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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 2313

Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - The points raised by Senator Laucke were discussed by Estimates Committee E. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) said in his policy speech that his Government would make all Aborigines equal in law with white men. He said that to achieve this end Aborigines were entitled to legal counsel if they appeared in court. At the time the Government took office many solicitors and barristers in Sydney were giving their time free of cost to a voluntary legal aid service for Aborigines. The Government decided that the cheapest way of honouring the election promise of the Prime Minister was for it to work through such legal aid services. Voluntary Aboriginal legal aid services which are funded by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs have been established in all capital cities. Most of these organisations employ a solicitor on a full time basis who is able to give legal advice to Aborigines. In addition they employ girls to undertake office duties and many of them employ a field officer to ascertain the needs of Aborigines in a particular area. An amount of $1.5m is funded to such organisations. In addition to the payment which the Department makes to legal people employed permanently by these organisations it also pays for the services of private counsel who are required to assist in legal cases.

A question was asked about 2 different sets of figures which appeared in the estimates for the Department. I think that the reason for the 2 sets of figures has been thoroughly explained. The amount which is appropriated to the trust fund operated by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is set by way of agreement between the Minister and the Treasurer. In this case the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs did not agree with the original estimate which had been submitted and printed and therefore the figure was altered. As a result a new set of figures had to be produced and pasted over the old ones. The Estimates Committee considered the figures which were pasted over the original ones. The fact that a new set of figures had been pasted over the previous ones created some suspicion among some honourable senators.

The estimate for turtle farming, as honourable senators have been told, has been reduced this year to $700,000. The future of the turtle farms is now under consideration. Senator Wright was of the opinion that it would not be advisable to spend another dollar on turtle farming, but turtle farming is the only viable venture in those places where such projects have been established. We are faced with a position in which the only means of livelihood of a population of some 300 people of an island has been taken away because the oyster beds in that area have been worked out. We have to find something else for those people to do. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation produced a report recommending that turtle farming should be run as as conservation project on a cottage farm concept in which turtles would be farmed and then released into the sea as a means of maintaining and ensuring turtle stocks which are being depleted. This is one of the considerations which the Government will have to give to the report of that Committee. I think the Committee reported that the commercial farming of turtles should be phased out over a period.

The Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) engaged the services of Dr Carr, who teaches at an American university and who is a world expert on turtles, and Mr Smart, an accountant from Melbourne, to examine the viability of the project. Both of these men have produced separate reports which are receiving the consideration of the Government. Without disclosing what is in the reports I can say that the recommendations are not consistent with the recommendations in the report of the Parliamentary Committee which has been tabled in the Senate. The Government must decide whether to continue turtle farming as it is operating at the moment, to eliminate expenditure on turtle farming, to adopt the recommendation of the parliamentary committee and use turtle farming as a conservation project or to adopt the recommendations of Dr Carr or Mr Smart which would ensure a continuation of the project for some time.

Senator Wright - Did you say that the report from these gentlemen had been published?

Senator CAVANAGH -No, I said that they had been received by the Minister. The Government will make a decision on the future of turtle farms next week. Immediately that decision is made the reports submitted by Dr Carr and Mr Smartwill be tabled in this Parliament. Someone can then move that the reports be printed and a debate can follow. The form that the turtle farm will take in the future is uncertain. The appropriation shows the money that will be necessary to continue with it, if it is carried on as it has been conducted in the past. Of course, the $155,000 that was allegedly spent on an office block- on the renting of an office- is not a correct figure; the renting of the office cost somewhere in the vicinity of $25,000. Added to this there was some $38,000, 1 think, for some furnishings and shifting, which is not a recurring account, but that still does not make up anywhere near $155,000. It was thought incorrectly that this expenditure was solely for annual rental; it includes the shifting costs plus the payment made to farmers, and so on.

Senator Wright - What did it amount to?

Senator CAVANAGH -Somewhere in the vicinity of $25,000 for the annual rental of the tower office at Woden. It is false to say that the rental of that office block was $155,000. It was not.

Senator Wright - Can you tell us where the figure came from?

Senator CAVANAGH - The figure was mentioned by Senator Georges in a debate in the Senate.

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