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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 651

Mr McKenzie (Diamond Valley) - I rise to support the States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Bill of 1973. This Bill validates the undertakings which have been made since the new Government took office. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant), in this second reading speech said:

I believe that the situation in which the Aboriginal people of Australia find themselves is a national disgrace.

This is not only due to Government inaction, it is due also to the fact that the Australian people have not recognised, over the decades, that the Aboriginal people deserved a much better deal than they were getting. I appreciate the remarks ot the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) and I pay tribute to him for what he has done over the years in expressing the sorts of ideas that we have heard him express tonight. I also pay a tribute to the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) and other honourable members opposite. I believe that there is a great deal of goodwill in this matter and that the Parliament can give a lead to the people of Australia. A lead is necessary in this matter. I also pay a tribute to the work which has been done by members of the Labor Party over the years. I have in mind the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross), the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis), the honourable member for Darling (Mr Fitzpatrick), and many other honourable members on both sides of the House.

I pay a special tribute to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant). As honourable members and many people outside the House know, he has given years to the cause of the Aboriginal people in Australia. No place was too far away for him to visit and no time was too inconvenient. He always found time and effort in the cause of the Aboriginal people. He did more than talk; he worked, ft is a great pleasure to me to see him appointed as Minister for Aboriginal

Affairs. He is an old and trusted friend, not only of mine but also of the Aboriginal people. I believe that he will do a great job as Minister. He is a big man and with a big task to perform he needs our support.

This Bill provides an additional $7. 5m for the Aboriginal people. In saying that it is very much needed I do not seek to denigrate the work recently done by the previous Government. In New South Wales an additional $1,030,000 is to be provided; in Victoria $100,000 for special projects; in Queensland $2,910,000; in South Australia $470,000; in Western Australia $2,926,000; and in Tasmania $64,000. A prolonged reading of figures becomes tedious and boring but in a couple of areas we should take cognisance of what is provided; for instance, in the field of health. In Queensland an additional $866,000 is to be expended, partly as follows: $60,000 on food assistance for children under 6 years; $250,000 for child health clinic at Bamaga; $240,000 for water supply and sewerage works at 5 places in Queensland; and $1.55,000 for hospital facilities at Normanton. In Western Australia $500,000 is to be supplied for vehicles, buildings and other centres and doctors' residences. As the honourable member for Mackellar quite rightly pointed out to the House, more is needed than the expenditure of money, but it is an essential lubricant to assist in providing facilities.

We need to have goodwill but we also need money. The allocations amount to an extra 53 per cent and I am sure that we will get good value for this money. People sometimes assert that money spent on Aboriginal affairs is wasted. From time to time one hears that if Aboriginal people are given more money they will spend it on drink. From the figures I have cited it is clear that most of the expenditure will be on capital works. Honourable members will see from a close study that it is being spent in ways which will add initiatives for the Aboriginal people. It will enable them to produce more and will thus give them a sense of self-respect. This is very important and cannot be over-stressed.

The Minister said in his second reading speech that he calculated that nearly 90 per cent of Aborigines were living in absolute and acute social depression. We cannot allow that to continue. This measure is a first and important step in doing something about it. Various speakers have mentioned tonight that complaints are made in communities with a large number of Aboriginal people. Complaints are made that money is being spent on Aborigines when it ought to be spent for other purposes. It is not a question of competition. It is a question of providing the necessary money for the Aborigines and their advancement. It is also a question of providing additional funds where it can be shown that the funds are needed. I think the House ought to bear this factor in mind in respect of the allocation of funds in any financial year.

The constitutional position is very clear. Some discussion occurred the other night on whether the Government has a mandate for the various things it wishes to do. Taken to an illogical conclusion it could be argued that the Government does not have a mandate for anything, when a point by point examination is made. The Government has a general mandate to govern and that is about where it begins and ends. But on the question of the constitutional rights of the Aboriginal people there is no doubt that the Parliament has absolute and complete constitutional powers and an absolute mandate. About 90 per cent of the Australian people decided that this Parliament ought to make laws for the benefit of the Aboriginal people. There is a long way to go. As I said in my opening remarks, we will need to work together in this field. If we start to criticise one another by saying that the Government is not doing enough or that former governments did not do enough, we will lead ourselves into an intellectual morass. It will be very difficult to extricate ourselves from it. We must make sure that we speak with a united voice in this Parliament and give a united lead to the Australian people because they have given us a mandate.

The Minister referred to land right. When we consider this question we must understand that Aborigines who live in a tribal state have a direct link with the land they occupy. It is part of their spirit world and their very being. That needs to be recognised. It is easy to understand why the early settlers in Australia did not realise that situation. They did not understand that the very rocks and trees on the land have a meaning for the Aboriginal people. Where we can still do something about this I believe we must.

We must consult with the Aboriginal people. We need to talk to them and to train people to talk to them. We need to understand how they think. There is a great need for discussions which involve them. On the question of housing, we need to make sure that the housing is suited to their environment. That does not mean that they are to be given shoddy housing. They need housing which blends with the environment, suits their purposes and allows them to make adjustments if they wish to do so. The amounts provided for special projects in the Bill are a very good way of helping in the urbanised area. As the honourable member for Kooyong pointed out, the Aboriginal people are becoming increasingly urbanised. We need to make sure that if they live in urban areas, and this applies to country towns as well as big cities, they are provided with work. This Bill makes provision for this. We need to give Aboriginal people a sense of achievement. There is great dignity in working. Thank goodness I have never had to suffer being out of work but anybody who has suffered unemployment feels it very deeply. One of the best ways in which we can assist Aboriginal people in urban areas is to make sure that as far as possible unemployment is reduced.

The Minister has said on many occasions that if he does not significantly reduce infant mortality among the Aboriginal people he believes that the Government will stand condemned. I believe from what I have heard about the measures which are being taken, particularly in the field of getting nurses who speak the Aboriginal language to talk to Aboriginal women - here it is again a question not only of money but of approach - that by doing these sorts of things we can reduce very significantly the rate of infant mortality among the Aboriginal people. We need to educate the Australian people as far as racial discrimination is concerned. One of the ways in which we can do this is to recognise that Aboriginal people are distinctive, that they have their rights and that these rights ought to be respected. 1 believe that most members of this House, whether they be supporters of the Government or of the Opposition, would hope for the ideal situation in years to come in which the colour of a person's skin would be no more a cause for comment than the colour of his eyes. We must do something about discriminatory laws as they affect Aboriginal people. Here it is a question of using the mandate that was given by the Australian people in the 1967 referendum. This House ought to recognise, and 1 believe it does, the right of Aborigines to be a distinctive but not a separate people. We can and we must assist the Aboriginal people.

I again congratulate the Minister on the start which he and the Government have made. I wish him well. I believe he has the support of the vast majority of honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.

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