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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4017

Mr Eric Robinson (MCPHERSON, QUEENSLAND) - I do not wish to speak at length on this Bill, but there are one or two points I should like to make. The Opposition supports the Bill and I personally see no basic reason for a partisan approach to this matter. The Bill allocates $32,250,000 to the States as against S22m for this purpose last year. The Government has allocated that amount after discussions with the States. It is part of an overall Government expenditure this year of $1 17.4m for the Aboriginal people as against $61. 4m last year. I understand that the latter figure is double the amount provided the year before that. As I see it, the nation does not need to be ashamed although some regrets can be expressed at our record over the years. I am pleased to see that the role of the States in this area has been accepted. I do know something of the Queensland Department which deals with Aborigines. Within that Department there is a dedication and an expertise. This was mentioned, I think, last night by the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) who made, in my view, a considered and reasoned contribution to the debate.

These allocations are desirable. The largest allocation is $ 14.4m for housing, an increase of 35 per cent. We all accept that it is the desire of the Australian people to own their own homes. Therefore, this action in the Bill is desirable. I would hope that when these houses are built the Aborigines become part of the neighbourhood and part of the community life. The allocation for health services has been increased from $3.7m to $ 10.3m mainly for water and sewerage purposes. Particular emphasis has been given to the needs of the rural and remote areas. I do not think any honourable member would dispute the fact that if we are to have good health amongst all sections of the community - which leads to contentment and satisfaction - essential services ought to be given some priority. An amount of $4.6m is allocated for education to cover pre-schools, kindergartens, and both primary and secondary schools. The Opposition believes in equal opportunity for all children. If that objective is to be achieved, education is obviously of supreme importance. Other allocations are made for employment opportunities, working through local authorities, teaching, road making, kerbing and guttering, forestry and flood mitigation. I hope that employment opportunities develop an interest and an expertise within the trades for the Aboriginal people.

Looking at the overall Government expenditure of $ 117.4m in this field, I think the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr

Wentworth) was correct last night in warning the Government that this amount of expenditure could be regarded by some as being too lavish. It is a very large amount. It amounts to more than $1,000 a head. It is important that it be spent wisely and has total community support in Australia. It is not a matter of saying: We are spending over $117; therefore we are doing a lot'. It is what we achieve by that sizable allocation that is important. Unless we achieve what the total community accepts as desirable there will be a backlash. We have seen signs of that already. I hope that they will diminish.

I would like to make 3 points as to the general problem. It is essential to maintain a most harmonious relationship between the Australian Government and the State governments as the State governments will have a continuing role to play. As an Australian, I was concerned about the tensions that existed between the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Queensland Government. I am not going to suggest that they were solely the fault of the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and present Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant), who is now at the table, because I know him to be very genuine and sincere in his service to the nation and to the Government in this area. But it was of concern to all Queenslanders. I know of instances where the rivalry created a degree of wastage. It certainly was divisive. In some areas where common sense should have ruled an emotive content took over. That is not in anybody's interest. It is certainly not in the interests of Queensland. But we do have the assurance from the new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) that ministerial responsibility will be accepted for all expenditure and that all expenditure will be reported to Parliament.

As to special projects, there is of course an element of risk in any project, whether it is conducted by a government or by private enterprise. The success of private enterprise has been due to the success of most of the people engaged in it. The importance of special projects to the Government is that they are successful. Therefore careful consideration needs to be given to the viability of such projects. We know about the problems that have been experienced with the turtle farming enterprise. It was commenced by the previous Government, but it is very true to say that there was a degree of looseness in some sec tions of the administration of the enterprise. Figures I have been given put the administrative costs of the project in Canberra - I understand that the figures are correct - as about 60 per cent. That seems to be too. high for administrative costs for such an enterprise. Assurances have been given that this matter will be thoroughly investigated. I see no conflict between a demand by the Parliament that these ventures be put on a sound commercial basis and with doing what is right for the advancement of the Aboriginal population of this country. If this project can serve one useful purpose it is surely the underlining of what is an acceptable criterion to everyone.

I believe that we can make tremendous progress with this important national problem if we involve the State governments and the local authorities and if we can develop community interest. One hopes that the Aborigines themselves will be involved as much as possible, giving them self satisfaction while at all times maintaining their self respect and dignity. With that in view, I believe that it will not be too many years before we can look back with a very real degree of pride to what we have done with regard to Aboriginal advancement. There is no doubt that many of the details of the Bill Wil require substantial investigation. In the debate yesterday the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) listed at some length a number of items about which he wanted to have more information. I believe that that would be helpful to all members of the Parliament, irrespective of whether they are from the Government or Opposition side of the chamber. Honourable members have pointed out the need for flexibility in housing. There should not be a rigorous approach to the problem generally. The Opposition supports the Bill.

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