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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,I move -

Omit proposed sub-section (6.).

Clause 4 amends section 39 of the act, and it substitutes two new sub-sections, numbers (5.) and (6.), for existing sub-section (5.). The existing sub-section prevents aboriginal natives of Australia, Asia, Africa, or the islands of the Pacific, except New Zealand, from enrolling or voting unless they are aboriginal natives of Australia who are entitled to a vote pursuant to section 41 of the Constitution, or are or have been members of the Defence Force. The new sub-section, for the omission of which I have moved, no longer precludes aboriginal natives of Asia, Africa or the islands of the Pacific from enrolling or voting, but it does preclude aboriginal natives of Australia from enrolling or voting.

The Opposition cannot endorse this reenactment of a provision denying to Australian aborigines the right enjoyed by all other citizens of enrolling and voting for candidates for election to this Parliament. I know of no other country in which aboriginal natives are precluded from voting on the basis of their race. This has happened in Australia and in Australia alone in recent years, and if the bill goes through in its present form the practice will be continued in Australia alone.

Mr Forbes - They do not get the vote in Malaya.

Mr WHITLAM - I did not know that. Does the honorable member mean that persons who are said to be of Malay race are not given a vote in Malaya?

Mr Bury - The aborigines in the hills are not given a vote.

Mr WHITLAM - Are they deprived of the vote just because they are aboriginal natives of Malaya?

Mr Bury - Yes.

Mr WHITLAM - Then we share an odious eminence with Malaya in this matter.

Mr Hasluck - The natives of India are not given a vote.

Mr WHITLAM - Is that so?

Mr Hasluck - The members of the aboriginal tribes.

Mr WHITLAM - There are aboriginal tribes in a very great number of countries, and until the honorable member for Barker informed me of the position of Malaya I had never heard of a country which precluded its aboriginal natives from voting on the ground that they were aboriginal natives.

Until now, aborigines have had a vote for this Parliament if they have had a vote for the parliament of the particular State in which they live. If this bill goes through, that will continue to be the position. They will not be able to vote in elections for this Parliament if they do not have a vote for the State parliament. In other words, aborigines on the Queensland, Northern Territory or Western Australian sides of borders are not considered fit to vote, or at least are not permitted to vote. Those on the South Australian or New South Wales sides of the borders, however, are permitted to vote, whether they are fit to vote or not.

There is no need for this Parliament to adopt the policy of extending the franchise only when State parliaments extend it. We are obliged, under section 41 of the Constitution, to give a vote for this Parliament to every person who has a vote for the State parliament, but we are not prevented from giving a vote for this Parliament to a person who is not allowed to vote in a State election. In the Northern Territory, by administrative act, we virtually exclude all aborigines from voting, just because they are aborigines, although in that Territory we can give any person a vote for the Legislative Council of the Territory, for this House of Representatives or for the Australian Senate if we wish to. Persons with whole or part aboriginal ancestry in this country already have fewer and smaller opportunities in life than other Australians have. We are told from time to time of cases of aborigines who have emerged and they deserve more praise for having emerged in that they have had to overcome handicaps that other Australians have not had to overcome. From the historical and practical points of view, we must acknowledge that the Parliament is really concerned only with people to whom it is answerable. The condition of under-privileged persons improves when they receive the vote. In fact, the emancipation of any section of the community commences with its enfranchisement.

Various excuses are given for not giving the aboriginal the vote, but in cases where none of those disabilities apply to an aboriginal - any disability of occupation, education, thrift or hygiene - the aboriginal is still deprived of the vote in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. He is deprived not because he is in any way inferior to his fellow citizens, but because he is an aboriginal. I shall refer to the two principal objections which are made. The first is that the aborigines are very often nomadic. If aborigines were enrolled - as they would have to be in normal circumstances if our amendment is carried - then they could still not vote unless their real place of living at some time within three months immediately preceding polling day was within the division in respect of which they were enrolled. Thus, there would be no discrimination against an aboriginal because he was nomadic, because the same law applies to all persons who are nomadic.

The other reason which is most commonly given is that aborigines are illiterate, but under section 120 of the act, other persons who are illiterate are entitled1 to vote. They are required to vote and are given assistance to vote. During the secondreading debate on this bill, I went in some detail into the international reasons why aborigines should have the vote now. I believe that we are in breach of articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter so long as we deprive aborigines of the vote on the basis that they are aborigines. That is not a matter of domestic jurisdiction. We have now - although belatedly and in somewhat surly fashion - admitted that human rights are not a matter of domestic jurisdiction. We joined in declaring in the United Nations, as far back as 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in it we have said that one of the things that all human beings are entitled to is the vote and representation in Parliament. More recently, in 1957, we attended an International Labour Organization conference which adopted the Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention 1957, which states -

The enjoyment of the general rights of citizenship without discrimination shall not be prejudiced in any way by special measures of protection for aboriginal persons in any State.

It is unfortunate that this bill was reintroduced into the Parliament just four days after South Africa was excluded from, or denied re-entry into, the Commonwealth of Nations on the basis of policies which are the same in principle, although not in degree, as are being enacted in this bill.

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