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Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3438

Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - It was not my intention to waste time in replying to matters raised in regard to this Bill which I have the carriage of this evening. I have been invited by most speakers to make some reply to the questions they have raised. I think they are entitled to that. I thank the Opposition for agreeing to the legislation and assisting in its speedy passage. Senator Rae seems to have some concern that I am not making public statements in condemnation of my colleague, the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The previous Minister held the opinion that he had a defence to make against charges made against him before the Joint Committee on Public Accounts. It is stated that the 250 pages of evidence placed before the Committee include charges against the head of my Department for perjury, disloyalty and a number of other accusations.

If Mr Bryant was of the opinion that the head of my Department was guilty of such allegations, he had a perfect right to put his views before the Committee. In fact I think he had a duty to put them before the Committee. He has done that. I have more faith in tribunals than Senator Rae. I think this is extraordinary in view of Senator Rae ls profession. I accept the judgment of umpires, and more so when the judgment is from a committee that this Parliament has appointed.

I do not think we made mistakes in this Committee. The head of my Department has made certain accusations against the previous Minister. The previous Minister has retaliated with other accusations and has said that the Head of my Department was all wrong and that he was the villain of the piece. This Committee was asked to decide this question and I am invited by the honourable senator to step in and make a decision now. Who is right on this? Should I condemn Mr Bryant or should I condemn Mr Dexter? I am invited to do either of those things. I have faith in the tribunal. We have an impartial tribunal considering this question, and I think that it would be unfair at this stage to express an opinion that would show my support or condemnation of one or the other. Surely as a matter of justice we should be fair and let the tribunal decide the question.

Senator Bonneris very unfortunate. He is in a frightful position as a result of the defeat last week of the legislation relating to Queensland Aborigines. He has to face the Aborigines in Queensland in the coming weeks, so he raises a number of questions which show a complete ignorance of normal Bills that deal with commissions. Firstly, he says that this Bill is designed to forestall his motion. If he examines the Bill he will see that it is to do something. It is to put some money in a land trust. His motion would achieve nothing for Aborigines. It merely seeks an expression of opinion by the Senate. The more I look at his motion the more I see it as being completely in line with Labor Party policy. I think he has somewhat copied Labor Party policy for the purpose of drafting his motion. I have discussed the motion with Senator Bonner and he has assured me that he intends to bring it on for debate in the next session of the Parliament. At this stage I cannot see instructions being given by Caucus to oppose the motion. I think it will go through unanimously. But Senator Bonner must recognise that his motion seeks nothing but an expression of opinion. This Bill seems to give something tangible to Aborigines. Senator Bonner condemns this Bill because there will be a predominance of Europeans on the Aboriginal Loans Commission. Of course, that is not so. Senator Rae interjected to Senator Bonner and said 'They may' -

Senator Rae - I did not say that.

Senator CAVANAGH - Someone made the interjection, and Senator Bonner repeated it and said: 'They may have two, but not necessarily'. But the Bill does not say that at all. Clause 10 of the Bill states:

The Commission shall consist of S members, namely-

(a)   a Chairman; and

(b)   four other members, of whom at least two shall be Aborigines.

It is mandatory to appoint 2 Aborigines, but the Bill does not limit the number to two. It was the recommendation of the Australian Government that on the Loans Commission consisting of 5 members, there should be 3 Aborigines.

Senator Bonner - Are you giving an assurance that there will be more than two?

Senator CAVANAGH -Why should I give Senator Bonner any assurance? He is deciding on the legislation. If he does not like it he can vote against it. He does not ask the Minister to say what is in the legislation or that he is going to give him an assurance of something else. I am saying that Cabinet recommended the appointment of 3 Aborigines out of 5 members of the Loans Commission. It was found only after approaching those concerned that one of them was not available to serve on the Loans Commission. Now the position has been reversed so that three out of the 5 members will be Europeans. This is a specialist commission which has been established for the purpose not of deciding land rights but of controlling money allocations. Of course, of necessity the best qualified men must be appointed to a loans trust that is to give out money. If there are 5 qualified Aborigines who have accounting experience in regard to loan moneys, then 5 Aborigines shall be on the Commission, because the Minister makes the appointment. This has been a paste and scissors operation. This type of clause is found in other legislation dealing with commissions. The Minister is responsible for the Loans Commission. He makes the appointments. Whether people go off the Commission is the responsibility of the Minister. He decides whether to appoint someone else. The honourable senator wants to take this power from the Parliament and hand it over to this Commission. This is contrary to the functioning of every other commission which we have established. I have in mind the Snowy Mountains Authority, the Grants Commission and any other commission. This is something which Senator Bonner wants because he has never read a Bill which relates to any other commission.

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