement. But the tragic thing which was expressed in the article of the 'Medical Journal of Australia' was that these conditions did not apply to Aboriginal children on the mission stations; they applied to Aboriginal children on Queensland Government settlements. The missions had had the intelligence to feed protein supplements to Aboriginal children in infancy and early childhood. Therefore a completely different picture emerges of a large number of Aboriginal children - a large enough number for the sampling to be significant on the mission stations that were analysed in Queensland and on the Queensland Government settlements. This pointed home straight to the Government of Queensland.

The former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), made certain statements about, or took a certain attitude towards, Queensland Aboriginal policy which, I think, was very salutary. But for reasons which had nothing to do with Aboriginal welfare when there was a change of Prime Minister, a new, ingratiating attitude was taken towards the Government of Queensland with this egregious failure as its record and it has been left in immunity. I hope that the Government of Queensland has taken the hint that was given by the right honourable member for Higgins and has started to reform itself. So far we have not seen the evidence of this.

I believe that in the referendum of May 1967 the Commonwealth was deliberately vested by the Australian people with full responsibility for the Aboriginal people. This was the only referendum in all Australian history that was carried in every electorate and, I think one can say, it was carried by overwhelming majorities in every polling place. Although the Australian people do not have the technical knowledge as to what ought to be Aboriginal policy they showed that they had a real concern that a new deal was necessary. Yet the Government of Australia, in relation to Aboriginals, proceeds now as if the referendum of May 1967 had never been carried. And I am not surprised.

For a long time the governmental forces did not want that referendum. All that the right honourable Sir Robert Menzies wanted was an alteration of the Constitution that Aboriginals would be counted in the census. He did not want a transference of power and behind him was a majority that did not want that transference of power all the time. There was the accident of the change of the attitude of the late right honourable Harold Holt, the Transference of Power Referendum was promulgate andthepeoplevotedoverwhelm- ingly for it. But the power which was transferred by the people was never wanted and we continue to act as if the referendum had never taken place.

I am not going to say that the Commonwealth example in the Northern Territory is so overwhelmingly superior to the States that this constitutes a case for exclusive Commonwealth action. But I believe that until the Commonwealth will face the fact that the responsibility is exclusively the Commonwealth's, there will be no traction in this policy. So long as claims come from a State such as that it thinks it needs so much for Aboriginal housing we get into the pattern that exists - the depressing pattern of separate and colliding sovereignties which is illustrated at every Premiers' Conference. A State puts in its claim, the assumption is made that too much is being asked for and the claim is scaled down.

The Government of Western Australia is faced with the fact that on the television screen there can be shown Aboriginals living within 10 miles of the Perth General Post Office in what would be the equivalent of very bad hen houses. There has been a movement in population to the city. Because of the present depressed position of the rural economy the seasonal work available for Aboriginals on farms has declined. They come into the towns looking for work. There is no housing for them and they live under unsatisfactory conditions. The position in the metropolitan areas dramatises more nearly whatis true in outlying country towns and on reserves near country towns.

The State Government might come up with the conclusion that something like $19m is needed for Aboriginal housing. However, it would receive a very small fraction of that amount. The fraction is so small that it does not catch up with the aggravation of the problem caused by new movements of the population. Therefore one can describe the situation as more depressing. Were it the Commonwealth's own department which said: 'You need $19m here for housing', there would be an entirely different reaction. The buck stops here.

The people of Australia in a referendum decided that on Aboriginal affairs the buck stops here. I am not interested whether

StateLiberal governments succeed or fail or whether Labor governments succeed or fail, if the responsibility finally rests here. The responsibility is on us and on this Parliament to. find the means. I am not going to fling a lot of cheap criticism at the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) who is sitting at the table. There have been tragedies in Aboriginal health. Maybe the tragedies in Aboriginal health became apparent only when Aboriginals concentrated in settlements. But certainly their concentration in settlements from a nomadic way of life spread disease such as tuberculosis, leprosy and so on rapidly among them. As a bare minimum, as a beginning, let us look at health. Then let us actually commit ourselves to reducing their infant child and neo-natal mortality to the European levels, even if we have no other objectives than that. I know that consequentially that will bring in housing, nutrition and all sorts of other things. But let us get definable objects and achieve them, not vague things like assimilations or integrations which put the Administration under no discipline of achievement at all.

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