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Wednesday, 10 October 1973
Page: 1842


Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - I wish to pass a few comments on the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) and the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) have raised the question of the turtle farm project in the Torres Strait. In doing so, they have quoted statements made by Senator Georges who had referred to the fact that this matter had been before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation and that certain matters had arisen from the investigation by the Committee.

The history of this turtle farming is that, with the phasing out of the pearling industry in the Torrest Strait Islands, some thought had to be given to another industry which would result in some monetary injection into the cash economy of the Islanders. The general question of using the native fauna of those islands was raised in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. One of the projects which started as an experiment was concerned with whether the hawksbill turtle could be used for curio purposes and the green sea turtle for the supply of turtle meat. The former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), through the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass) referred this matter to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation raising the question whether this project contravened the international convention with regard to endangered species, and also the question of the general conservation aspects of the whole project.

The Standing Committee has heard evidence on this reference. The Committee has been unable to visit the island because of a request not to do so, because discussions were continuing between islander councils and representatives of Papua New Guinea regarding the definition of the border in that area. The Committee accepted that request as genuine. It did not visit the islands because it was suggested that this would cause some confusion in the minds of the islanders. Subsequently Dr Carr, an ecologist who has some concern with a commercial turtle project in the West Indies, was asked to carry out an ecological investigation of this project. These matters are a subject for report by the Standing Committee. That report will be presented shortly to the Parliament.

However, the aspect to which the honourable member for Mackellar referred - I think that he may be under some misapprehension about this matter - is not the experimental concept and discovering the facts of the project, and whether it is operative. Instead, it relates to some severe doubts that have been cast on the early commercialisation of this project. This matter came before the Committee incidentally. It arose out of its other investigations. Severe doubts were raised in the minds of members of the Committee with regard to the propriety of some of the actions in the commercialisation of the turtle farming project and with regard to some administrative matters. The Committee did not investigate them in depth but they did exist and all members of the Committee were concerned about them. Therefore these matters were referred to the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs with a recommendation that they be investigated. That Minister commenced an investigation into the suggested irregularities. I felt that the debate on the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs gave me the chance to put the record straight on this matter. I will in no way preview the Committee's report on the question of the international convention or on the question of conservation. That report will be duly submitted.

Arising out of some of these investigations I would like to make some comment in passing in relation to national parks. In looking at the national park structure it seems strange in view of the make-up of many of our national parks that there is very litle involvement of indigenous Aborigines in the conduct of these great tourist attractions. These people know the mythology and the physical features of the parks and in fact no one would be better equipped to describe and display these areas to visiting Europeans than the indigenous Aboriginal who has a real love for the country which he feels belongs to him. I am hopeful that we will see in the life of this Parliament a much greater involvement of Aborigines in the running of these projects because these people have their own dignity, they have their own distinction and they have their own feeling for these areas.

When I listen to debates in Parliament and in public I am concerned at the extreme paternalism shown by people in regard to this matter. Perhaps it is not deliberate but it is paternalism. I think that this is something which those people who profess to have an interest in Aboriginal Affairs will have to make a very great effort to exclude from their thinking. In dealing with our native Australians we do not want paternalism. What we want is equality of rights for these people. We want respect for the preservation of those things that they desire in their old ways whether they be customs, habits or objects. We respect them and they should have equality of rights. We should give them this opportunity and we should stop being so paternalistic. This paternalistic thinking is not an error that is confined to members on the other side of this chamber; it is on both sides of the chamber and also it exists right throughout the community. I believe that the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs was well aware of this attitude and he was very conscientious in the efforts that he made to remove this paternalistic attitude. I congratulate him on the work he did in the time he had in that portfolio.







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