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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 658


Mr HUNT (Gwydir) - 1 rise to support this Bill. In passing I want to draw attention to some of the problems of the partAboriginal people living in my electorate and then to deal with some of the philosophies surrounding Aboriginal advancement. The Gwydir electorate has a relatively high population of part Aborigines but very few full bloods. There is not the slightest doubt that the majority of Aborignes are living at a standard well below that of the average European Australian, but many of the. Aborigines or part Aborigines who are living in my electorate have good jobs, are Jiving with dignity and are highly respected citizens in the electorate. For too long their great social and economic problems have been ignored. It is fair to say that in New South Wales since 1965 greater efforts than ever before have been made by the present Liberal-Country Party Government to advance the Aborigines. Assistance from the Commonwealth Government has been filtering through to help the State, handle a legacy of neglect by past generations and past governments. I do not blame any particular political party, government, individual or group of individuals for this legacy. Until recent years there was a lack of social conscience so far as Aborigines were concerned.

As the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant) knows, there is a problem at Wee Waa among Aborigines who are mostly itinerant workers on the cotton fields. Since, the cotton industry provides itinerant workers with employment which lasts for only a short period each year, there is a special problem in respect of adequate housing, health and hygiene among the itinerant workers. Over the past 3 or 4 years the cotton industry has required an increasing number of itinerant workers for chipping, and the accommodation problem came to a head this year. I have, made representations both to the State Minister for Youth and Community Services and to my friend and colleague the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs for help in providing more adequate facilities for these people. I take the opportunity to thank the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs for his cooperative and sympathetic attitude to this very difficult problem. The cotton growers have been subjected to a lot of unfair criticism, but they are conscious of the problem. I have had discussions with them and with other people in the district. They are doing their best to improve conditions generally.

Both the New South Wales and Commonwealth governments have moved to help to improve the working and living conditions of the itinerant workers, most of whom are Aborigines. Approximately $100,000 has been granted already to improve the camping areas and health facilities. I understand that the people concerned do not want expensive housing. They do not want to have to pay high rents because the job opportunities last for only a short time each year. They want decent shelter, water and power while they are employed for a short time. In Wee Waa the local people met the Aboriginal spokesmen and formed an Aboriginal Advancement Committee late last year. The Committee is representative of all sections of the community, including well known cotton growers who want to see the Aborigines helped and given decent conditions which will allow them to live with at least some sense of dignity and to work under conditions that are acceptable to them. No government agency can do as much, in a real sense, as local community organisations working at the grass roots of the local problem. These organisations require the support, co-operation and financial assistance of the Commonwealth Government. I am delighted that the Commonwealth Government, through the Minister, has seen fit to support them.

Moree, my home town, has an acute housing problem for the local Aborigines. After the February 1971 flood about 20 families were moved from the low lying areas surrounding Moree to what is called the Mehi Crescent and were provided with emergency accommodation in caravans, and 16 of those 20 caravans are still providing shelter for approximately 110 Aborigines - more than 30 adults and 80 children. These people have been living under disgraceful conditions, awaiting the provision of housing. The situation has caused the New South Wales Government and those of us who know the conditions considerable concern. I have made representations to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and he has assisted the New South Wales Government in making available funds to provide 17 new houses for these people in this year's program. Five are to be built by the New South Wales Housing Commission and 12 are to be purchased by the Department of Youth and Community Services. Six houses are currently being acquired and are with the Crown Solicitor for settlement. The Other 6 are the subject of negotiations between the Valuer-General and the owners.

The problem does not end there. More and more funds will be required to provide an increasing population of Aborigines and part Aborigines in this area with adequate housing on an annual basis and to provide more health facilities, adequate pre-school facilities and so on. There has been a rapid integration of the Aboriginal population into the Moree community in the past, few years. However, a number of families want homes built in their old settlement areas. I believe that they should be given a choice as to whether they want to integrate into the town community. I pay a tribute to the Sisters of Charity at the Pope Pius Mission who, for the past few years, have been providing pre-schooling for more than 100 children and a health clinic for those children. The doctors in the town are providing honorary services to the children.

Moree has an active community based Aboriginal Advancement Association which is keeping in close contact with the people and the problems that exist there. There is a great desire on the part of the community to do something about the problem. The benefit that has been flowing to the children who have been attending the Pope Pius Mission has become evident in the infant and primary schools during the past 2 or 3 years. The children have a far better chance of completing their high school education than wouk have been the case, say, 10 years ago. Therefore they will have a better chance of securing better jobs, earning higher wages and living in better conditions than those in which their fathers and mothers lived. 1 could mention some of the other problems at the various centres in the electorate, but 1 will discuss them privately with the Minister in the near future.

I turn now to the general problems facing our community and the philosophical approach to meeting the problems in the broad sense. It is not surprising that so many people are concerned about the enormous social problems facing Aborigines and part Aborigines. To some extent, the Aboriginal case is confused by State and Federal jurisdictions, by political pressures, by differing ideological approaches and by guilt and emotional reactions arising from the knowledge that the Aboriginal was the original inhabitant of tin's continent. The Gove judgment, which did not accept Aboriginal sovereignty over the Gove Peninsula, has given rise to land rights claims based on moral justice. Since the Gove case there has been a campaign to grant land to Aboriginal groups based on traditional association with the land. There are strong demands from militant groups of Aborigines and their supporters for financial compensation amounting to $6 billion and a percentage of the gross national product per annum to compensate their race for occupancy of land which they claim once belonged to their ancestors and which is now owned by white Australians. This claim, of course, goes against the Blackburn judgment which held that all title to land in Australia must be based on a system of Crown grants. Unfortunately, the comparative developments of the Australian of European descent since settlement and of the Australian Aborigine have so widely differed that the ugly contrast should shake our conscience. The Australian of European descent has continued to advance in both the sociological sense and the economic sense while the Aborigine has been left behind somewhat shattered, demoralised and in a sense dispossessed.

For too long we have in our development and progress ignored the problems facing the Aborigine. The fact that he has remained as a fringe dweller, dwelling on the fringe of our society in both an economic and a social sense until recent times is proof of this. The events of history cannot be reversed. No matter how strongly one may work for the Aboriginal cause, one cannot ignore the fact that the Aborigines cannot be isolated from the total Australian community. They must live within the Australian society and according to the laws of the land while at the same time practising their own religious, cultural and traditional beliefs if they so desire. They can and should be allowed to choose the pace at which they become part of the total Australian society.

However, this hypothesis raises 2 fundamental questions, the first being: Should there be separate development of the Aborigine based on race rather than on need? The second question is: Should there be one law for the Australian Aboriginal and another for other Australians? The 2 questions have been the cause of some debate and give rise to some uncertainty as to what policies we should pursue in order to advance the Aboriginal cause. Indeed, the Woodward Commission will face these fundamental questions when finally determining a recommendation to the Government. While we should ensure that the Aborigine has the choice to preserve his culture and traditions and the choice of remaining within his own society or moving out from it, I do not support the concept of long-term separate development with one law and code for the Australian Aboriginal and another for other Australians. 1 do not want to see our country divided in 2.

For too long, the complex problems of the Aboriginal people living in a European society have not been fully appreciated or understood. For too long some anthropologists and academics have been inclined to think of them as a source of curiosity and academic study rather than appreciating the real need to advance the people socially so that they can take their rightful place within the Australian society, if they so desire. As a recognition of the Aboriginal affinity with land the then Prime Minister announced in January last year that the Government would spend $13m over the next 5 years in purchasing land outside the reserves for Aboriginal groups throughout Australia.

In the Northern Territory there are approximately 95,000 square miles of reserves sei aside for the purpose of Aborigines. That comprises one-fifth of the Northern Territory. Over 100 leases were approved while 1 was Minister for the Interior - leases ranging from pastoral leases to special purposes leases to housing purposes leases. The pastoral leases included Roper River, Bulum and Daly River, a total of 6,000 square miles. I understand that this Government has frozen a considerable number of those leases that I had approved but which had not been finally granted. The former Government tailored a special purpose lease designed to suit the diverse needs of an Aboriginal community to meet their commercial, recreational and ceremonial requirements on reserves in the Northern Territory. There is no earthly use saying that the Aborigines in the Northern Territory did not accept the principle of the leasehold tenure. The fact that they themselves made an application for these leases indicated clearly enough that they were happy to accept land under the same laws and codes that applied to the Australian people generally. What was more important was that on land boards that determined the applications for those leases the Government appointed 2 Aborigines out of the 5 board members so that the Aborigines themselves were making a decision and taking part in the decision itself.

The Government has now established the Woodward Commiission to inquire into land rights of Aborigines in the Northern Territory. As the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) said yesterday, the policy when finally determined will be made the basis of Commonwealth actions in the States. So, a whole new policy of land tenure is in the offing. I agree with the Prime Minister that if the Government introduces new measures or new tenures or titles for the Aborigines in the Northern Territory this principle must also be applied to the States. There is no justice at all in making one law for the Northern Territory Aborigines and another for dispossessed Aborigines in the States. Indeed, the Aborigines or part Aborigines, many of whom live in deplorable circumstances in Sydney and in other capital cities have less land available to them than those in the Northern Territory. For instance, in New South Wales there are only 20 square miles of reserves whereas in the Northern Territory there are 95,000 square miles where the Aborigines have the right to roam, to hunt and to forage over the total area.

I agree with the logic that if a new and special land title is to be formulated to suit the Northern Territory Aborigine on traditional grounds, the same policy must apply in the States. However I wish to conclude by drawing attention to 2 sentences the Prime Minister used yesterday when replying to a question I directed to him. I shall quote the 2 significant phrases from his answer. He said: . . non-alienable non-transferable rights vested in the Aborigines in respect of the land which they have traditionally occupied.

His second phrase was: . . the Commonwealth will exercise its constitutional powers if need be by way of acquisition of these Aboriginal reserves and other relevant lands to which the Aborigines can reasonably claim title.

These statements raise several questions. How does one define an Aborigine? Do part Aborigines have equal claim to land on traditional grounds? How does a part Aborigine establish his claim to traditional land ownership? If the land is non-transferable under a proposed new title, does this mean that a full blood or a part Aborigine, once having obtained that land outside the reserve has no power to sell his land?

If the land has no sale value, what security in terms of capital value has he or his community? Such a title virtually renders his land valueless in a society where the Aboriginal is becoming increasingly involved in a cash economy. I believe that these questions need to be answered and I hope the Woodward Commission will take them into account. I thank the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs for his co-operation and I look forward to working with him in the future.

Debate (on motion by Mr FitzPatrick) adjourned.







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