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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3957

Mr ASHLEY-BROWN (Mitchell) - On 2 December 1972, the Government established the Department of Aboriginal Affairs incorporating the former Office of Aboriginal Affairs with a large part of the Welfare Division of the Northern Territory Administration. Prior to this action, in 1967 the Holt Government set up the Council of Aboriginal Affairs as a result of a referendum held in May 1967. The Council for Aboriginal Affairs advised the government on all

Aboriginal matters. When the present Government came to office on 2 December 1972 the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was formed with the Minister in charge being Mr Bryant, the present Minister for the Capital Territory, who is present in the chamber this evening. The Minister announced an intention to establish a consultative group of Aborigines from all parts of Australia which was to advise him on programs and policies for Aboriginal advancement.

As we all know, the interim National Aboriginal Consultative Committee held its inaugural meeting in Canberra between 21 and 23 February when it elected a steering committee to develop proposals for the consultative group's structures and method of representation. The powers that the 1967 referendum had sought and obtained were really never exercised by the Holt, Gorton and McMahon Governments. All matters with regard to health, education and housing for Aborigines remained as they were. No alteration was made. In speaking to the Aboriginal Affairs (Arrangements with the States) Bill 1973 on 25 September last I pointed out to the House that between 1967, being the year of the referendum, and 1973 a total of $170,478,000 was appropriated for Aboriginal affairs, excluding the amount that was appropriated in the Budget this year. This amount allocated by the Commonwealth to the States over the period 1968 to 1972 was such that one would have thought that considerable improvement would have been evident in the Aboriginal way of life and that health, education and housing over this period would have been greatly improved.

But when one considers this amount and discusses it with officers of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the State Ministers who control Aboriginal affairs and the various organisations that play a part with regard to Aborigines, one realises that $170,478,000 spent over the 5 years, in view of the requirements of the Aborigines and the outlandish places where they live - I refer to the farflung places - and the problems they had with the Government trying to better their conditions, was not all that much. I think it will be found that when everything is finalised there will not be very much left over out of the amount that has been appropriated for Aboriginal affairs this year if we are to do a good job and if we are to see that the Aboriginal way of life is improved. There has been evidence in recent years of an increasing consciousness of the right of Aboriginal Australians to a choice as to the type of future that Government policies are designing for them. Change from the assumption that our society is entitled to expect of Aborigines the supreme flattery of imitation has been very slow.

I return to what was said by John Gorton when he expressed the view that without destroying our Aboriginal culture we want to help our Aborigines to become an integral part of the rest of the Australian people. He said that we want the Aborigines themselves to have a voice in the pace at which this process occurs. Mr McMahon said 'We believe that Aborigines must be helped to take an increasing part in the management of their own affairs.' If this is the case, one cannot understand why those thoughts and intentions were not put into operation. The power to do so was in the hands of the Holt, Gorton and McMahon Governments respectively. They had the power as a result of the referendum. Right up to the change of government the Aborigines were involved only as passive recipients and at most were invited to endorse programs approved for them. If one reads the speech of the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), dealing with the estimates for the Department, one will see that there is incorporated in that, as has been mentioned tonight, approximately 19 pages listing organisations, works, etc. on national and State levels to which $170m has been appropriated in previous years. The amount appropriated this year to practically the same organisations is also shown.

It would seem that in many instances better use could have been made of the money allocated and that the functions of many of the State organisations seem to overlap. This is the first impression one obtains on studying these figures. Having regard to the problems confronting Aborigines - the vastness of the country, housing, health and education - we should ask ourselves whether we could have done the job any cheaper? I do not think we could have. I think that if we are to maintain the level of assistance to Aborigines the amount that has been appropriated this year will just about cover what we require to do. On a recent trip to Moree, Dubbo and Mungundi as a member of the House of Rep resentatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs I found that health and sanitation in these places were at their lowest ebb. Some years ago there was a flood at Moree. The Minister for Youth and Community Services in the New South Wales Government - I will not mention any names - went up there and decided that the Aborigines had to be shifted because they were in a flood area. He purchased about a dozen caravans with a promise)

Mr Hunt - There were twenty.

Mr ASHLEY-BROWN - Apparently there were 20 caravans. The State government had much more money than the Federal government at that time. He purchased about 20 caravans. These Aborigines were settled in the 20 caravans with the promise that within 4 or 5 months or possibly a little longer houses would be built for them. The caravans are still there - what is left of them, together with the galvanised iron shacks that have been built around some of the caravans, and the rag tents that have followed the galvanised iron shacks. It is a disaster area. No effort has been made by the State to improve this situation in any shape or form. With the introduction of the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, which divides the Commonwealth into 41 electorates, we hope that many of the problems that now exist in regard to Aborigines will be overcome. At last the Aborigines will be able to submit their problems to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs as a result of complaints coming from the various areas. We have much more chance of meeting their requirements than under the old system under which we depended upon rumours and so forth coming in.

In addition to the many State and Federal organisations which have been set up for Aborigines, we now have coming into being such organisations as Applied Ecology Pty Ltd, Aboriginal and Island Products Pty Ltd and Aboriginal and Island Marketing Pty Ltd which, of course, have ventured into the field of turtle and crocodile farming mainly for the purpose of benefiting the Aboriginal by keeping him employed, while at the same time providing a product for export. I am sure that the public at large does not know the amount of work being done at the present time in relation to Aborigines by organisations and institutions set up by the Commonwealth Government and the States.

Mr Calder - And the previous Government.

Mr ASHLEY-BROWN - And the previous Government. These organisations include the Sacred Sites for Aborigines Committee and the Committee on Linguistic Studies. All of this work is very important to the Commonwealth because with the mining interests going into these areas of Australia, such .things as sacred sites and Aboriginal dialects will become a thing of the past. Australia today has to preserve the history of its own race. We feel that the NACC will play a major part in indicating what is best for the Aboriginal race and that it will keep the Minister advised in regard to health, education, housing and possible employment ventures. The cost of the introduction of the NACC is possibly a little high, but at least what previous Prime Ministers have spoken of - letting the Aboriginal decide his own life - will now come about and the Aboriginal will have a say in his own affairs.

The last point on which I would like to touch is that in 1952, following the discovery of minerals in the Arnhem Land Reserve, the Commonwealth Government decided that prospecting for and mining of minerals on reserves would be permitted as a matter of national interest. To compensate Aborigines for the loss of their exclusive use of reserve land and the disturbance of their way of life, a trust fund was established in the Northern Territory into which royalties from minerals mined on reserves were to be paid. This fund was set up under section 21 of the Northern Territories (Administration) Act and was originally called the Aboriginals (Benefits from Mining) Trust Fund. The Fund was and is a trust account for the purpose of Section 62A of the Audit Act. Considerable sums of money have been paid into this trust account as a result of mining activities. Once again it has become the responsibility of the Minister to ensure that these royalties are disposed of in such a way that the Aboriginal will benefit from the mining of his land. The Minister now has the power - the legislation has been amended - to decide how he wants this Fund dealt with. We feel sure that the royalties derived from these mining interests will add to the comfort of the Aboriginal and give him a lot of the things of which he has been deprived for many years.

I support the Bill. I feel that the amount of money which has been appropriated is not too much. It is to go to a good cause. It will preserve our heritage. If we do not do these small things - they are small compared with the millions of dollars that we spend on other things - we will be sorry in years to come for not having preserved our heritage.

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