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Wednesday, 17 October 1973
Page: 2246

Mr HUNT (Gwydir) - This matter of public importance is not raised in any way in the spirit of party politics. I hope that the tenor of this debate will be objective and constructive in the interests of the Australian

Aboriginal community. However, the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of the Minister for the Capital Territory, the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), from the portfolio of Aboriginal Affairs has given rise to serious allegations and has brought into light certain matters which should be of grave concern to the House, to the Government and indeed to the nation. In another place Senator Georges made this serious allegation among others:

I undertook certain work . . . which convinces me that the permanent head ... Mr Barry Dexter, deliberately frustrated the decisions of his Minister and in fact worked for and succeeded in obtaining his removal.

He continued:

I regret to say that the Chairman of the Council for

Aboriginal Affairs, Dr H. C. Coombs, cannot escape some of the responsibility.

These are serious allegations and to my knowledge neither the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs nor the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has satisfactorily refuted these serious allegations made by Senator Georges. It is now strongly rumoured - indeed on Federal File' last Sunday it was implied - that the Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs was responsible for the sacking of the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. It was also suggested that while the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs was unable to discuss with the Prime Minister matters relating to the turtle farming project in the Torres Strait, the Prime Minister nevertheless discussed the matter with the Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs.

To my knowledge neither the Prime Minister nor the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has denied these serious allegations. If these allegations are true the Prime Minister has been responsible for a very serious act of injustice against his Minister. In such circumstances it is not the Chairman of the Council who deserves condemnation, but it is the Prime Minister. Undoubtedly the Prime Minister will make this position clear to the House. If these allegations are false, let the Prime Minister deny them and the allegations that have been made by Senator Georges. Until the allegations concerning the Council for Aboriginal Affairs are cleared up there remains the very real question whether the relationship between the Council for Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs undermines the basic responsibility of the Minister to the Parliament.

It is untenable that the Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs should have direct access to the Prime Minister and be able to interpose himself between the Minister responsible for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Prime Minister. Such an arrangement can lead only to confusion at the permanent head and ministerial level. In practice it must lead to the undermining of the basic ministerial responsibility of the Minister to the Parliament. The tenor of a letter from the permanent head of the Department to the Chairman of the Council-

Mr Whitlam - Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to this. It may be sub judice.

Mr HUNT - The matter has been referred to the Privileges Committee so I think that we should leave it there. I turn from that for a moment to the other broader issues involved. But before I do so I want to make the point very clear that if this practice is occurring it is not the fault of the Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs or the Council itself; it is the fault of the Prime Minister and the Government. Surely if the Council for Aboriginal Affairs is to remain in its present form it should be directly responsible to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

In view of the decision - I think a wise decision - that was taken recently to set up a national advisory council for Aborigines one would be forgiven if he deduced that the Council for Aboriginal Affairs is redundant. Turning to the broader issues that are involved in this matter of public importance, I make it clear that I understand the overwhelming difficulties confronting those who in all sincerity seek to better the lot of our Aboriginal people. I in no way condemn or criticise the amount of money that was made available in this year's Budget in an endeavour to advance the Aboriginal people. In no way do I question the sincerity, the purpose or the zeal of the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs who approached his task and his portfolio with unusual energy and dedication. I saw something of this in my electorate when I had occasion to make numerous representations to him. I know that the Aboriginal people in my electorate will forever remain indebted to him for the work that he did on their behalf. Nor do I question the dedication of the officers of the Department and its permanent head. None of us on this side of the House is any less convinced of the need to take positive action and to spend money to help overcome the difficulties of Aborigines and to enable them to take their proper place in the Australian society. But we must seek to ensure that the funds are spent wisely on projects that are approved by Parliament and accounted for to Parliament.

I submit that this is not now happening. In his speech on the States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Bill, the Minister for the Capital Territory incorporated in Hansard a number of tables of proposed expenditure. Table 6 discloses that $1.5m will be spent on legal aid for Aborigines. On 25 September the Minister, in his earlier and happier capacity, made a statement about Nola Brown, the Aboriginal child brought up from the age of 2 weeks in a European home and sadly abducted in Darwin and taken back to her tribal parents in Maningrida, whom she did not know. The Minister said:

I have initiated steps for the necessary inquiries to be made into both the fostering situation and a judicial inquiry into what happened in Darwin.

The Minister undertook to make a further statement when he was better informed. So far this has not been forthcoming. But we read in yesterday's newspapers that a Mr Ryan of the Aboriginal Legal Aid Service was removed from his post. It is now apparent that the abduction was engineered by an officer of the Aboriginal Legal Aid Service. On that day, 25 September, and again later I placed a question on the notice paper seeking from the Minister the terms of reference of the Aboriginal Legal Aid Service. This question has not yet been answered. The Aboriginal Legal Aid Service has always been something of an enigma.

Mr Whitlam - I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. Even in discussion of a matter of public importance the proposer or any later speakers have to speak with relevance to the subject proposed. The matter which the honourable gentleman is mentioning has no relation whatever to any actions or role of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, nothing whatever.

Mr HUNT - It is the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The Government's administration of Aboriginal advancement are the words used.

Mr Whitlam - Mr Speaker, the subject raised is: 'The apparent undermining by the Council for Aboriginal Affairs of the principle of Ministerial responsibility . . .'

Mr HUNT - 'and the Government's administration of Aboriginal advancement'.

Mr Whitlam - But, Mr Speaker, the honourable gentleman has not on this matter made any reference to the Council.

Mr HUNT - I have. You were reading a novel or something. I did indeed. That shows how much interest you are taking in the debate.

Mr Whitlam - Mr Speaker, the honourable gentleman may be trying a little heavy-handed humour. There is no novel before me. The honourable gentleman should be assured that it is quite clear that the only things in front of me are documents relating to this matter which he raised, and Hansards. There is no novel before me. I believe that sort of flippant remark does no credit to the Parliament or even to the honourable member.

Mr SPEAKER -I shall read out the terms of the letter -to make it quite plain. It reads: The apparent undermining by the Council of Aboriginal Affairs of the principle of ministerial responsibility to the Parliament for the functions of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Government's administration of Aboriginal advancement'. I call the honourable member for Gwydir.

Mr HUNT - Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has succeeded in taking up 3 or 4 minutes of my time. I hope he has enjoyed it. No one seems to know to whom the Aboriginal . Legal Aid Service is responsible but it has an appropriation of Sl.Sm. I pose another question in the light of the Nola Brown case: Does the Service seek to give legal aid in the Northern Territory within the law as we know it or does it seek to operate under tribal law where it is believed that some part of our law conflicts with tribal law? If the answer to the latter question is 'yes' then until the law is changed this Service is acting outside the law. I know of no proposal before the Parliament to change the law. I also sought information by way of a question on notice as to whether Nola Brown had been placed with her foster parents by a court order. This question also remains unanswered. If Nola Brown was abducted in defiance of an order of the court, very serious issues arise as to the functions of the Legal Aid Service and the provision of funds for its operation. One would think that before Parliament provides the Legal Aid Service with $1.5m it would need to know whether the money is to be spent according to the law.

Then, of course, we come to the very serious allegations about the turtle farms and the companies established to run these farms. These allegations brought issues to the light of day which are matters of serious public concern. They were made by a Government senator in another place. They were all the more serious since they came from one who was appointed as a director of one of the companies. He should know the facts. Unfortunately, the Parliament, the people, the taxpayers, have not yet been told the facts. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) has assured us that certain papers will be tabled in another place. So far this has not been done. We are also told that the whole project is being investigated by an outstanding world authority on turtle farming. While one could not doubt the expertise of this gentleman one can question whether the investigations will be directed towards whether there has been enough control over the expenditure of taxpayers' money. This gentleman's investigations undoubtedly will not ascertain whether the heavy expenditure on the Woden Valley complex, for instance, has been sound investment or reckless expenditure. Indeed, the appointment of an expert at this late hour to investigate the viability of the project after enormous capital investment has been made underlines the fact that inadequate planning was involved from the commencement. Surely this development heralds a problem and warrants an inquiry.

The turtle farming example could lead one to believe that other projects are doubtful. There is some truth in Senator Georges' allegation that a disaster area littered with failures in the field of Aboriginal projects is developing. Table 6 to which I referred earlier shows a proposed expenditure from this account of neraly $4m. Who is controlling this expenditure? Has it been programmed or will it be spent on some brainwave project without proper assessment? Are these failures fair to the Aboriginal people? Will they give them the confidence that they require? Is this state of affairs fair to the Australian public generally? Is it fair to start off ill-conceived projects and hand them over to the Aboriginal people and sit back and watch the failures develop? Interestingly enough, the table also shows a marked increase in the proportion of funds spent through uncontrolled channels and a decrease in the proportion of funds spent through controlled channels. The enormous increase in expenditure shown in the trust accounts is equal to one-third of the amount made available as grants to the States for welfare purposes. In the housing area, for instance, $17m is being allocated to the housing associations whereas $13m is being allocated to the State housing commissions which provide a very efficient means of expending money for housing purposes.

Then there was the allegation of a Government senator in the other place that all 4 senior officers of the Department have been appointed by the permanent head without prior advertisement, ls this allegation true or false? One wonders whether these questions are only the tip of an iceberg. I firmly believe that a royal commission should be established to inquire into the whole area of Aboriginal welfare and administration. The new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has promised to table certain documents relevant to the turtle farming project. Unless they provide adequate explanation of the allegations made by the senator I will call for a royal commission into this matter myself.

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