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Tuesday, 25 September 1973
Page: 1468

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - It is a pleasure to follow the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) in this debate. I think he made a very sensible and responsible contribution to it, as we have come to expect of him. I do not know whether his reply to the charges made by the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) was an effective one. I will leave it to the honourable member for Griffith to take up the matter at some future stage.

The purpose of this legislation is to transfer power from the States to the Commonwealth - to give the Commonwealth wider powers. I have a desperate anxiety about whether that is a wise thing to do. I have no doubt about the enthusiasm and interest of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant) or, indeed, about his eloquence. It was frequently said before he became a Minister of State, when he was a back bench member of the Parliament, that he would speak under water with weights on. Of course, that would not be said of him now that he is a Minister. But I do pay tribute to his interest, eloquence, enthusiasm and, indeed, generosity. What is worrying me is that I have considerable doubts about his wisdom. I think wisdom is much more important at this time in this field than generosity.

I think it is essential to look very carefully at the proposition that the Commonwealth knows best. I think there is a great discipline in having to live with one's mistakes, as the States have to do. That applies as a general comment about the administration of the affairs of government. It applies particularly to the handling of Aboriginal problems, which are grass roots problems. I have found that there seems to be an inability so far by the Minister and his Department really to think things out. The Commonwealth has not been miserable with its money; no

Let me give the House an example of what happened when the previous Government was in office. One day I went to an Aboriginal settlement, as it was then, and was received with glad acclaim. I said to one of the responsible officers at the settlement: 'To what do I owe such a welcome? Do I deserve it?' He said: 'You have been given credit for what the Government did last week'. I said: 'What did the Government do last week?' He said: 'It increased the unemployment benefit by between $10 a week to $17 a week and you have been given credit for it'. The officer also said that he experienced very great difficulty in getting the Aborigines to apply for work previously and that it would be quite impossible now. That is a sample of generosity as distinct from wisdom. We all know that in certain areas of our community there is a great disincentive to look for work or take work. Not to recognise the failure to look for work as a problem is just to blink the facts of life away.

It is all right to be able to stand up before the United Nations and claim that Australia is treating everybody equally. But to do so at the expense of the happiness and well being of the Aboriginal population, as seems to bc done in many cases, is to pay for popularity at a price that is far too dear. It is all very well to sneer at paternalism and say that paternalism is a bad thing, but just to wash one's hands of the problem /because of the unpopularity that comes with authority and to let things drift along is to buy popularity at the expense of the well being of the Aborigines. It is all very well to give Aborigines the same rights as other people to obtain drink, but, in view of the way in which the drink problem is destroying them, the price of being popular in the general community is a very dear one. It is all very well for the Government to say that it will buy popularity by giving Aborigines land rights. But, if it is done, as it appears to be done in many cases, "without any wise guidance as to how the land rights should be used, it is done at the expense of the well being of the Aboriginal people. We have to be very careful that we resist the temptation to buy electoral popularity at the expense of the wellbeing of the people we seek to serve. This willingness to sacrifice the Aborigines on the altar of political popularity is one of the things about which I am acutely anxious.

In conclusion - I have been asked to be brief - I add that it is no good thinking that the problems of the Aborigines can be buried under a mountain of money, because they will fester there. It is no good thinking that the problems of the Aborigines can be washed away in a torrent of eloquence, because they will still be there when the speeches are finished. As a community and as a Parliament we have an extra responsibility at this time to resist the temptation to think that there are any easy, rapid answers. I think the Minister is acutely aware of this. The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) certainly referred to it. If we think that we can buy political popularity by rushing headlong into some halfbaked ideas, as there is a tendency to do, we run the risk of buying popularity at the expense of the people we hope to help. Members on both sides of the House have a very real responsibility to recognise that there are no easy answers and particularly that there are no rapid answers. In this field the only way that we can get wise and sustained development is by moving with extra wisdom and extra carefulness and recognising that the problems cannot be buried under a mountain of money. I beg the Minister, knowing that he has an active interest and a generous nature in this field, to recognise that in many cases wisdom is much more difficult and much more necessary than generosity.

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