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Tuesday, 18 April 1961

Mr FREETH (Forrest) (Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works) . - I move -

1.   That a select committee be appointed to inquire into and report on -

(a)   whether the entitlement to enrolment and | the right to vote presently conferred by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1953 on persons referred to in section 39 of that act should be extended with or without qualifications, restrictions or conditions to -

(i)   all aboriginal natives of Australia, or

(ii)   aboriginal natives of Australia included in particular classes, and, if so, what classes; and, if so,

(b)   the modifications, if any, that should be made to the provisions of that act relating to enrolment or voting to provide for enrolment and voting by aboriginal natives or any particular classes of aboriginal natives. 2. That the select committee consist of seven members, four to be appointed by the Prime Minister and three to be appointed by the Leader of the Opposition.

3.   That every appointment of a member of the committee be forthwith notified in writing to the Speaker.

4.   That the chairman be one of the members appointed by the Prime Minister.

5.   That the chairman of the committee may from time to time appoint another member of the committee to be deputy chairman, and that the member so appointed act as chairman of the committee at any time when the chairman is not present at a meeting of the committee.

6.   That the chairman or the deputy chairman, when acting as chairman, shall have a deliberative vote and, in the event of an equality of voting, a casting vote.

7.   That the select committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit during any adjournment of the House, and to move from place to place.

8.   That the committee report to the House not later than the 31st day of October, 1961.

9.   That the foregoing provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the Standing Orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders.

The existing laws of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia give full franchise to aboriginal natives by virtue of the fact that the voting laws of those States confer on natives full voting rights. But, of course, most of the nomadic natives are in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and in those areas the governing authorities have not seen fit to grant full voting rights to natives. In Western Australia, provision is made for those natives who live according to our ways, and who have some knowledge of reading and writing, to obtain citizenship rights. In the Northern Territory, all natives except those who are declared wards of the State, are deemed to have citizenship rights; but there, of course, a large proportion of the nomadic natives are declared wards of the State. In Queensland, natives of half aboriginal blood or more have no voting rights unless they are specifically exempted by the Government.

This is an extremely difficult problem. It was discussed in 1946, although very briefly, by a Premiers' Conference when the then Premiers of Western Australia and Queensland indicated that they did not think it practicable to give full voting rights to aborigines. The late Mr. Chifley, who was then Prime Minister, agreed that the Commonwealth would not go any further with the matter.

In 1949, the present provisions with relation to natives were inserted in the Electoral Act by the then Labour Government. Appropriately enough, they were introduced by the Honorable H. V. Johnson, the then Minister for the Interior who, I suppose, had as much experience of native problems as any honorable member of the House, his electorate being that of Kalgoorlie, which embraces a very large proportion of the State of Western Australia. He agreed then that this question was bristling with difficulties. In the parliamentary debates which followed his introduction of the provisions, several honorable members referred to the problem of laying down standards to be attained before full franchise could be given to an aboriginal native. Certainly no one in that Parliament spoke in favour of giving those rights to all aborigines regardless of whether they were likely to be able to understand what a vote was.

There are many problems associated with this matter. At this stage, I do not propose to enumerate them all. Suffice it to say that they embrace such matters as compulsory enrolment and compulsory voting, if aboriginal natives are given full franchise without some other protection. That in itself involves the question of discrimination and differentiation between whites and aborigines. Then there is the question whether assistance should be provided to help the illiterate aboriginal who expresses a desire to enrol, in deciphering the ballotpaper, and so on. Then there is the problem of identification where aborigines cannot sign their names. I should imagine it would be well within the compass of a parliamentary select committee to examine all these matters. Indeed, I should think that probably the wishes and ideas of the governments of Western Australia and Queensland, in particular, might appropriately be obtained, because they are charged with the detailed administration of native problems in very large areas. I commend the motion to honorable members.

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