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Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2419

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I wish to say a few words about this States Grants (Aboriginal Assistance) Bill because it affects Queensland. I support the remarks of Senator Rae and the amendment he has moved. I am afraid that in the course of my remarks I will be a little critical of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh). He certainly is doing his best under difficult circumstances but I believe his choice of advisers as to the Queensland position has not been good. He has been ill advised on many subjects and I will refer to them in the course of my remarks. Senator Cavanagh has taken $3,190,000 off the vote for Queensland under this Bill. He has stated that he cannot get the Queensland Premier and the Queensland Minister concerned to discuss matters with him. The Premier of Queensland has advised this Government, I believe on a Premier to Prime Minister level, that his Government is absolutely opposed to handing over any of the land reservations in Queensland because- I have been told that he has said this- it would lead to a State within a State and he will not have that. Otherwise the Queensland authorities have never refused to discuss matters with Senator Cavanagh, the Minister.

Senator Cavanagh - That is wrong. That is incorrect. What about Palm Island?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - The Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs, Mr Hewitt, has never refused to meet anybody.

Senator Cavanagh - He did, by correspondence.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I have known Mr Hewitt for many years and I am sure he would not refuse to meet Senator Cavanagh. Senator Cavanagh visited Queensland not so long ago. He went to a so-called conference at Weipa. Just before that he brought in this Bill.

Senator Keeffe - What do you mean by saying it was a so-called conference? He had a good conference at Weipa.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) -Senator Keeffe had his say a little while ago and I will have mine now. Senator Cavanagh made this visit just after he introduced this Bill into the House. I want to quote a question and answer which appear in the Hansard report of the Queensland Parliament for Wednesday, 23 October 1974. Mr Ahern asked the Queensland Minister for Conservation, Mr Hewitt, the following question:

(1)   Has he seen Press reports indicating a cut-back in funds from the Commonwealth Government to Queensland for Aboriginal welfare?

(2)   What will be the effects of this decision on Aborigines?

The following answer was given:

(1)   and (2) I am aware of the reports and also have seen the Bill, the States Grants Aboriginal Assistance Act 1974 introduced by Senator Cavanagh last week which provides for a payment to Queensland in 1 974-75 of $ 10,362,000.

In his Budget the Treasurer provided an amount of $13,552,000 so that in effect Senator Cavanagh proposes reducing Queensland's allocation by $3,190,000 in spite of commitments in writing given by him and his Department as well as consultation at officer level which indicated the amount as being for housing for Queensland 's Aborigines.

Although, even based on the Commonwealth census figures, Queensland has at least 34.58 per cent of Australia's total Aboriginal people, Senator Cavanagh is reducing allocation of moneys on their behalf to only 25 .4 per cent of the total.

I am greatly concerned over this action by Senator Cavanagh as it has now become necessary for me to have my Department carry out an exhaustive investigation of total fundings which at this stage appears to require a drastic reduction in the housing programme activity which must be disastrous not only for the building industry generally in the State, but as well dash the hopes of so many Queensland Aborigines for an early relief of their housing problems.

On the other hand, we have the Federal Minister for Housing (Mr Johnson) at the weekend stating he was very worried at the low commencement rate for new buildings in Queensland, yet at the time he must have been fully aware of this action by Senator Cavanagh which can only contribute to further chaos in the building industry.

It is futile for the Senator to claim that he proposes reallocating the money so that Queensland 's Aborigines will not be disadvantaged when he is fully aware that his Bill reallocates the amount to other Slates and also that during the past financial year his Department underspent by $9m in the housing section alone, as indicated in the Treasurer's Budget Speech.

I feel, therefore, I must emphasize to honourable members that any further unemployment or slump in the building industry in Queensland will be the direct responsibility of the Federal Government.

I can only assume that his reducing funds is based on a desire to retard the improvements and developments in Aboriginal welfare in this State which so significantly highlight the failures in the Northern Territory and other areas under direct Federal influences and policies which have been admitted as disasters.

The previous speaker, Senator Keeffe, mentioned Old Mapoon. I do not think that he stated the facts correctly. Mapoon was finally abandoned. It was not a departmental settlement, except at the very end. It was run by the Presbyterian Church. The population kept dwindling, and when the Presbyterians could not obtain any more missionaries to run the place the Department took it over for a little while and then decided to abandon the settlement.

Senator Cavanagh - Where is that?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) -Old Mapoon. The soil there is unsuitable for gardens or for growing anything. There is a lack of water supply in the dry times. The underground water supply has such a high bacteria count as to be almost unusable. The available water is polluted. In the wet time when the river ran, in the previous settlement it ran through the latrines, the kitchen and the dining room. Consequently, there was a high incidence of disease. There was a 25 per cent incidence of hookworm, the highest in Australia. About 10 years ago the Queensland Director-General of Health inspected the area and condemned it utterly. There has been talk about the people being removed at gunpoint. This is absolutely wrong. I am informed that when the last few people were taken away the only guns in evidence belonged to a couple of the old men who took their fowls, dogs and everything with them. The guns had been used for hunting. Statements have been published- I do not know to whom they are attributed- to the effect that the site was cleared for bauxite mining. That is not quite right either, because the Queensland Government has reserved an area up and down the coast and to a certain extent inland which, as an Aboriginal reserve, cannot ever be used for rnining. It is not available to the rnining companies. It is not part of their lease.

Senator Cavanagh - But Old Mapoon is. The mining lease is held by Comalco.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) -I beg to differ. There is a story about burning down the huts.

Senator Keeffe - Mr Deputy President,I want to raise a point of order. The honourable senator is reading from a brief. It has been badly compiled. I think that he should not be able to read his speech in this Parliament. He ought to be made to comply with the Standing Orders and not read his speech.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Milliner)- Order! No point of order is involved. I think that the honourable senator is referring to copious notes. At the same time I think that the honourable senator should adhere to the Standing Orders.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I am not even reading from copious notes. I am using as notes a few words on a page.

Senator Keeffe - Just a letter from the Premier.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - The honourable senator may read it if he likes. I will give it to him. As I was saying, the position with regard to the buildings on this settlement being burnt down is that after the people had left the place and eventually had gone further north a few of them were sent back to clean up the rubbish. They did a few days work there. They burnt the rubbish. Some of the original shacks are still standing. What is more, for Senator Keeffe 's benefit the

Queensland Government built a holiday home for residents of Old Mapoon so that they could come back and stay there, for fishing and hunting or for sentimental reasons if they wanted to. It was hardly ever used.

Senator Keeffe - I thought you said it was full of hookworm. There is too much hookworm to live there but not too much for holidays. Make up your mind.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I can make up my mind. After Senator Cavanagh's conference at Weipa- I do not know how many were present there- one newspaper report said 'Blacks will defy State over land'.

Senator Poyser - Which newspaper was that?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - It was the 'Courier-Mail' of Friday, 1 November.

Senator Keeffe - At what page?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - At page 9. It contains a quotation from the statement which was apparently made to Senator Cavanagh by a Mrs Jean Jimmy, an original Mapoon resident. She is supposed to be one of those going back there. Senator Cavanagh did not investigate the health position or the other conditions that I have mentioned. According to the Press reports he has agreed to give the people more transport and some camping gear to start another settlement in this unsuitable spot. In case Senator Cavanagh wants further information on the position I will quote from a letter from Reverend G. L. Filmer of St Paul's Presbyterian Church, Gordonvale. He was the last missionary in Old Mapoon. Amongst other things, he wrote:

The only wrong thing with moving Mapoon is that it was not done ten or fifteen years ago. Most of natives who were there 6 years ago were reasonably educated- they could read, write, handle currency, owned motor boats, horses, radios, rifles and all spoke English. They could live in a town as well as any white man (which has been amply proven) and the impression gained will be that such folk ought not to be on a reserve at all.

It is a reasonable thing however for an uninformed person to ask, ' Why not let the people stay on their original place? '

The Presbyterian Church and the Queensland Government would have been only too happy to do this, only for the fact that the old site of Mapoon is less than worthless- in fact it was a constant liability. The site is on an exposed peninsula; the whole terrain consists of deep drifts of sterile sand which is very hard to cultivate without the addition of huge quantities of humus and water. The sand causes buildings to topple, blows into every nook and cranny under the pressure of high winds, penetrates stationary engines, ruins the mechanisms of vehicles and causes eye troubles among the children.

The area is impregnated with hookworm, resulting in anaemia and low resistence to illness. Plagues of mosquitoes are frequent. I have been all over Queensland and have not seen the flies worse anywhere. Anyone who has been told that Mapoon is a good place has been gravely misinformed, and it is small wonder that during the 10 years from 1950 to 1 960 there were no fewer than 7 superintendents.

Senator Keeffe - Who said that? What is his name?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - He is Reverend G. L. Filmer. He is in charge of St Paul's Presbyterian Church at Gordonvale. It was mentioned as part of the Weipa story that, according to the Minister's informants, conditions at Normanton were not good. Not long ago Mr Dexter, who is the senior officer in Senator Cavanagh 's Department, and Dr Coombs visited Normanton. I think that they made a report about it. I do not know whether it was a written report. They agreed that conditions in Normanton were pretty good.

Senator Cavanagh - When was this, senator?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) -I will try to find the date for the Minister. The report was made and a limit was put on the number of houses that could be built each year in Normanton. When I was last in Normanton- not too long ago- I saw the type of houses that the Queensland Government is building for the aboriginals there on the high ground near the old railway station. They are proud of these cottages. They have plenty of room, a good water supply and room for gardens. At the present rate if they can only get enough money to build these houses- not have it cut off- they will have the whole problem at Normanton under control.

Senator Cavanagh - Normanton told us that they will not build another aboriginal house there until the Queensland Government puts water there.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I do not know about that. I am talking about the visit of Senator Cavanagh to Weipa- the week before last, I think it was. I should like to quote again from a rather lengthy answer from the Queensland Hansard of 31 October. A question was addressed to Mr Hewitt, as the Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs. The question was:

(   1 ) Is he aware of the present visit of Senator Cavanagh to Weipa?

(2)   What is the nature of the visit and is it causing further disruption and unrest among Aborigines?

Senator Keeffe - Who asked the question?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - Mr Crunchenasked the question on behalf of Mr Ahern. The answer was as follows:

(   1 ) and (2) From Press reports and a telegram two days ago from Senator Cavanagh, I understand that he is visiting Weipa at the end of calls at a number of other centres. There is no doubt that the visit is designed primarily to endeavour to create unrest and disharmony amongst Aboriginal people, and I would forecast also for party political purposes in view of the election, but especially as a result of a particularly vitriolic attack on him and his department by a group of Aborigines in North Queensland. I have a copy of the message sent to him, but at this stage must respect the privacy of those who told him they have no trust in him or his department. 1 am sure that the whole exercise is most embarrassing to Senator Cavanagh and must have been aggravated by yesterday's efforts in Canberra when the people his department has been financially sponsoring for so long, finally turned upon their masters. I very much regret having to foreshadow his intent as I have at all times endeavoured to encourage both the Commonwealth Government and others to refrain using Aborigines as political 'footballs' and political pawns'. My information on the so-called Weipa conference conveys that it is a determined attempt by radical people in North Queensland, as a result of manipulation by Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs' officers and others, to create distrust and unrest amongst former residents of Mapoon. The vast majority of these people over many years have established themselves in conventional urban society in many towns in Queensland and are raising families of whom anyone could be proud. The Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs through its various agencies, has gathered together numbers of the former residents from Silkwood, Townsville, Cairns, Normanton and other northern centres. Senator Cavanagh, with an entourage of Canberra officers, is visiting Weipa today in a VIP aircraft, but also there have been at least three special aircraft charters, at public expense, including a DC3, to convey people from Cairns, Normanton and northern centres. There is no doubt that a preliminary meeting at Weipa yesterday, under the chairmanship of Mr Joe McGuinnes of Cairns, who is well known for his radical left-wing attitudes, is nothing more than designed to tear at the heartstrings and the emotions of such people, who are well adjusted, and are bringing up their children as normal and conventional Queenslanders.

It can do nothing more than create further emotional and family disruption and probably destroy the painstaking work of years on the part of the families, the Presbyterian Church and my Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs, who have done all possible to assist in the transitional stage of urban living which the people voluntarily undertook. 1 can only express my extreme sorrow that a Minister of the Crown would be associated with such a project. There is no doubt in my mind that the whole exercise is a deliberate attempt designed to force upon Queensland's citizens, the recommendations of the Woodward Report in the Northern Territory and the objectives of the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs, which are to create black' States inhabited only by Aboriginal people in an apartheid situation, to the overall detriment primarily of the people themselves and secondly Australia as a nation. I must emphasize that the site of the former Mapoon Mission has been preserved by the State Government as a holiday area and people encouraged to visit there from time to time as they would wish and numbers have done so. I have no doubt that the majority of the former Mapoon people are wise enough to see through the obvious manoeuvres of this diabolical attempt to subvert them from being citizens of Queensland and Australia and reject it with the contempt it deserves. 1 am informed that last night at Normanton, the Minister's response to a simple request by the local authority (the Carpentaria Shire Council) for a few thousand dollars to improve the water supply, to permit extension of services to more Aboriginal homes was a threat to virtually annihilate the town by fostering a separate 'village' of Aboriginal people. Surely apartheid in the extreme! Yet at the same time, he must be aware that his department's secretary, Mr 13. Dexter, and the chairman of his Advisory council, Dr H. C. Coombs, have stated that the rehousing program for Aboriginal people at Normanton is more than satisfactory and proceeding at a rate within the absorption capacity of the

Aboriginal people and the town itself. After his tour of the west and visits to some selected centres, including border camps of refugees from his Northern Territory policies which he himself has described as a national disaster, he claims neglect and underspending. Until he became Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, he probably was never out of a city or into the spinifex and seen Aborigines in real life. I must refute such allegtions by this despicable dealer in despair of his own creation. The facts are that contrary to his claims, his own actions have virtually condemned hundreds of families to despair by his diverting to other States more than three million dollars, allocated by the Commonwealth Treasurer to Queensland in his budget. Surely he will recall his approval of one million dollars, as advised in the following telegram of March 22:- 'Your telegram re housing funds stop Minister has just approved of your being authorised to undertake additional commitments up to one million dollars during current financial year against additional funds of this amount being included in next years allocation stop This course being adopted because release of additional funds now would require appropriation by Parliament and would take time stop If however you have savings on other sections which could be utilised for housing this could be authorised with ministerial approval stop Should you favour this course as well please provide details.' He further gives the lie to his words of underspending by his own letter of May 26, 1974, which reads: '. . . I refer to your letter of May 1 1974 detailing the anticipated carry-over of funds as at June 30, 1974 and recommending a further commitment against the 1974-75 program of $1,271,000 to be used to continue the housing program. I am now pleased to inform you that I have approved a further commitment, making a total of $2,271,000 of additional funds available to continue the 1973- 74 housing program. My department will adjust the 1974- 75 request to include the additional commitment . . . ' How can anyone have confidence in a Government comprised of such persons! I am sure honourable members would be interested in hearing the attitude of a number of Aborigines as conveyed in a telegram on October 22 to Senator Cavanagh, a copy of which has been made available to me:- '. . . So far you have done nothing to help Mapoon people except promises stop.

Yesterday police and DAIA threatened Jerry Hudson in Weipa not to return to Mapoon stop Transport is needed now supplies are needed now stop We are busting our guts to keep supplies going to keep police and DAIA away from Mapoon while your useless mistrusted office 'boys' in Cairns write you false reports stop In our books you are just as bad for your braggadocio false promises and time-wasting tactics while the people with the guts are now being threatened and intimidated and you have the gall to say you are waiting and considering a further report stop Just where do you stand? If you stand at all stop Whose side are you on anyway? You shot your mouth off saying you would fund Mapoon as soon as people moved back stop They trusted you and your promises but you have let them down very convincingly stop You have had one month to put your money where your mouth is but again you have failed miserably stop Meeting must be held in Weipa or Mapoon where the real people are where the action is taking place stop Restrictive boycott with the Press and TV and the people will be put on any such meeting in Cairns stop Also this meeting must be organised by one of our North Queensland representatives who is trusted by the people not Grimwade nor Wallace stop Give us Joe McGuinness to organise this meeting stop We won't accept any other of your stooges stop By the way we used our own money for this telegram. ' A report just to hand from Cunnamulla advises many complaints from the Aboriginal people there about the visit of Senator Cavanagh and more particularly members of his party, who invaded their homes and their privacy for photographic purposes without prior permission or approval. A petition of objection has been delivered to the department's officer who says the people are particularly irate over the photographing of a young lad standing outside a toilet door. They consider this a gross invasion of personal privacy and are seeking legal advice on possible action against the offenders. I sympathise with the people of Cunnamulla who have been subjected to such intolerable circumstances as a result of the Senator's visit and can assure them that whatever action my department can take to redress their wrongs will be readily available.

Senator Cavanaghhas made a statement that he intends, amongst other things, to try to throw open the Queensland reserves to any Aboriginals who care to go to them. I think that he is a little out of touch with the Aboriginal councils which run these reserves. He is not fully conversant with the position. I have been to Palm Island and to other reserves. I have met the members of the councils who have been elected by the people in a democratic ballot. One thing that the Aboriginal people want to keep is this permit system which allows people to come to the reserves only with a permit.

I will take the position on Palm Island. There is accommodation for about 1,200 people there. All the facilities are there for that number of people. If the reserve were thrown open to Aboriginal visitors from all over Queensland and elsewhere I am sure that as it is such an ideal place to live the population on the Island would probably double in a short time. What would be the position then? The houses would be overcrowded and there would be many other problems. There would be more people than the water supply, power and other services could cope with. I think that Senator Cavanagh should respect the wishes of the elected councils regarding this matter of the permit system. Whatever he thinks about other things, about the reserves and about what the Queensland Government has done- he has the right to his opinion on those matters- he should respect the wishes of the local people regarding this matter of the permit system. Every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island reserve in the State has its elected council. Most of the councils are pretty well run. They have asked that this permit system should be continued. They have asked for a few other things. I think the Queensland Government will give them some of the other things they have requested. They want 3 laws changed, but certainly not the permit system.

I should like to refer to one other matter. Probably it does not directly concern this question, but it concerns the question of grants for Queensland. We know that communication is not good between the Torres Strait Islands. The whole area is studded with reefs, and there are other problems. The matter of communication between the other Torres Strait Islands and the base at Thursday Island has been looked at for a good while. The Queensland, authorities have come to the conclusion that the most suitable means of communication would be to build strips for light aircraft on the islands which are big enough, which have enough level land and which have suitable materials. The question of a hovercraft, which has received some publicity lately, has been considered. Apparently Senator Cavanagh has decided to introduce a pilot scheme using a hovercraft. I do not know whether he has actually ordered a fairly large sized hovercraft to communicate rapidly with these islands.

Senator Cavanagh - Do you oppose that scheme?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I do not know how a hovercraft will operate over the coral reefs that are to be found just on the waterline. There will have to be fairly good navigators. But one matter has not been mentioned, and I know it well. At certain periods of the year the Fly River, which runs out of Papua New Guinea into the Bay of Papua, brings down enormous quantities of rubbish including big logs. The logs are difficult to see because they float just on the waterline. They float right across Torres Strait into Queensland waters. I have seen them in Thursday Island harbour and when making trips to Horn Island to get a plane. I have seen the men who run the ferry for a distance of about 2 miles have to cut back their engine to one-half or one-third speed in order to try to dodge these logs in Thursday Island harbour. I would hate to think what would happen to a hovercraft if it hit these logs.

Senator Cavanagh - It would go over them.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I have my doubts about that.

Senator Cavanagh - Have you seen one operate?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I have seen them in the English Channel and in other parts of the world. I believe one operates in Sydney Harbour.

Senator Keeffe - That is not a hovercraft.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - The ones that I have seen in the English Channel are. I only hope that there will be no accidents with some of these marine hazards in Torres Strait. If something hits one of these reefs or logs or other obstacles, I only hope that there will not be any fatalities or anybody seriously injured. I make it quite clear that I am not opposing the provision of money for Aboriginal housing and for the other things covered by this Bill. All I am saying is that there is not enough money for Queensland. It has been cut back unjustly and unnecessarily.

Senator Rae - And in breach of faith.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - And in breach of faith. We have the position where the Queensland Government is obviously spending all this money, despite what Senator Keeffe said about the Queensland Government being behind in its spending, and it will now have to cut back on Aboriginal housing to the detriment of the Aboriginal people. During the hearings of Estimates Committee G we were told that there were 29 building societies in Queensland run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, but apparently they have not yet got off the ground. It will be some time before they are in a position to build a substantial number of houses. Even if Senator Cavanagh refunds this amount of $3,190,000 to those organisations, he will not get many houses built in the 7 months between now and 30 June next year. I recommend that he reconsider this matter and get the Queensland Government to continue its housing program at a greater rate. As has been pointed out, Queensland has one-third of the total number of Aborigines in Australia, and the Queensland Government has been housing Aborigines pretty well in many areas which I know pretty well. I hope that Senator Cavanagh will reconsider this matter and give the money to the Queensland Government if it can show that it can get on and build these houses. I just want to state quite clearly that we want to see that we get the money for housing for Aborigines. We are not against the legislation in any way at all. I hope that Senator Cavanagh will get some better advice from some of his Queensland advisers or else change his advisers so that we can get on with the job of housing the Aborigines in my State.

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