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Tuesday, 3 December 1974
Page: 3006

Senator GEORGES (QUEENSLAND) - My question, which is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, is in some ways supplementary to the question asked by Senator Bonner. I refer the Minister to his many attempts to have discussions with the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs in relation to land rights for Aborigines and other matters such as those raised by Senator Bonner. Can the Minister state why the meeting scheduled for 1 6 November for this purpose was cancelled? What alternative arrangements have been made for discussions in the future?

Senator CAVANAGH - I discussed with Mr Hewitt, the Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Queensland, the matter of the Australian Government's taking over planning policy and the co-ordination of Aboriginal affairs in Queensland, since we have made similar arrangements with other States. Mr Hewitt was very co-operative and offered to make his departmental officials available for discussions with Australian Government departmental officials. One meeting was held which proved to be abortive. I asked Mr Hewitt to meet me to discuss the Woodward Commission report on land rights of Aboriginals. Mr Hewitt informed me that as the Premier had discussed the matter at the Premiers Conference in Canberra he thought no good could come from his discussing the matter with me. He had a direction from the Premier not to discuss the matter with me.

I then made an appeal to the Premier to discuss the question with me. At the Premiers Conference only an initial survey of the attitudes of the various States was made and all agreed to consider the Woodward report. The Premier definitely refused to discuss the matter with me. I then asked Mr Hewitt to discuss the incident which had occurred at Palm Island where he had dismissed the council. Mr Hewitt replied that Cabinet had directed him not to discuss the matter with me. The Prime Minister received a letter from the Premier of Queensland suggesting that we should discuss the future relationship between the 2 governments concerning Aboriginal affairs iri Queensland. That letter was written as a result of an earlier invitation from the Prime Minister.

At that time I contacted Mr Hewitt's office and was told that he was in Brisbane only on Mondays. He was campaigning all that week and was spending the weekend at Charters Towers. I offered to go to Brisbane on the Monday or to Charters Towers during the weekend to have an interview with him. An interview was set down for 16 November. I was informed on the 15 November that Mr Hewitt had been ordered to hospital. He was released on the following Tuesday. He had 10 days to recuperate. I wrote to Mr Hewitt expressing my sorrow that he was being admitted to hospital. I wished him a speedy recovery and asked him to contact me at the first available occasion so that we could get together to discuss this question. I have had no reply since from Mr Hewitt. I think that I have done everything possible. The Government can now look forward- after next Saturday- to a road which will be easier because a Labor Minister will occupy Mr Hewitt's position. Even if that is not so, the local Press is suggesting that Mr Hewitt will not be Minister for Aboriginal Affairs after the reshuffle. I know that the Press has reported that there will be a reshuffle. I am confident that as a result of the election to be held next Saturday we will be able to discuss this matter with someone of our own political persuasion.

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