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Tuesday, 3 December 1974
Page: 3002

Senator McLAREN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I direct my question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. He will recall that on Thursday 28 November last Senator Bonner accused him of buying votes for the Australian Labor Party in Queensland by handing out money to the councils for the Torres Strait Islanders as though it was going out of style. Can the Minister inform the Senate who requested the financial assistance for the Torres Strait Islanders and whether the projects for which it was to be used were in fact necessary? Can he also inform the Senate whether Senator Bonner has ever sought financial assistance from him to be used for the welfare of the Aboriginal people in Queensland and, if so, did he consider that by agreeing to any such requests he might be leaving himself open to being accused by Senator Bonner of attempting to buy votes for the Australian Labor Party?

Senator CAVANAGH - I recall the remarks that Senator Bonner made in the debate in this chamber the other day. The grants for the Torres Strait Islanders were agreed to as a result of representation from the various councils operating in the Torres Strait Islands. I think they were assisted by our local officer to fill out the grant forms. These grants were for special works projects.

Senator Bonner - Before or after you visited?

Senator CAVANAGH - Before the visit. They were for special works projects amounting to some $600,000. When we went there it was questionable whether the projects came under the category of special works projects but as they were all projects for the improvement of the islands concerned we more or less granted them $10,000 apiece for the purpose of establishing them in operation. If they can satisfactorily continue their operations for the improvement of the islands the other money will be available to them at some time in the future. These grants were part of a total of approximately $200,000 in grants made to the Torres Strait Islands.

Senator Bonnerhas on occasions made requests for grants on behalf of organisations in Queensland to assist them in improving the welfare of Aborigines. Some of them have been just as successful as the Torres Strait Islands projects. I take it that it has been in good faith, because of his interest in the welfare of Aborigines, that he has asked. For that reason many of the applications have been granted. Whether I would be accused of trying to buy votes by acceding to Senator Bonner's request never entered my head, nor did it enter my head that such an accusation would be made in the Torres Strait Islands where I was trying to improve the conditions of Aborigines. I suppose that everything the Government does which is of benefit to someone could be alleged to be buying votes, but the Government- through my portfolio in particularhas a responsibility to advance the conditions of Aborigines and Islanders. Irrespective of what accusation is made we will continue to perform our duty.

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