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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3959

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) - First of all, I would like to say that this debate has been a good one. The 4 honourable members who have taken part in it so far have contributed constructive remarks. I have no doubt that those honourable members were sincere in what they said. It is obvious that they have to a greater or lesser degree taken a conscientious and meaningful interest in Aboriginal affairs. I would like to commence my contribution to this debate by paying a tribute to the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs who is sitting opposite me at the table at the moment - that snowy-haired old rascal, the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant). It is with a great deal of regret that I refer to him as the Minister for the Capital Territory. I do not know whether his move from the portfolio of Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to that of Minister for the Capital Territory can be interpreted as some sort of political manoeuvre, but when he went out of office a tribute was paid to him by both sides of the House.

I would like to give my credentials as to my experience among Aboriginal people. I have spent a complete lifetime among them. I preface my remarks by saying that no one has to tell me about the thinking, the living, the desires or the hopes of genuine and sincere Aboriginal people. I found that when Gordon Bryant took office there was a feeling of confidence among Aboriginal people, not that there was any lack of confidence in the previous Minister or the Minister before him. It was well known that Billy Wentworth and his wife spent many long months among the Aboriginal people getting to know them and their way of life in order to make a realistic evaluation of what could be done and should be done for .these people. However, I believe that there was a feeling of great acceptance of Gordon Bryant when he became Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

But then came bewilderment. Let me stress that not for one moment would I reflect on the new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh). But the fact is that the Aborigines did not know the new Minister. They had a feeling of great bewilderment almost immediately that the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs went out of office.

They felt that suddenly someone who they had come to recognise as having a sincere and genuine interest in their affairs had been removed. This action was a blow to the genuine Aboriginal people. I regret to say that this bewilderment persists.

I support this Bill. The legislation provides finance which if used and applied' correctly will bring tremendous benefit to each of the States involved. The State of Queensland which the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) and myself represent is the State, perhaps with the exception of the Northern Territory which is the responsibility of the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder), most involved in Aboriginal Affairs. Hence we have a real and very lively interest in what will happen to the finance that will be made available. I wish to read to the House the answer that was given by the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), who was the previous Minister for the Interior, in a genuine desire to clear up a matter concerning turtle farming. I believe that the answer given by the previous Minister is relevant to this debate. The question put to the Minister was:

(1)   Will the Minister make available to the Parliament the Auditor-General's Report on the conduct of Applied Ecology Pty Ltd and Islander Marketing Pty Ltd?

(2)   If so, when will the report be presented to the Parliament?

In layman's language the question asked: What happened to the turtle farm?' In his answer Mr Bryant made a genuine attempt to clarify the position. As far as I know and as far as we can see the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is pursuing this course. The reason why I am bringing up this matter is to express the hope that this question will be pursued and clarified and that the facts will be revealed to the Parliament and to the people of Australia. The answer from the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is as follows:

A firm of chartered accountants and not the Auditor-General was appointed by the directors as auditor, for the purposes of the Australian Capital Territory Companies Ordinance 1962-73, of Applied Ecology Pty. and Aboriginal and Islander Marketing Pty Ltd. Consequently, it is not the Auditor-General's responsibility to report on the conduct of these companies or to inspect and audit their accounts and records.

The Auditor-General's responsibilities are limited under the Audit Act to ensuring that payments made to the companies from the Public Account have been approved by the competent authority. A similar situation exists with regard to his responsibilities under the Aboriginal Enterprises Assistance Act in respect of payments made to the companies from the Capital Fund for Aboriginal Enterprises.

The Minister goes on to say in his answer:

I might add that the Audit Act makes no provision for Ministers to request reports from the AuditorGeneral on particular matters. In accordance with that Act, the Auditor-General includes in his Report to the Parliament such information as he thinks desirable in relation to those examinations and inspections carried out by him in pursuance of the provisions of the Audit Act or any other Act.

Here was a general probe to ascertain just what were the powers of the Auditor-General. Apparently, they were not such that the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs could produce and reveal to the House the actual details of this whole operation. So the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh), obviously with an equal desire to have the matter clarified, has promised that he will pursue the question. We would certainly hope that he does.

It is interesting to note that there was not a great deal of regard for the ecology in this matter. The name of the company includes the word 'ecology', but I am afraid that not a great deal of consideration was given to the environment when the whole operation began. From what I can learn, it appears that environmental consequences were not taken into consideration. I believe that the clams are eating the worms and the turtles are eating the clams, so if you want to have turtle soup you can have noodles at the same time. Hence, there has been a great imbalance and a complete maladjustment of the environment. It is fairly obvious that this conglomerate will not assist in the rather worthy project of raising 39,000 turtles. I rather think that we will have to go elsewhere if we want our turtles. However, this is only one particular project.

I notice that this Bill involves the expenditure of $32,250,000 and that of this, $14,422,000 will be allocated to housing. I think it was hoped that this money would be sufficient to build 1,100 houses. May I say with a great deal of pride that if the kind of operation that is happening in my home town of Cloncurry takes place throughout this nation, we will build at least twice that number of houses. A very worthy gentleman, the Reverend Alan Lanham, who I am sure is known to honourable members, has begun an operation which has been in existence for, I think, a year or two. Reverend Lanham is a

Methodist minister who has taken some time off from his ecclesiastical responsibilities. I might mention also that he is a master builder. With voluntary Aboriginal labour, he has made quite an achievement. We who have spent our whole natural life living, working and playing with Aboriginal people, know that they must do the sort of work to which they are adapted. A rather remarkable thing is happening in the town of Cloncurry where a stranger - a Methodist minister and master builder named Alan Lanham - I repeat his name for honourable members - came into the town. He has been able to encourage enough voluntary labour among the Aboriginals to build home after home - top quality houses - for perhaps one-third less than they woud normally cost. Perhaps the figure is even more favourable than that. There is a threefold advantage in this. Firstly, the taxpayer is seeing his money used to the best advantage. Secondly, there is an involvement - this is terribly important - among Aboriginal people. They feel that they belong and that they are part of the whole project of building these homes. Lastly, they are probably among the best homes in the town. One thing was observed. I pay tribute to a previous Premier of Queensland, Mr Pizzey, who laid down strict guidelines for Aboriginal housing. When he approved of funds for the construction of these homes in outback centres, he said that they must be built in various parts of the town; there was to be no such thing as segregation or the setting up of specific communities. I know that a former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Wentworth, was acutely aware of this same provision. These houses are a splendid example of co-operation between the Aboriginal people and someone who was dedicated to their advancement, progress and decent housing. I assure the House that the allocation of $14,422,000 would be spent to the best advantage if the same principles were applied throughout Australia. If we could get the same type of person, as Alan Lanham there would be no difficulty in building homes for Aboriginal people.

There is an extremely important factor that no one would understand better than the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant), the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) and the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). If one is going to house Aboriginal people in the sort of housing that they want, somehow or other one must strike a compromise between a modern, well-built home and a dwelling that somehow suggests to them that they are still out in the open air. I am not an architect but we have gone close to it out there. We must not make the break too severe. Do not push them. I remember the honourable member for the Northern Territory, after 30 years experience of living among these people and winning their confidence, warning us many times in this House not to push them too far lest we break their hearts. It must be done without a great deal of fuss. However, we are achieving decent housing for Aborigines. It is a matter of how we do it.

There is an allocation of $ 10.3m for health. It is an achievement for an Aboriginal to reach adulthood and to enjoy continued good health. This means that there is a rather worrying degree of infant mortality. This is a source of worry to everyone who has lived among Aborigines and knows their history and what is happening to them. Sister Stacey is well known throughout Australia for her magnificent work for Aboriginals at Alice Springs Hospital, where her specific responsibility has been the training of Aboriginal mothers in maternal and child welfare. Through the good grace of the honourable member for the Northern Territory I had a long conversation with her. She told the story that Aboriginal mothers, being extra maternal if such a thing is possible, were quite wonderful when it came to learning the procedures and techniques of raising children according to modern standards. They would come in from primitive places such as tribal grounds, stay for a few weeks, and in no time learn to look after their babies with infinite care. They would go away fully qualified, probably with a rate of advancement better than that of European mothers. The great sadness was that in no time they would revert to their tribal customs. I have never checked this out, but I believe it.

The sort of Aboriginal with whom I have had a close association is somewhat different, which bears out what my colleague says, namely, that there are various categories of Aborigines. This is one of the clear indications that a uniform set of rules for Aborigines throughout Australia would not be satisfactory. It appears that with these people who move from tribal ground to tribal ground, or to various parts of their tribal ground, the custom is for the healthiest child to receive the major care. Hence the health of the very small and very delicate infants is very likely to decline and all the good work that takes place at the maternal and child welfare centres is lost. This is one of the great problems that everyone interested in the welfare of Aborigines is trying to solve. It is not just a medical problem; it is something that goes back into the very hearts and makeup of the Aboriginal people and is not easy to solve. When we think of their health we think more particularly of the health of the infants and small children.

May I say, with a good deal of feeling, that it did not help one iota when this Government dispensed with the free milk scheme. If anything contributed to the health of Aboriginal children it was the half pint of milk, or whatever the quantity was, that they received each day. Regrettably that concession was removed quite suddenly. I have appealed to the Treasurer (Mr Crean), and I do so again, to reconsider what was a pretty petty decision - the decision to take free milk away from the children, particularly the Aboriginal children of the outback.

I refer now to special works projects. Most of my experience of the activities of Aborigines and their more lucrative and more prolific types of activity was gained in the area where I have spent, and am still spending, my lifetime - the north west of Queensland. If I was to focus on one particular activity of the Aborigines I would look more specifically at Mornington Island. There I was able, with my colleague the honourable member for Mackellar, to sit down and confer, on a number of visits, with the Aboriginal Councils. They told us quite frankly that if they are doing the sort of work that they do not like they are not much good to anyone. However they said that if they are given something to do that they understand and know they will prove superb at it, although they were not the actual words used. I do not know whether salmon abound in the Gulf but their particular kettle of fish, their particular attribute, was their knowledge of those waters. Honourable members may not know this but they foreshadowed that the prawns would disappear for a particular period. There then came a great crisis in the prawn fishing industry because there were no prawns anywhere in the area for some months. The

Aborigines had foreshadowed this; they knew the waters. They appealed to be permitted to establish their own fisheries industry.

The point I am trying to make is that the Government - no doubt it is doing this in the best way it can - should gain local knowledge and let the Aborigines indulge in activities in which they are expert and then they will make a very profound contribution not only to their own advancement but to the advancement of the particular area in which they live.. I think of some of the mining communities that require food. I will not name any specific operation. The Aborigine is in his environment in, for example, raising cattle to supply the meat needs not only of a particular mining enterprise, such as that at Gove, but also that of the towns and the developing areas in that particular part of Australia. Aborigines should be given the opportunity of developing these enterprises.

Twenty minutes seems a fairly long time to talk but when one has spent a lifetime among people and one has so much to say, those 20 minutes seem to go by very quickly. I conclude by saying that the Aborigines of Australia differ. I would put them into 3 or 4 categories. There is a group of opportunists who, let us face it, are not genuine Aborigines and who will exploit genuine Aborigines who are part of the early and almost forgotten history of this nation. I pay full tribute to a second group - I do not like to hear people talk about the city slicker type of Aborigines - who live in the cities, who have come out of their natural environment and who have obtained university degrees. I had better not start naming people. These people are dedicated to the advancement of their race. They are dedicated in an academic sense.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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