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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4018

Mr BRYANT (Wills) (Minister for the Capital Territory) - in reply- I thank honourable members opposite for their remarks, those who were critical and those who were not critical. This will not be a lengthy dissertation on the subject as the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) is getting a bit toey at this time of the year. But I will take a few minutes to explain the situation as we found it on taking office and the direction in which we hope we are heading. First of all I wish to comment upon the remarks of the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson). It is true that there is a good deal of concern around Australia that we might be too lavish in our expenditure. I know that the honourable member does not feel like that. But it is true that the community on the whole is likely to look at the situation and say, 'What are you spending all that money on them for?', without paying much regard to the resources that are behind the average citizen in the Australian community, whether he is the citizen who has students at secondary school, the citizen who travels in an airline or the citizen who drives on the roads. Every one of us has very substantial community resources backing him. It is true that the community resources backing the Aboriginal people as individuals or communities throughout most of Australia are minimal indeed. I do not have time to go into that this afternoon but I hope to be able in the next month or two - before the House resumes - to prepare a situation study on this very subject.

The honourable member for Mcpherson mentioned the tension that occurred between myself, as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and the Queensland Government. Actually what I did have was a difference of opinion with the Premier of Queensland. As I understand it, I am not unique in that respect. In fact I got along fairly well in my personal negotiations with the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs and the head of his Department, as long as we did not get around to what one might call general principles. I found it quite easy to deal with them in relation to individual projects. In fact, they were a bit easier to deal with in some areas than my State colleagues in Victoria. There was in fact a sharp difference of opinion between myself and Mr Bjelke-Petersen on his interpretation of our policy on the Torres Straits. I still hold the view that the point he was putting at that time was very disadvantageous to Australia. However, that is for another debate.

This Bill seeks to make grants to the States for the purpose of Aboriginal advancement. Many of the State instrumentalities are gradually being phased out and their staffs are passing into the Australian Government system. But that does not mean that every instrumentality in Australia - Australian governmental, State municipal or private- does not have a role to fulfil. As we see it we have the task of implementing policy matters and taking them through to fruition and of stimulating other people, policing the policy and keeping it under scrutiny. In this respect I want to comment on the remarks of the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) about the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. I conceived this Committee at the beginning of my regime as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I asked myself: How will I be able to get the facts and the feelings of the Aboriginal people themselves? The logical thing to do was to convene some gathering which would be representative of them, if it were possible to do so. I convened the first gathering at the beginning of the year so that we could discuss the matter. I gave them the task of deciding on the system. They appointed their own steering committee, which divided Australia into 41 districts. They set up the whole apparatus of enrolling the Aboriginal people. They set up, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Electoral Office and other authorities, the machinery for carrying out the election.

The honourable member for the Northern Territory said that the election was carried out with undue haste. Actually most of us involved in it were regretful that it seemed to take so long, although one has only to look at the map and consider the geographical situation to appreciate what an enormous task it was. But the major proportion of the work - the administrative exercise - was arranged by the Aboriginal people themselves. Aboriginal members of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and casual employees were involved in enrolling people. At one stage over 2S0 people were involved in this exercise. Somewhere between 38,000 and 40,000 Aboriginal people in Australia enrolled. Nothing like that figure voted. There were 192 -candidates. I take up the point made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory that those people are not necessarily representative. That is true enough. There are large areas of Australia in which the simple electoral system will not produce a person representative of the Aboriginal people. The next step is to find the apparatus by which we can do that. There have been many attacks upon this Committee. I presume that one can expect attacks in any operation of this nature. There have always been advisory bodies of various sorts. These 41 people are to be the eyes and the ears of the Minister. It will be their job to be on the ground, finding out what the Aboriginal people need and reporting continuously on their situation. After long deliberation it was decided that they should receive a salary so that in fact they would be working full-time and would be free of other duties.

We recognise that this is a fairly adventurous undertaking and that, with the Committee not being inside the apparatus of the Public Service, there are certain disciplinary matters that cannot prevail. But we believe that this is the way it must go. At least there will be 41 Aboriginal people on the ground, working for their people as their direct representatives. Every effort will be made to give them full support and to guarantee that they have the capacity to carry out their duties. None of us in this place have any way by which we can give any guarantees about how representative duties will be carried out. But the Government regards this as a very important operation and I hope that as time goes on we will be able to report continuously to the Parliament on its operations. As the body will meet in this city, we make take the opportunity to have a major meeting between the members of this Parliament and the Aboriginal people. The people elected will be Aboriginals from across the board socially. There will be conservative people and radical people. I hope that there are a number of women amongst them. There certainly will be some people who are basically tribal.

Mr Nixon - Will you be there?

Mr BRYANT - I always go wherever I can. Honourable members on the other side of the House asked several questions which I should like to answer. The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) raised the question of the supervision of expenditure and asked for more information. There are 18 pages of simple statements in regard to the organisations in the States to which the money has gone and the areas to which it has gone. I suppose that we could prepare a number of details on each of these instances, but I will refer to just two or three of them now.

Firstly, in relation to the matter of supervision, my friend the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) referred to the question of States grants. That is simple enough; it is the States' duty although it is our responsibility. In the case of non-government organisations, supervision is difficult; but we have instituted procedures by which there can be an internal audit which will provide some supervision without a big brother approach. It is a difficult task, but all the allocations were made in good faith and were based upon a pretty close scrutiny of the situation. Everything that came to me - in the end, I suppose, my signature was on a good number of those things - was scrutinised pretty closely OUt of my own experience of public affairs, out of my very close regard for money and what one ought to be able to do with it and also, I expect, out of a long experience in Aboriginal affairs and of many of the people whom I knew. I can say only that in relation to supervision of expenditure.

The honourable member for Herbert raised the matter of the Glenairy-Sunnyside properties which adjoin the Cummeragunga properties which were acquired years ago and on which we established a co-operative undertaking some 8 years or 10 years ago. This project is one of those that are prospering. It comprises several very fine properties which, added together, will give the project a great deal of viability. I know that when I visited the project some months ago, I took some pride in the fact that I could look at those rolling pastures and the sleek cattle as one of those who had been responsible for the project initially, before it became a government supported enterprise.

The honourable member for Herbert also referred to the purchase of property for an Aboriginal club. He raised the necessity for community centres. From the figure the honourable member quoted, I think he probably was referring to the establishment in Sydney in which basically a club facility is being created which will include an administrative centre for the Aboriginal organisations there. The question of the caravans at Redlynch near Cairns also was raised. One of the members of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Reg Saunders, visited Redlynch and saw on an acre or so of ground the normal miserable shanties. He conceived the idea of replacing those with caravans, with the idea that eventually the people would be rehoused in a proper way. There was no doubt in my mind, when I visited Redlynch, that this project was a complete revolution and that it was a simple and most direct way of housing the people there. Of course, we will not leave the caravans there forever. This is one of those spots where probably there are more people wanting to live on the piece of real estate than is feasible. So, right across the board, this is the way things are being done.

The honourable member mentioned places such as Ernabella and Yanderarra. Again, these are places where there are long established Aboriginal communities which I hope now are receiving adequate support. Take for example the Yanderarra station, as it now is, south of Port Hedland. The Western Australian Government handed over that property to the Aboriginal community, which was formerly a part of Mr McLeod's group, and when I was their earlier in the year they had collected something like $24,000 or $30,000 in income from the cattle project. The question of the legal service was raised. The legal service has been established right across Australia. Legal services are expensive, but all the money which has been allocated for this purpose has not been spent - not by a long shot. The honourable member for Herbert raised the question of the Aboriginal situation in Tasmania. It is a fact that there is quite a community of Aboriginals in Tasmania and, like all Aboriginal people in Australia, they are likely to be victims of the law, even in places where the police are sympathetic. They are most helpless before the courts. We feel that the legal service is one of the major enterprises we have established.

There are just one or two other questions which I wanted to answer. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) mentioned that the Government was providing to the Aborigines an amount of $ 1,000 a head. This is true enough; but, if one takes a simple demonstration of what it means, one can see that the allocations are not unduly lavish. For instance, Palm Island has 1,600 people. We have allotted $375,000 for the water supply and $200,000 for sewerage. That represents a sum of about $3,500 a head for the normal facilities of that Island. Of course, in large areas many people do not receive anything like $1,000 a head, whilst many are capitalised at more than the figure of $1,000.

During the course of my ministry I avoided, as much as I could, any idea of recrimination against my predecessors. We all have to inherit things from the past and I feel that this Government inherited some very substantial obstacles. In the past few months there has been a good deal of consideration and criticism of the turtle farming project in the Torres Strait, and this has been true enough. My colleague, the honourable member for Mackellar, initiated this as a research project. My own view is that it expanded too rapidly.

The former Minister, Mr Howson, at one stage said on television that he had kept the project under strict control and that only $30,000 had been spent during the previous Government's time in office. In fact, in 1970-71, $27,730 was spent; in 1971-72, $117,000 was spent; and, in the 1972-73 Budget, $250,000 was provided for and that amount was handed over shortly after I became the Minister. So, in fact, something like $394,000 was budgeted for in relation to this project during the previous Government's regime. So, we all must accept responsibility for the project. The previous Government had the responsibility for initiating it and my responsibility was to try to make it work. I am certain that the steps we have taken will do that. It will not be easy, but it was an adventurous project and the fact that errors have been made is something that we will have to overcome.

There are other matters from the past to which I could refer but which I will leave for the sake of peace and quiet. I aim grateful for the remarks that honourable members on both sides have made. I know that there are sharp differences of opinion on what should and should not be done; but, generally speaking, at least in Aboriginal affairs, we have arrived basically at a bipartisan policy. If we can continue that, perhaps we will remove this blot from the Australian scene.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommendation appropriation announced.

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