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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 1808

Senator KEEFFE (Queensland) - I did not realise that we were going to break early this evening; I had anticipated that we would continue until 11 o'clock. My notes are being sent to me now. I want to refer to something that was said in the Queensland Parliament today in relation to Aboriginal affairs. I think it is of some significance that the State Minister for Aboriginal Affairs referred to an incident that happened on the Lockhart Reserve. He referred also to Palm Island. To get the record straight- I do not propose to detain the Senate for any great length of time- I want to read into the record some repudiation of the statements that were made. The Australian Government has set out to establish a condition in the community to enable Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to regain their status as human beings. It is a great pity that Minister Hewitt, who made one of the replies today, and Mr Row, the Country Party member for Hinchinbrook, probably aided and abetted by the Premier of Queensland, decided to keep Aborigines in a state of subjection and degradation.

The Australian Government has reached agreement with Western Australian and South Australia, is making more than satisfactory progress in New South Wales and Victoria, and has laid down a blueprint for the Northern Territory that will allow the Commonwealth Administration to legislate and administer for the benefit of Aborigines. In Queensland there have been recent glimmers of co-operation but these have been repudiated today by the petty outburst of an incompetent Minister and the Country Party cipher for Hinchinbrook. Neither has made a real attempt to ascertain the real problems of Aborigines, and both apparently are showing signs of trying to hold up the Australian Government 's program. The childish accusation that I am a Black Power advocate is just too crazy for words. If by the description 'Black Power' these gentlemen are implying that I am advocating equal rights for Aborigines and Islanders, then I am happy to be so classified. But if the implication is that I advocate violence and bloodshed, then these 2 gentlemen are themselves the agents of that minority in the community which leads the groups supporting the white backlash. I am sorry that this has happened, and I appeal to the State Minister and his Government to co-operate in providing justice for the black people of this country which has been denied to them for 200 years.

One of the allegations that was apparently made today is that I was in some way responsible for the bashing of the manager on the Lockhart River Reserve. The implication in the statements made in the State Parliament is that he has resigned as a result of this. I want to say that Mr John Maher, for whom I have the greatest respect, and who is a very capable officer in the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs, had decided to resign anyway and it was only a matter of time before he left the Reserve. The State Minister said the bashing was the most recent of a long line of disturbances caused by radicals and troublemakers visiting reserves. That inference is against me. I wish to make it quite clear that I visited Lockhart recently for the first time for a number of years in company with other members of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment. The 2 senators who accompanied me on that visit were Senators Little and Bonner. I have no doubt that they will support me if I say that at no stage did I hold any meetings to create any sort of problems on that particular reserve.

The Minister further said that troublemakers were going from settlement to settlement stirring up problems. I think there is probably an inference to be drawn there- in fact I am sure there is an inference- that I was one of those responsible. Probably there is also a veiled reference to Miss Bobbi Sykes who recently went from Sydney to Palm Island as a representative of the Aboriginal Medical Service. Bobbi Sykes is a person who has a tremendous reputation as a worker among black people and is certainly not the type of agitator that is referred to by the Queensland Minister.

Mr Row,who is the comparatively new member for the State seat of Hinchinbrook, precipitated this question and answer business in State Parliament by asking the Minister for Conservation, Marine and Aboriginal Affairs whether I had visited Palm Island Reserve recently or at about the time of the recent disturbances. At no time during the recent disturbances was I ever on Palm Island. Mr Row wanted to know also whether I had worn the red headband of the Black Power movement. The red headband symbolises the blood that has been spread by Aborigines over a period of many years. No white person has a real right to wear this particular symbol. This, at least indicates the crass ignorance of Mr Row. The Minister said that he did not know that I had visited the island but that, if Mr Row had said that I had and that I was a member of the Black Power movement, he had no reason to doubt it. I regret very much this particular inference. Again I feel that this is an attempt by the State Minister to kill that new spirit of co-operation which apparently is starting to show itself between the Australian Government and the Queensland Government. I think it is very regrettable that this man should have adopted this attitude.

Quite recently I had a quite lengthy interview with the State Director of Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Queensland in which nothing but friendship was expressed. We talked about pilot studies for some reserves. I agreed with the State Director that some problems had to be settled at ministerial level between the Australian Government Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Queensland Minister who dealt with Aboriginal affairs. Again I should like to have on the record that the last time I visited the Palm Island Reserve was in September of this year. I went there with the full and unanimous co-operation of the Palm Island Aboriginal Council. I went there with the complete permission also of the Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs at that time, Mr Bryant. I took with me a task force of experts and we spent some two and a half to three days on the Island. While we were there we had the utmost co-operation from State officials, from members of the Council and from all members of the 1,300 population with whom we came in contact. We examined a number of propositions which could be of value to the people on that Island.

Among the recommendations which are currently being examined by the Commonwealth Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and his Department are a fishing development which will involve quite a number of Aborigines, agriculture development which is a long range planning project, an oyster farm which will have not a great amount of personal involvement but which as a long term project could be highly lucrative, and possibly a minor tourist project. (Quorum formed). At the same time I am prepared to pay a tribute. I have been critical in the past of the lack of development on reserves such as Bamaga, Cherbourg and other places. I wish to say that on recent visits to Cherbourg the development has been excellent. The same applies to Bamaga and to a lesser degree to Woorabinda and one or two other areas in Queensland. But we should look at the disadvantages that can be seen in other places. I am not saying this because of a recent sighting, but because of continued sightings over a period of years. There has been an attempt to take over the Aurukun reserve by mining interests. I have no doubt that, unfortunately, this is being done with the co-operation of the State Minister dealing with Aboriginal affairs.

The tragedy of Weipa has been written about so often in so many volumes that there is no need for me to recapitulate the things which have happened in that area. The Torres Strait Islands have become one of the scandals of 1973. 1 am not referring only to the many arguments, backwards and forwards, that have taken place over the turtle project; I am referring particularly to the border dispute which some people in Queensland wish to perpetuate because of the highly prospective area that exists in the Torres Strait in relation to the possible exploration for and exploitation of hydrocarbons. We will not achieve a great deal until both the Torres Strait Island Act and the Queensland Aboriginal Act are abolished. I shall be publishing in the next few weeks a letter written by a highly respected member of the Aboriginal community setting out in detail his attitudes to the Queensland Act.

Let me make reference to what I feel are some of the background problems to which the current Queensland Minister is apparently now subscribing. If he did not subscribe to those problems there would have been no need for his attack on me and other people in Queensland Parliament today. History tells us that the period after 1885 was the beginning of missionary ventures in the far north of Queensland. The first of these was established by Lutherans in 1 886 at Cape Bedford, which is just north of Cooktown, and at the Blomfield River, which is now known as the Bloomfield River, south of Cooktown. At about the same time a third mission was established in another area. It has been said, and it was said at that time, that the contact with whites and others had been disastrous. The answer therefore was to control and minimise such contact. Though in the north more missions were eventually established than Mr Meston, who was then prominent in this field, would have considered necessary or desirable, there was little direct governmental activity in the area for many years and the Government concerned itself primarily with the problems of Aborigines and part Aborigines in the settled areas.

Mr Meston's proposals for the scattered remnants of quiet tribes in the settled areas were based on the same premise that contact was demoralising and had to be restricted. He argued as follows: the Aboriginals scattered among the settled districts and wandering about the towns . . . require collection on suitable reserves, complete isolation from contact with the civilised race to save them from that small section of Whites more degraded than any savage; kept free from drink and opium and disease, the young people and the able bodied taught industrious habits, and to raise their own food supplies; the people being decently cared for . . .

The collection of Aborigines onto reserves and their total exclusion from towns, except in properly regulated employment, entailed legislation to end their unfettered liberty to roam about and mix with whites. It would then be considered necessary to appoint a chief protector and assistant protector, and to confer on them power to send Aborigines to reserves and keep them there. The utterances of the State Minister today would indicate that the general attitude to Aborigines has not changed.

The secessionist movement that has been gathering some sort of support in Queensland, particularly from members of the National Party, is to be deplored. If there is an intention behind the utterances of the Minister to take away the Aborigines from the Australian sphere and to keep them isolated, then I think it is to be regretted and deplored. My own family has had particular problems in its dealings with one particular Minister. This will be the subject of discussions in another place removed from Parliament probably some time this year or next year. It is regrettable that because one has differences of opinion with State people they want to continue their attacks in a sphere far removed from their own arc of influence.

The policy of the Queensland Government and the Queensland legislation, some of which I mentioned a moment ago- I refer particularly to the Act and to those things which were done many years ago- would indicate that the Queensland Government has a desire either to retain this sort of control or, in cases where we have moved away from it, to return to it. I believe that there ought to be a spirit of cooperation between the Australian Government and every State government in this country. I think that probably the nicest thing that Queensland could do at this stage would be to co-operate by abolishing both of the Acts to which I have referred. In the first place, this would restore dignity to the Aborigines. It would give them the opportunity to make their own decisions, to plan their own lives and to run their own communities. It is said that the councils on the reserves have this power; but when the real crunch comes, when we get down to the nitty gritty of it, they do not have this power. Always the State Director or his nominee- it is largely at the reserve manager level that this power is exercised- has the power of veto and it is being exercised in many ways.

If the Acts are removed and dignity is restored to the black people, then dignity will also be restored to the whites, because many of the officers of the Queensland Department of Aboriginal Affairs are men of integrity. They are men who are trying to do the right thing by the Aborigines, but always they are weighed down by the system. They are subject to all its shortcomings. Consequently they are not able to do the things that they as human beings want to do. I suppose there are possible answers if we want to go the whole way, namely, to petition for the removal of the State Minister. While we are about it maybe we could petition also for the removal of the Premier who seems to have some sort of obsession that there is something wrong with the Australian Government.

Senator Wright - What right have you to argue this in the Federal Parliament? Why do you not get someone to argue it up there in the State Parliament?

Senator KEEFFE - If Senator Wright would make his interjection in a clear voice I would understand what he is trying to say. His words are difficult to understand.

Senator Wright - I have listened to you with patience. You are just a muddling, confused -

Senator KEEFFE - Whether Senator Wright likes it or not, the white man's problem in relation to the Aboriginal cause is a national one. It has nothing to do with a parochial or sectional approach. Every State Government and the Australian Government ought to be co-operating to. solve it. It is useless for the honourable senator to say that it ought to be argued out on a State basis. It is an Australian problem, and the sooner he realises it the better off we all will be. But to counter the rather obscure but intendedtobenasty note in my speech, may I conclude on a light note by reading a poem written by a friend of mine who refers in these terms to the Premier of Queensland:

Our Leader who art at Kingaroy

Hollow be thy name.

Thy Government come thy Government go

For sure at the next election.

Give us each day more silence please

And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who libel against you.

And lead us not into partition

But deliver us to Whitlam for his is the

Kingdom the power and the glory for ever and

Ever. Amen.

With that light note I make this final appeal: It is the responsibility of the Australian Government to ensure that Aborigines and Islanders in this country are given the dignity that is their right. It is the responsibility of all State governments to co-operate with the Australian Government. I deplore the utterances of the State Minister today in which he sets out to denigrate me. On other occasions he has denigrated other members of the Labor Party because of their devotion to the Aboriginal cause. I hope that this is the last salvo that will be fired in the State House and that in future the bonds of friendship between this Government and the State Government will be strengthened in the interests of the Aboriginal and the white people.

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