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Thursday, 9 May 1957


Dr EVATT (Barton) (Leader of the Opposition) - The Opposition supports the action taken by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant). I am very pleased that the debate has broadened out in the speeches of both the honorable member for Wills and the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). The Minister expressed a view, the validity of which is, perhaps, the real question involved. He said, in substance, that the main thing in the treatment of the Australian aborigine is not so much to improve his financial position as to provide for his health, education and welfare. In one sense that is true. But I think the whole climate of public opinion in relation to the Australian aboriginal has now changed. As the Minister said, it is true that in 1944 a referendum to give the Commonwealth limited powers over aborigines was defeated. Fourteen points were all wrapped up together. Every State Premier agreed to them; every State Leader of the Opposition agreed to them; all parties in this House agreed to them; and then some of the States and some honorable members in this House went out to the country and opposed them. That is why the attempt to get some slight amendment of the Constitution by consent foundered. There was a complete breach of faith. But let that pass, because power was sought for five years only and that period would have expired long since.

It is obvious that public opinion in this country and in the world generally has changed in relation to the treatment of native races. My view is - and I am sure I speak for the political and industrial Labour movement - that the only thing to be done with the Australian aboriginal, full-blood or Otherwise, is to give him the benefit of the same laws as apply to every other Australian. I admit that in connexion with social services you might have to appoint a trustee to administer the money. That may be arguable, but the important thing is the development of the personality of these people. That is vital. Indeed, it is dangerous in the international sphere for the Australian aboriginal to be grouped with other races which have not full civil rights. What is the reason for the denial to the Australian aboriginal of full civil rights and elementary social services?

In 1946 the Labour Government secured the passage of a special amendment to the

Constitution relating to the provision by the Commonwealth of maternity allowances, widows' pensions, child endowment, unemployment benefits, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, dental services, family allowances, and benefits to students. We did not say " except for the aborigines ". In other words, it seems to me that the time has arrived to have another look at this position, even from a constitutional point of view. The usual argument that is brought forward is that the power to make laws under section 5 (xxvi.) of the Constitution for the people of any race other than the aboriginal race, in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws, is simply a safeguard in the Constitution, so that if the Commonwealth wants to make laws of a racial character those laws cannot be applied to the aboriginal race in the States, lt could make laws, for instance, for any members of Asian races in Australia, but it simply cannot deal with the aboriginal race under that head. However, that is a minor point because there is no doubt about the power of the Commonwealth to meet the cases mentioned by the honorable member for Wills.


Mr Duthie - Do you think there should be more Commonwealth power?


Dr EVATT - I am coming to that. What was proposed in 1944 is the policy of the Australian Labour movement - that this Parliament should have power, to be exercised at its discretion, in relation to Australian aborigines, for all Australia, without limitations or qualifications or conditions. 1 think that the question of social services can be dealt with under the present law without difficulty. That is the Labour party's view.

The Minister, in question time to-day. answered certain questions. He referred to members of the Opposition who make a special study of this subject, and one of those members is the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson). Today, not one full-blood aboriginal in the Northern Territory receives any age or invalid pension. The honorable member for the Northern Territory assures me that that is still the position. Secondly, no fullblood aboriginal in the Northern Territory enjoys full citizenship rights as an Australian - not one.


Mr Hasluck - That is not true.


Dr EVATT - There may be some qualification to that. I do not want to overState the position. Is that not substantially correct?


Mr Hasluck - There are some - not many.


Dr EVATT - Except for the few the Minister indicates, the general position is that our fellow citizens in the Northern Territory, full-blood aborigines, do not enjoy civil rights. It is true that even some of our aboriginal artists do not enjoy full rights. They are placed under restrictions. It is said that this is for their benefit. But more important than their education or physical welfare is their recognition as human beings and respect for their dignity. If they are treated on that footing of equality, then we will get results. It is a bad position and I do not think that the Minister, although he puts up facts from his own point of view, and is very expert on the subject, can really support this.

I would like to see a charter giving these people full rights at once, at any rate in the Commonwealth territories.

I see no reason why these people should not enjoy social services. The exceptional case where it may be said that the individual cannot use the money given by way of social services can be met by the interposition of a trustee. It is very hard, 1 suppose, for the Commonwealth Ministry to deal with all the State authorities as well, and the answer to that ultimately is concurrent power in the Commonwealth to deal with the subject as a whole.

I am not limiting my remarks simply to the blood aboriginal. I refer to all aborigines. I say that they have to be treated as fellow Australians. If we do that, we can speak in international affairs about the status of native races and other peoples in countries such as South Africa, Russia and its satellites, and the United States, where under various fancy names there is still a tendency towards segregation. In the long run I do not think it will do anything but good to Australia as a whole if that new approach is made. Therefore the Opposition entirely supports what the honorable member for Wills has put forward and I am sure that the honorable member agrees with my views.







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