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Friday, 28 June 1946

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- 1 wish to bring to the notice of the' Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson), who, T believe, favours a fair deal for Australian aborigines, a matter concerning some of these people. As a member of what is known a? the Victorian Aboriginal G;]'0.up, my attention has been directed to the fact that in that State Australian aborigines, although educated, entitled to exercise a vote at State elections, and liable to municipal taxes, arc not eligible "to vote at Commonwealth elections. This may seem to be a small matter, but it is not regarded as such by eminent Australian aborigines like Douglas Nichols.) who is known to most Victorians as a man of intelligence, a reputable citizen, and a. prominent athlete, haying for many years been a league 'footballer with the Fitzroy club. This anomaly has been put to various authorities for an opinion, and the following is the view of Professor Elkin : -

My understanding of the act regarding Commonwealth franchise is based on opinions given to me by Sir Robert Garran when I was writing my small book. Citizenship for the. AAboriginies; you will see references on page 105 mid page 100. The point is that no person, irrespective of ancestry, who can vote at elections for the more numerous house of the State Parliament shall 'be prevented from voting at elections for either house of the Parliament of the Commonwealth. In this State, of course, all aborigines, full-blooded or other, can vote in State and Federal elections I understand, as I have stated on page 105, that any person of aboriginal blood can lie enrolled and vote for the State Parliament, and. therefore, for the Commonwealth, and I a.m amazed to hear that there is any question of this.

There is some conflict df opinion on this matter. Here is a. statement by Professor Patton -

Publicity has recently been given to the status of Australian aboriginals in terms which seem to show some confusion as to the real position. It has been stated, for example, that they are citizens of the State but not nf the Commonwealth, and that they may. vote for the State Parliament. This is not the case. The Common wealth Constitution (section 41) provides that no person who has a right to. vote for the more numerous house of n State shall be prevented by any law of the Commonwealth from voting at- Commonwealth elections. Australian aboriginals, therefore, cannot be prevented from voting at Commonwealth elections unless they are expressly disfranchised by their State. (The definition of 'aboriginal" varies from State to State.)

Mr. A.O. Neville, a former Director of Native Affairs, states -

In 1044 I referred this matter to the Department of the Interior and was told that " except under the Electoral War-time Act. aborigines ure not entitled to vote at any Commonwealth election ". He also says that section 41 of the Constitution "has been interpreted, by the instructions issued to electoral registrars ", as moaning that the right must .have been acquired prior to the passing of. the Commonwen Hh Franchise Act of 1002.

The Victorian aboriginal group says -

As the section reads " has or acquires the right to vote ". this would seem a most arbitrary and impossible interpretation, and it. would appear that different practices have been followed by the Commonwealth officers in different States.

Our record in the treatment of the Australian aborigines since the establishment of white civilization in this country is not good. Here , is an opportunity to uplift the morale of at least a few of them. I am not referring to the myalls or to other aborigines who are incapable of exercising a vote, but to those members of the race who are good Australian citizens. In 1938, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), the right honorable member member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) and I had an audience with the King of Egypt. While we were waiting to see him we met his uncle, Mehemet Ali, who had been to" Australia. He spoke disparagingly of this country. I suggested that a country with 120,000,000 sheep might appeal to him, and he replied that he did not dis-. agree with everything that we did. He admired the way we treated the aborigines, but asked, "Why don't you kill them all at once, instead "of a few at a time?" And ho meant it, which gives some idea of how we are regarded abroad. We talk of Commonwealth control of the aborigines, and I am in favour of . that policy, but our record federally in that respect is worse than that in some of the States. Of what use is Commonwealth control if the natives are given a lower legal status under the Commonwealth than undera State authority? The association asks who issued instructions to disfranchise aborigines who were already citizens of a State? Is the Minister for the Interior aware of those' instructions, and has he sanctioned them? Have they any legal force, in view df the terms of the Constitution? I ask the Minister to look into the matter from the constitutional point of view, for the peace of mind of those natives who consider that they should enjoy Australian citizenship.

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