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Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3437

Senator BONNER (Queensland) -I wish to indicate that, like my colleague Senator Rae, I support this measure, which is the Aboriginal Land Fund Bill, but I just wonder whether perhaps the Government in its haste and whathaveyou has introduced it to forestall a motion that I put down in this chamber some months ago in relation to Aboriginal claims throughout Australia as a whole. Although we are supporting this measure at this time because it will give to some sections of the Aboriginal community some land, I think the Bill falls far short of the measure which I introduced here some months ago and which I hope will finally come up for debate and determination in the near future. I am very happy to see that an opportunity will be given to groups of Aborigines under this Bill to purchase land and be able to do something with it. I am very concerned that when Aborigines endeavour through this Bill to purchase land caution shall be taken to ensure that it will be used for the betterment of the Aboriginal people and that it will be ascertained whether the land purchased under the provisions of this Bill will be of some use to the Aboriginal people in an economic sense.

Having looked at the Bill there are some parts of it with which I am not happy and to which I would like to draw the attention of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh), that is, of course, if the Minister is prepared to listen to what I have to say instead of being distracted by other people within the chamber. I wish to draw to the Minister's attention Part III- Constitution and Meetings of the Commission. Clause 8 reads:

(1)   The Commission shall consist of S members, namely-

(a)   a Chairman; and

(b)   4 other members, of whom at least 2 shall be Aboriginals.

I prefer the term 'Aborigines'. That clause strikes me as rather strange because here we have the Government setting up a commission to deal with an Aboriginal land fund and yet the Government makes provision for only 2 Aborigines. Why should there not be 5 Aborigines? Why should this Commission be administered by nonAboriginal people rather than by Aborigines? Surely Aborigines can handle such a Commission. If they need to draw upon white expertise, provision of that could be made in the Bill. Surely expertise can be bought. Experts are a dime a dozen in any other field. I think that particular expertise is needed in the field of Aboriginal affairs and I believe that Aborigines would certainly be better than non-Aboriginal people as members of this Commission, providing of course that, if necessary, the Aboriginal commissioners could buy or hire white expertise in this field.

Clause 1 2 of the Bill says:

(1)   The Governor-General may terminate the appointment of a member by reason of misbehaviour or physical or mental incapacity.

That is fair enough. Sub-clause 2 says:

If a member-

(a)   is absent, except on leave of absence granted by the Minister, from 3 consecutive meetings of the Commission;

Why should it be granted by the Minister and not by the members of the Commission? At different times I have sat on boards. If a person absents himself from a number of consecutive meetings then the members of that board have the right to say: 'You can no longer be a member of the board'. Why must this power be vested in the Minister rather than in the Commission, which I hope would be made up of Aborigines?

Clause 13, sub-clause (2), says:

The Minister may appoint a person to act as a member, other than the Chairman -

Again I ask why it should be the Minister. Why should the members of the Commission not appoint someone from their numbers to act as their chairman, as happens on many bodies? I am the President of the One People of Australia League. If I were not at a board meeting the members of the board would have the right to appoint one of their members to act as chairman at that time. Why is all the power being vested in the Minister? These are some of the points I wish to raise. I hope that in his reply the Minister will clarify these matters for me.

I feel quite confident in my own mind that Aborigines would see these things again as a direction from the white experts, the white administrators, or the pseudo experts as many Aborigines term white people who are involving them- selves in Aboriginal affairs today. It seems rather strange to me that we spent some time here last week talking about Queensland, the Queensland Government and the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs having too much say in Aboriginal matters, yet we find the Minister who levelled that criticism at Queensland is in the Federal sphere, putting himself in the position where he shall direct the Aborigines. We heard much from the present Australian Government and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs criticising the Queensland Government for interfering too much in Aboriginal affairs. Yet this Bill, which is brought forward by the very same Minister, gives the Minister so much power in Aboriginal affairs. As I said, the Commission will be comprised of non-Aboriginal people but the Government has conceded that perhaps it will have at least 2 Aborigines. Why not 5 Aboriginal commissioners dealing in this matter that is so important to Aboriginal people?

Senator Rae - The five being all the commissioners?

Senator BONNER -Yes, that is right. The Commission will be made up of 5 persons. The Bill says that at least two may be Aborigines. It does not say that two shall, two must or two will; it says that at least two may be Aborigines. There is much to be learnt by the non-Aboriginal community in matters pertaining to Aboriginal relationships and attachment to land. To Aboriginal people land is not just a piece of dirt that can be used for commercial purposes; it is something that is part and parcel of Aborigines. We are part of the land. We are part and parcel of the streams, the mountains, the trees, the flora and the fauna. When we talk about land we do not talk about fencing or of having 10 acres of land and growing and selling grain. We talk about land as being part of us. It is the bedrock of our philosophy. We are part of that land, so it is very important to us. If anyone takes away the land from us or takes us away from the land he destroys us. Though I am happy in some regards with what the Government is doing in making finance available so that Aborigines can purchase back some of their own land, by the same token I am not completely happy with some of the clauses in the Bill. The Opposition supports this measure, small though it may be.

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