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Thursday, 2 December 1971
Page: 4053

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) - As a member of the Australian Labor Party 1 also indicate my enthusiastic support for the amendment moved by my colleague, the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley), which calls on the Commonwealth Government to assume a much greater role in solving the problems of the Aboriginal people of Australia and of the Torres Strait Islanders. During this debate I have been happy to hear honourable members from different States expressing local problems. Members from Tasmania, New South Wales and Western Australia have spoken, but many of the things that I will say must be seen against the background of the Queensland situation. We all realise that circumstances are different throughout the Commonwealth and that programmes which might work effectively in one area may be complete failures in another area. So much depends on the background of the Aborigines. One can compare people who have lived in completely dependent circumstances all of their lives and who find it difficult to make decisions with people like the Aborigines in Yirrkala where, under the guidance of the Methodist Mission for something of the order of a generation without any attempt to break down the Aboriginal culture, they enjoy the best of both worlds, as it were. These Aborigines are able to stand up for themselves and to express opinions. One gains from them a great respect for the Aboriginal people as they were before what one of my colleagues referred to as the white invasion.

The legislation before us shows an increasing Commonwealth expenditure. Of course, this is a good thing. I suppose that any Minister who can say that his legislation shows an increase in expenditure of 31. per cent over the previous year is entitled to say 'That is a pretty handsome increase'. However, when we were debating other legislation earlier today, one of my South Australian colleagues said that the South Australian Government this year had increased its expenditure on education by 30 per cent, and that was a handsome amount. I put it to the House that the rules that apply to other areas do not apply to the field of Aboriginal advancement because this is a new field of Commonwealth involvement and it is a field in which the Commonwealth Government will have to provide vastly increased sums if the problems are to be solved. I have the utmost praise for the work that is being done by the Commonwealth Office of Aboriginal Affairs. The officers of that Office look at the problems fairly and I am sure that the recommendations that they make to the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) are well balanced and represent a much broader approach to the problems than is the case with many of the State administrations because the State administrations are tied down with their own administrative problems in settlements and reserves. Whatever else we may have done, and however much the Minister or anyone else here may congratulate themselves on the increased expenditure, the hard, cold facts of life are that whatever we are doing is not keeping pace with the rising expectations of Australia's Aboriginal population.

The 1967 referendum raised the hopes of Aborigines that they might have a new future in Australia - a future of equality, noi in the never never but in their own lifetimes. One of the reasons why we are running into problems today, why there is so much frustration and why the newspapers are focusing some deal of attention on a small, hut probably newsworthy. Black Power movement is that we are not keeping pace with Aboriginal expectations. I agree with the decision of the Commonwealth Government to work through the State administrations. The problems are so widespread that fairly flexible programmes must be devised to work through State government departments, local government bodies and councils in order that all of the resources might be brought to bear on the problems of the advancement of the Abor.iginal people. We are confronted wilh problems of geographic isolation

In Queensland the failure to meet rising Aboriginal expectations must be seen against the depressed state of the rural economy and of the pastoral industry. Many of the young Aboriginal men and women - particularly the young men who normally would have been employed in the pastoral industry - are now coming to the large cities of Queensland and the capital city of Brisbane seeking work. This has added a new dimension to the problem. There are 3 environments, and I propose to deal briefly with each. The situation in none of them is satisfactory. The first concerns settlements and communities. Of course, this has been the long term responsibility of State Governments. Queensland has new legislation which was brought in late one week and rushed through the Parliament early the following week against the background of a demonstration by a number of unemployed Aborigines who were led by officers of the Aborigines and Islanders Tribal Council. It is a sad thing that this legislation was not brought down in circumstances which would have enabled the whole range of people interested in Aboriginal welfare - no less the Aborigines themselves - to express their views on the legislation in order that whatever emerged from the Queensland Parliament might be the best possible legislation. But that did not happen. The legislation is an improvement in many ways, but in other ways it does not go far enough. The problems cannot be solved merely by changes in legislation. There have been improvements in the physical environment on the settlements. For example, houses are much better than they used to be. Other facilities such as hospitals, some of them wilh Commonwealth assistance, are much better than they were. The teaching staffs in the schools are better than they were because they are officers of the Queensland Department of Education. However, there is still an almost complete lack of proper pre-school education. In one or two places there are pre-schools or kindergartens but, to the best of my knowledge, in only one of these schools - ! think that is at Yarrabah - is there a school teacher who meets the requirements of proper training as a pre-school teacher. Many of the others have done a kindercraft course and the organisations that they run would be more properly described as child minding centres than as pre-schools.

There is a deteriorating relationship between the staff and the Aborigines. This has been mainly brought about, as I said earlier, by the rising expectations of the Aborigines and our failure to meet them. There is an insufficient involvement of Aborigines in staff and technical positions. There has been no solution to the problem of land rights. Aborigines know that por tions of their reserves can be cut off at the whim of a Cabinet or by the GovernorinCouncil if some of that land happens to contain bauxite, valuable timber or some other mineral resource which could be exploited. There is a complete lack of social workers in the settlements to train housewives in budgeting and the like so that those who choose to do so might make an orderly transition to the broader Australian community. The policy of the Queensland Government is one of assimilation but, until a short tune ago. these people lived in a position of ration handouts and complete dependency. It is . just too difficult a task for young people or middle aged people who have spent almost all their lives in a position of dependency to be thrown from their society into the highly competitive community that we have been used to all our lives or, al least, certainly since we left school, and expected to make a success of it in 1 or 2 years. We need more trained people. It might be argued that these are State matters. My thesis is that these problems will be solved only with Commonwealth money assisting the States in what they should be doing.

There is a problem in getting an effective voice for the Aborigines. The Queensland legislation has set up a system of Aboriginal councils but of course, on these reserves, most of the permanent residents are employees of the Department of Abor.iginal and Island Affairs. For example, in Woorabinda, which our Committee visited, the president of the council was the hygiene man and the secretary was the fellow who drove the school bus. People are appointed to the council by the local superintendent. So although on the face of it the Aboriginal council may appear to be an independent agent of the Aborigines, in effect it is actually too closely dependent upon the Department. There is no easy solution to that problem because in some of these areas the more enterprising young Aborigines have gone into the outside community looking for work in the pastoral industry and the like and the people who are left behind often do not have a great deal of leadership capacity.

There has been a failure to train staff in all the positions they occupy on these reserves, whether they be policemen, justices of the peace or the lass working in the maternal and child welfare centre. Only one in dozens of these people is properly trained. This is the legacy of past dependency and handouts. I am sure that the shortage of social workers could be made up by the training of Aboriginal liaison officers. They would not need to be trained in all the ramifications of social work that are met in the broad outside community. We really need on the settlements people who are independent of the administration. I am not saying thai there are not some fine people in the administration on these settlements in Queensland: there certainly are. However, there is a problem of alienation between the Aborigines and the administration. What is needed is an advisory level in these places which is not connected with the administration.

In my office in Brisbane I receive a lot of work from places like Cherbourg. Aborigines come down and ask me to explain some social service problem, some technicality about an unemployment benefit or a tuberculosis allowance that should have been explained to them on the settlement. I would probably receive only a handful of the many problems that exist in a place like that and which are never picked up because of the alienation between the Aborigines and the administration. J mentioned that there were many capable people working in this field, some of them working for the Queensland Government. The sad part about this is that they are all prisoners of the system. They ate all living in the past and this is just pari of the hard, cold facts of life.

I now wish to refer to problems with regard to Aboriginal fringe dwellers. These are the people for whom we have not yet developed satisfactory programmes. We have programmes that meet the people on the settlements; we have programmes such as secondary school scholarships for Aborigines whose families are assimilated in our community. However, we have no effective programmes in the broad to cater for the Aborigines who live in a fringe dwelling environment. There is a problem of alienation and a need for decent housing. Some of these problems are being met by Commonwealth assistance. I am happy to see that Queensland is to get one-third of the money and I am happy to see where the houses are being built. I think that the Queensland Department is running this scheme in a very responsible and effective manner, but it is still only a drop in the bucket. The houses are still going to the larger country centres of population. I am pleased to see that in this year's programme, for the first time they are reaching into some of the smaller rural centres.

There also exists the problem of children who start school late and leave early. Because of malnutrition they are so small that, although they may be 7 or 8 years of age, they look as though they are only 5 years and because they are Aboriginal children, nobody rounds them up to chase them along to school. In pastoral areas of Queensland, many children including white children leave school before the minimum permissible leaving age because they intend to work on their family's pastoral properties. However, if the Aboriginal children leave school at 12 years of age. or whatever age they may leave, no-one chases them up m the same way that they would be if they were white children. I am associated in a modest way with a hardworking team of people in the Save the Children Fund in Queensland who have established a kindergarten at Eidsvold. This is a very interesting experiment and, at the end of its first year, we can say that it has certainly done a lot to draw that Aboriginal community together. I think that we need to build on to projects of this kind with some form of community centre, around which a range of programmes could be established

Finally - I apologise to the Minister for having taken longer than I promised - I want to deal with the urban Aboriginal because I am the member for an inner city electorate. Let us examine the way money provided bv the Commonwealth has been spent on Aboriginal housing in Queensland. One house was bought in Brisbane in rather special circumstances. Great numbers of Aboriginal families are going into the inner parts of Brisbane, crowding into houses and paying high rents because the Queensland Government has abolished any kind of rent control. They are living in very undesirable circumstances and are creating social tensions between themselves and their neighbours. We need an effective urban housing programme. The problem of housing for Aborigines in the cities cannot be left to the housing commissions alone because very often Aborigines, because they lack training or because they may occupy labouring positions, may go from job to job and they do not have the basic requirements which would give them a priority in the system of the housing- commissions. There is need for a special housing programme for urban Aborigines. This will be created by Government money alone.

I recently received an answer from the Minister to the oldest question on the notice paper. When this debate took place a little over a year ago, I asked the then Minister, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), how much money was being spent on Aboriginal housing. I said that $llm was the take-off point. He assured me, I am sure quite honestly, in his speech that at least that amount would be spent. I tried to go through the spider web of figures in the State and Federal reports. Now that the question has been answered, we find that this year half that amount of money actually was spent by the Commonwealth and by the States on Aboriginal housing. The Government is spending $60m a year on war service homes and it will need to spend this sort of money on Aboriginal housing. No less than $30m a year over a period of time must be spent to overtake the problem. We want to solve the housing problem in a fairly short space of time. We have a problem in accommodating young people who come from the country seeking work, until such time as they qualify for unemployment benefits or obtain employment. I am happy that the Minister and his officers are looking very closely at this problem which has arisen in Brisbane, and I give them full credit for doing so.

We have a problem with Aboriginal organisations. The Commonwealth has handed out a certain amount of money to Aboriginal organisations. Not all of the money has been spent as v/ell as it might have been, and I have no criticism for that. I think that this is an inevitable part of the acceptance of responsibility by Aborigines. I think that perhaps some of the training that we are providing is at too high a level. In these various places we need to provide fundamental training to the officers of Aboriginal organisations in (how to run meetings, how a secretary should keep a set of minute books and how a treasurer should keep a set of account books. Tn other words, I think that probably we have got to evolve a system which starts off at a lower level than we have previously envisaged. It does not follow that people can do some of these things without training. I think that we have to look at this matter.

Finally, a great deal of attention has been focussed by the Press on the Black Power movement in Australia. There is a very small Black Power movement, lt is led mainly by frustrated people. In Brisbane most of its membership would comprise very young Aboriginal boys who have come from the country and who have nol yet been placed in employment.

Mr James - Kath Walker is opposed to it.

Mr CROSS - I believe it is inevitable that we will have more trouble and more violence in this regard. But I believe that it will be counter-productive, because there is a lot of goodwill around the place. Many people criticise these things, and I am one of those people, along with others, who does criticise this trend. I was happy to hear the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) refer to Mrs Walker. She has been a prominent Aboriginal leader and in recent days she has gone on record as expressing her opposition to the Black Power movement's use of violence. But I think that we have to realise that it is not enough for us to criticise these things. We have to meet these situations. We have to realise that notwithstanding the increased activity in Aboriginal affairs in which the Commonwealth is engaged, we are not yet doing enough. Until we extend our programmes to meet the needs, then unfortunately these counter-productive things will happen.

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