The following the rebuttal speech from the late Peter Nugent Member for Aston, about Pauline Hanson's speech:
"Mr NUGENT(1.16 p.m.) —I rise today to make some comment on a contribution made earlier in this debate by the mem ber for Oxley (Ms Hanson). The member made a number of assertions and statements were made which have received wide publicity outside of this place since that speech. It seems to me that it is incumbent on members in this place to challenge some of those statements and, particularly, to put some of the facts on the record. I believe that many of the statements made by the member for Oxley were not supported or substantiated by facts.
I am disappointed that many of our spokesmen on both sides of the chamber have chosen not to challenge some of the statements made by the member in her statement. I think it is important that somebody in this place is seen to be prepared to stand up and point out what I believe is the error of many of her statements.
Whilst it is not possible to deal with every single aspect of what the member for Oxley said, I want to comment on three or four or five—if I have time—in some detail. First of all, and I quote from the Hansard, I take issue with the statement made by the member for Oxley where she said:
. . . I am fed up to the back teeth with the inequalities that are being promoted by the government and paid for by the taxpayer under the assumption that Aboriginals are the most disadvantaged people in Australia.
I do not believe that there is any assumption about the situation of Aboriginal people in this country. There are certainly other disadvantaged people, Aboriginal people are not the only disadvantaged people, but as a group there is no question that the facts demonstrate quite clearly that Aboriginal people are the most disadvantaged people in this country.
The first fact that you can look at is life expectancy. Life expectancy is conditioned by a number of factors whether it is infrastructure, housing, health, employment or whatever. If you are a nonAboriginal male child born in Australia this year—and I have grandchildren who have been born in this country and I had another grandchild born this year—then compared with an Aboriginal male child born in this country in 1996 you have an 18year better life expectancy. An Aboriginal female child born today compared with a nonAboriginal female child born today in this country has a 15year less life expectancy. That is the first, hard, crushing fact of life for the indigenous population of this country, and it is a factual piece of information. There is no assumption about Aboriginal groups being disadvantaged, it is very factual.
Look at the health statistics such as the rate of diabetes in Aboriginal women. If we look at the rate of middle ear infection, in many Aboriginal primary schools up to 50 per cent of the children in those schools have middle ear infections. That means that they not only have a health problem, it means that they have an education problem as well.
There is no other school outside of the Aboriginal community in this country that has got health statistics of that type. It is not uncommon, because of a lack of infrastructure—clean water, clean housing, sanitation and so on—to find that all the health statistics in many Aboriginal communities are quite appallingly below those of
other areas of our community. When we look at education, at the number of children in the Aboriginal community who get a good education, we find that the numbers are appallingly behind those of the wider community.
Looking at housing: you travel to many of the Aboriginal and indigenous communities in this country and you will find that the overcrowding in housing is really quite disgraceful and is in fact only comparable often with the most appalling conditions in the Third World countries of this globe. I have said in this place before, for example, on trips that I have made to Aboriginal communities, it is not uncommon to find 20 or 30 people living in a house. In fact, in one community I went to in the Northern Territory, there were 38 people on average living in a threebedroom house in the 200 houses in that community. Can you imagine 38 people living in a three bedroom house, with one toilet and one shower, in a hot climate. It is appalling.
There is nowhere else in this community or in this country where those sorts of housing numbers in fact apply. Three years ago the Industry Commission did a study on Aboriginal housing and they came to the conclusion that we required to spend over
$2 billion just to bring Aboriginal housing up to the standard of the rest of the community. So how could anybody possibly say that the Aboriginal community is not disadvantaged in terms of housing?
When we look at employment—and we talk in this place about employment regularly—we talk about the appalling state of the unemployment rate, which is stuck at about eight per cent. We would all like to see that improved. We may argue between the two sides of politics about how we should go about that. But the reality is that in Aboriginal communities in the length and breadth of the country, even in good times, unemployment rates are usually stuck at about 80 per cent. In many Aboriginal communities, we actually say to that community, `Don't just accept the dole, go on to the CDEP scheme', which is a scheme that I support, but it is a work for the dole scheme. I think that has many advantages, but we do not require that of non Aboriginal people in this country. It seems to me that, there again in employment, they are a specifically identifiable group that, in fact, are disadvantaged compared with the rest of us.
Then of course we can get on to looking at the legal system and the representation in gaol. The truth of the matter is that if you are a 15 to 19yearold Aboriginal youth and you come from Western Australia, you are going to be more than 50 times—five zero times—more likely to be in custody in one form or another than if you are a non Aboriginal youth in the same age band. I am not saying that if an Aboriginal youth commits a crime, they should not be locked up. But what I am saying is that, when you get into the areas of criminal activity or substance abuse and so on and so forth, those are usually products of the environment in which you have been brought up and the socioeconomic deprivation that you have suffered. Because Aboriginal kids suffer greater socioeconomic deprivation than the rest of our community, they tend to be overrepresented in our legal system.
Then of course you can get into the whole area of substance abuse. Again, it is not a racial thing. Across the world, in eastern Europe, in particular when the Berlin Wall came down, they found in eastern Germany—and since the USSR crumbled, they found in Russia—that, because of socioeconomic factors, crime is rife and substance abuse is rife in many of those countries. Amongst the areas of our community in Australia where substance abuse is most rife is the indigenous community because of the socioeconomic disadvantage that they suffer.
The reality of life is that in this country over the last 10 years, certainly over the last 50 years and probably over the last 200, we have tried a number of measures to deal with the disadvantage suffered by Aboriginal people. We have tried full integration, we have tried full assimilation, and the reality is that it did not work.
Therefore, we have to say that, as for any disadvantaged group in our community, whether it be the handicapped, whether it be the mentally ill, or any other identifiable group, special measures are needed. The evidence is there that special measures are needed for the indigenous community.
I have criticised the former government for its failures in this area. I have acknowledged publicly its good intent but I believe that it did not make much difference, in the 13 years it was in government, to the situation of Aboriginal people. So we need to look for new ways. Just abolishing special programs and saying that these people have to be treated the same as everybody else has been demonstrated to be a failure in the past. If it is tried again in the future it will be a failure again. We have to recognise the cultural differences.
The member for Oxley, in her speech, complained that the Aboriginal people say,
`This is our land.' To this she said—and again I quote from Hansard: Well, where the hell do I go?
The answer is that she does not go anywhere. She sits pat. Freehold, leasehold, whatever land you and I, Mr Deputy Speaker live on, or the member for Oxley, or anybody else in this chamber, is totally unaffected. We have a legal basis on which we stay on the land we are on and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. Nobody is going to move any nonAboriginal person off their land as a result of the native title legislation or as a result of the land acquisition fund or any of those things.
When we talk about native title—and this is the context in which the member for Oxley raised the matter—we are talking about land that was originally owned by Aboriginal people and has been recognised by the courts as still vacant crown land to which they may have a claim, providing they can prove continuing association over the last 200 years.
Again the other side of the chamber and our side of the chamber may have differences of views as to how that legislation is being implemented and whether it is effective. There is no doubt that so far the only people to have benefited since the legislation was passed have been the lawyers. Not a single Aboriginal person has got a piece of native title land. But to suggest that because of things like native title we are all going to be kicked on, frankly, is scaremongering of the base kind.
The member for Oxley said also:
. . . I draw the line when told I must pay and continue paying for something that happened over 200 years ago.
This is a popular line in some quarters of our community, that we are paying for the damage that was done 200 years ago. Anything that this parliament does, and any money and programs that this parliament may decide to put in place in respect of disadvantaged people in our community, has nothing to do directly with what happened 200 years ago. It may be somewhat of an inheritance but what we are talking about is trying to fix the problems that are here today. I recounted earlier a number of the disadvantage factors for the indigenous community. We are trying to address some of those factors, as we should.
It was interesting, on a more minor mundane matter perhaps, but one which I think needs to be challenged, that the member for Oxley said:
Those who feed off the Aboriginal industry do not want to see things changed. Look at the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Members receive $290 a day sitting allowance and $320 a day travelling allowance and most of these people also hold other very well paid positions. No wonder they did not want to resign recently!
Let me inform the member for Oxley that I am a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. I am the government nominee and I have been the coalition nominee for the last five years. The fact of the matter in terms of how the council functions is that the rates that are applied are the standard rates for any government body of this type. I have not heard the member for Oxley come in here and complain about the rates in respect of any other body, only the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
She might be interested to know that members like me, who are on the government payroll in other respects, do not get sitting fees. She might be interested to know also
that many members of the council from outside of the government payroll choose not to take their fees or their TA, or donate it to their employer organisations or back to the process. In fact, very few take their sitting fees and/or their TA.
It is also interesting to note that the 25 people who are involved in that council meet four times a year as a formal council, plus other committee meetings and other activities on behalf of the council on a regular basis, and we meet at weekends. I have to say that I do not regard the fact that I have to go and stay in a hotel and I get a bit of TA which might give me an extra $50, perhaps, over my hotel bill as recompense for having to spend four of my weekends a year away from home. As you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, and as the other members in here would know, we spend enough time away from home. We do that because we believe in what we are doing, not because we think we are on the gravy train.
The member for Oxley went on to say that reconciliation is everyone recognising and treating each other as equals and everyone must be responsible for their own actions. Exactly. When we treat indigenous people in this country like that, we will not have a need for organisations like the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, but the reality is, of course, that we do not treat them like that.
Having talked about Aboriginal people, I want to raise another issue. The lady from Oxley said, `I believe we're in danger of being swamped by Asians. They have their own culture and religion and form ghettos and do not assimilate.' I say that is factually untrue and I challenge her to produce any substantive evidence. Of course there are migrants of all shapes, sizes, colours and hues that come to this country who may not be successful in our community, but there are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of immigrants that come to this country, including Asian immigrants, who do extremely well and make major contributions for the benefit of our country.
Look at some of the doctors, the heart doctors who are Chinese. Look at some of the Asians that we have in engineering and science. Look at some of the Asians who do so well in business or in sports. And what is wrong with coming here with your own religion? Do we say to the nonAsians in our community that they cannot choose their religion? The very basis of our democracy is that we have freedom of choice of religion. How can you criticise people coming here from whatever their background about having their own religion? How can you criticise people, saying they all live in ghettos, when in my electorate alone people who are immigrants, including Asians, are spread right throughout the community and they are integrated into the community outstandingly?
The previous government introduced and we have continued a system whereby we give scholarships to the 500 highest achievers in the academic system at the end of the school year. In the last couple of years most of those people tend to have been Asians in my electorate. Those people are contributing, they are involved and they are doing an outstanding job. To make the sorts of comments the member for Oxley made is, quite frankly, nonsense.
The member for Oxley also talked about overseas aid. She said:
In this financial year we will be spending at least $1.5 billion on foreign aid and we cannot be sure that this money will be properly spent, as corruption and mismanagement in many of the recipient countries are legend.
There is no question that corruption and mismanagement in many of the recipient countries is absolutely appalling, but the reality is that the amount of money we spend is something like 0.2 per cent of our gross domestic product—a minute amount of the overall budget. When you go to some of the other countries around the world and you see the conditions that millions of people are living in, for a country like Australia not to have the charity in its heart and the goodwill to actually try to get out there and help some of those people—if we cannot do that, I frankly think we should pack up and go home.
I just came back from a delegation to India and Pakistan and some of the conditions in those countries are quite appalling. It is not the individual's fault. I went to a slum
in one of those countries where people live in the most appalling conditions, conditions that we cannot even conceive of in this country. If we cannot afford to spend a small fraction of our wealth, which is still considerable in spite of all of our many economic difficulties, on helping those people, I think it is quite appalling.
In Pakistan, I went to a project where we were helping young children and where in fact this government has just cut back on our aid, as all members of this place will know. I would have to say that it was one of the elements of the budget that I would personally probably have wished to see turn out differently. However, I am not going to argue about that at the moment. But the reality is that we cut back on our aid and one of the projects that I went to see is not going to get its funding next year. There were children in this project that we are directly funding—not channelling through some government official so that it is all being syphoned off—where we have people on the ground, where we are supervising the project, where we are making sure that we pick the people who work in there and where every single dollar that we are donating in aid is actually having a direct benefit on the poor of this world. It seems to me that if we cannot do that, frankly, I would not want to be in this country or in this parliament. It is something that we have a moral obligation to undertake.
The member for Oxley talked about a whole range of other things. She talked about the Child Support Agency, she talked about the economy, she talked about national service—I might add that the green corps is a form of national service—but it seemed to me that the speech was riddled with no research, no facts, very little logic, nothing constructive, generalisations and simplistic solutions that have been proven in the past not to work. It might strike a chord with some, but it seems to me that she does neither the House, her electorate nor this country any service by making those comments. I oppose her views. I will challenge them and I will rebut them at every opportunity because I believe that is one of the reasons why my electorate has sent me here.