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Tuesday, 23 November 1965

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- Mr. Speaker,it is not often that I rise in this House to support wholeheartedly the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), but on this occasion I do. Indeed, I think that the history of motions and petitions put before the House shows that in this instance he is supporting honorable members on this side of the Parliament. We are speaking here about an issue that has been raised in the public life of Australia in so pressing and continuing a way as to result in the present widespread demand that this Government accept full responsibility for the Aboriginal people of Australia just as it does for any other citizens. Section 127 of the Constitution represents one of the mysteries of Australian public life. The reason for our having allowed such a discriminatory and, I suppose, offensive section to remain in our Constitution for so long is indeed a mystery. But although it is important for the Aboriginal people of Australia to be counted, there are many in the Aboriginal community - I know a great many members of that community - who want not only to be counted but also to count. And they will not count until the Commonwealth accepts a greater and wider responsibility for these people. The need for this greater acceptance of responsibility for the Aborigines by the Commonwealth has been before this Parliament continually, for my part, for eight years. I believe that it had been raised even earlier. But it has certainly been brought before the Parliament continually over the last eight years.

This evening, Mr. Speaker, in a sense I speak in support of the proposal put forward by the honorable member for Mackellar. I think I can say on behalf of my colleagues that we on this side of the chamber do not care who brings forward a proposal if it carries with it the proper spirit of a homogeneous community and the purpose of abolishing racial discrimination so as to make all Australians one people. If a proposition is advanced in that spirit we on this side shall be for it. We will not discriminate in any way whatsoever. I take for the moment the points that were raised by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies). I recognise, I believe that my colleagues on this side recognise and I am sure that most honorable members in this House recognise that no political party and no social group - not even the Churches - has any great record of successful amelioration of the lot of the Aborigines in the past. Here there is an appeal to the conscience of the people of Australia. I hope that people in every community and every electorate throughout this country will realise where their responsibilities lie and take up this matter with their representatives in this Parliament. I shall not quote any honorable member opposite in such a way as possibly to embarrass him, but I am pretty confident that honorable members on both sides to whom I have spoken privately on this issue are completely in accord with the motion proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) which has been on the business paper for some time under general business and which calls for an amendment of the Constitution, and with the sentiments expressed tonight by the honorable member for Mackellar.

I am disappointed that the Prime Minister has not taken the opportunity to take the constructive step that has been proposed. I believe that he has allowed something that amounts almost to a legal quibble to cloud the issue in such a way as to cause him to refrain from moving in the matter. Let us examine for a moment what he said in his second reading speech. He stated that some people want to eliminate from section 51 (xxvi.) of the Constitution the words " other than the Aboriginal race in any State" on the ground that these words amount to discrimination against Aborigines. He said that in truth the contrary is the fact. But this is not true for the Commonwealth itself. It is not true that the Commonwealth has not discriminated against Aborigines because of the existence of this provision in the Constitution. I believe that on the morning of the day on which this measure was introduced there were removed from ordinances of the Australian Capital Territory provisions that were definitely discriminatory. In other words, it is not a fact that the existence of this provision in the Constitution prevents the Commonwealth from discriminating against Aborigines. So if that argument is discarded there is a strong case for placing on the statute book a measure that will prevent future governments of the Commonwealth from discriminating against Aborigines.

Nor does the simple fact that discriminatory provisions are removed from statutes, as has happened in the Australian Capital Territory, mean that all discriminatory provisions in Commonwealth legislation have been removed. I am now answering the points made by the Prime Minister, and in doing so I refer to section 137a of the Social Services Act, which reads -

An aboriginal native of Australia who follows a mode of life that is, in the opinion of the Director-General, nomadic or primitive is not entitled to a pension, allowance, endowment or benefit under this Act.

This provision was written into the Social Services Act some years ago when the Act was amended in an attempt to extend the availability of social services to Aborigines. In the process, this section, which in my opinion is plainly discriminatory, was inserted in the Act.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I point out to the honorable member that although he may make passing reference to what the honorable member for Mackellar said the remarks that he is now making have nothing to do with the Bill now before the House.

Mr BRYANT - I am speaking now, with due respect, to the speech of 2i pages delivered in this place by the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I think the honorable member has gone a little beyond that. He is now referring to social services.

Mr BRYANT - No, Mr. Speaker. With due respect, this is what the Prime Minister said -

They want to eliminate the words "other than the Aboriginal race in any State", on the ground that these words amount to discrimination against Aborigines. In truth the contrary is the fact.

In support of my view that this was an incorrect statement, I am citing acts of the Commonwealth which, surely, is valid in this instance. The Prime Minister said that if we removed section 127 we would allow the Commonwealth to discriminate, but I am pointing out that at the present moment there are discriminatory clauses in acts of the Commonwealth, despite this provision and that therefore the existence of this section, as it stands at present, is no protection for the Aborigines of Australia. I refer to regulation 18 made under the National Service Act as further support for that view. I believe that the Prime Minister has evaded a great responsibility and lost an opportunity in that regard. As I said earlier, it is not a question of the Aborigines just being counted - they must also count. This evening I rise to ask that the right honorable gentleman, his party and his Cabinet colleagues, give serious consideration even at this stage to producing the necessary legislation to allow a reference to be put forward on section 51 (xxvi.). If I may refer to other things mentioned by the right honorable gentleman, he said -

What should be aimed at, in the view of the Government, is the integration of the Aborigine in the general community, not a state of affairs in which he would be treated as being of a race apart.

The Commonwealth is able to assist many groups in the community, but this does not mean they are being discriminated against. One of the most successful referenda conducted in Australia was in relation to social services and the power of the Commonwealth to implement a social services system. This system allows the Commonwealth to discriminate in favour of invalids, children and students. Under the defence power we discriminate in favour of servicemen. Under the migration authority we discriminate in favour of migrants. It is one of the sad facts of Australian legal life that the Commonwealth is unable to act in this positive way for the Aboriginal people.

I believe that if we are going to take the step of removing section 127, a step which will give Aborigines a place in the census and on the electoral rolls in such a way that they are counted, it is important that we also take the positive step of enabling the Commonwealth to accept full responsibility. I am confident that the people of Australia would support that proposal. In the last eight or nine years I have taken a very active part in public organisations associated with Aboriginal affairs. As far back as 9th May 1957 I brought before the

House for discussion a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -

The failure of the Government to care for the well-being of persons of Aboriginal and part Aboriginal blood by not providing State Governments with sufficient funds and not extending the payment of social services benefits to or on behalf of these persons.

Since that time I have found that despite the aberrations of politics and so forth, large groups in the community, representing people of all political, religious and other persuasions, have rallied to the support of this view. In fact, only a week after I raised that matter for discussion the former member for Parkes, Mr. Haylen, presented a petition from certain electors of the State of New South Wales praying that the Government would, at the earliest practicable date, take legislative action to effect the amendment of the Constitution for the purpose of removing social and political disabilities on aborigines. Although I have not made a count of the petitions that have been presented to the Parliament, I am fairly confident that the number of petitioners would now total more than a quarter of a million. My personal experience of these matters has been that when a petition on this subject has been placed before citizens, when they have been given a form, have been asked to read it and have been told what it is about, in 99 cases out of 100 they have signed it.

I believe that the Prime Minister could accept the legal challenge involved in this question. I realise that there are always difficulties in such a step. He has taken the step to place the Aboriginal people in a proper place in the Australian sun. I know that the moment this measure was announced, my telephone rang and people wrote to me asking what they could do to help. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, no special group can write itself great references in the field of advancement for Aboriginal welfare. In the long run it will be only the Commonwealth, with the resources at its disposal, which can take up the challenge. That has been the case with housing, education and health. I cannot see how it can possibly take up the challenge in respect of Aborigines unless it takes to itself the power to do so. I can see too many difficulties flowing from the States grants provision by which we pass the responsibility into the State system with legislation in each State and State administrations here and there. I think it is true that, in the past, even that proportion of the finance for housing which has been made available to the States under the Loan Housing Act has not been ploughed back into the Aboriginal community.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I draw to the honorable member's attention the fact that I have been waiting for him to come back to the Bill. I am still waiting. The Bill relates to the counting of Aborigines. He may make a passing reference to those other matters.

Mr BRYANT - The counting of Aborigines is particularly relevant on the question of housing.

Mr SPEAKER - The counting of Aborigines is the only question. The Bill does not relate to housing.

Mr BRYANT - The States of Australia have been able to ignore their proper duty to the Aborigines.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! If the honorable member persists with that line of argument I shall have to ask him to resume his seat. The subject matter before the Chair must not be departed from.

Mr BRYANT - Speaking to this point, may I say that of the 100,000 Aborigines in Australia, 50,000 or so are in Queensland. The fact that they have never been counted, and indeed have not counted much socially either in fields such as housing, where the Commonwealth has made definite grants for housing to the States, and that a sum relative to their proportion of the population has not been made available to the Aboriginal people, is relevant to the whole system. In fact, we cannot solve the problem-

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member is now developing an argument on housing.

Mr BRYANT - The Aboriginal people of Australia are the ones who matter when debating this measure. I realise the narrowness of the question before the House and I think that is condemnation enough of the attitude of the Government. The facts are that this measure will do little for the Aboriginal people. It is time we took some positive action. I believe that an alteration of section 51 (xxvi) is the only way that we can take such action.

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