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Thursday, 9 May 1957

Mr FREETH (Forrest) .- I am sure that we all agree with the expressions of goodwill towards the aboriginal race made in this House to-day. There is no doubt that the ultimate ideal is to have these people completely assimilated with the white race. The ultimate ideal is that they shall become members of the community and live under the same conditions as we live under. The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant), with the best intentions, has over-simplified the position. Honorable members who followed him, on both sides of the House, to some degree, have overlooked the fact that the problem is intensely complex. The aboriginal population is characterized by all sorts of conditions and graduations. Relatively few - approximately one-third of all the people of aboriginal blood in Australia - now live under their original tribal conditions. The graduations in the living conditions of the aborigines begin with the tribal natives, and go right down through those who are in casual employment for odd periods, in the northern part of Australia, to those in the southern States who are more or less in constant contact with white people and live almost, but not quite, up to their standards.

If we start at the beginning, we must appreciate that in many cases we are not offering the aboriginal race compensation for having disturbed their way of life but, in effect, passing a judgment on those who live under their original tribal conditions - telling them that their standards are not suitable and that they must live by those standards that we lay down.

That is the beginning of the problem. If that is the objective we must inculcate in the natives a desire to raise their living conditions to ours. I have in mind the extreme case of the tribal native who is living with little or no interference from white people and is told that his conditions are really sub-standard and must be brought up to the level of our own. He is told, in effect, that he must enjoy all the benefits of our civilization. It is not very easy to explain the wisdom of that to such a native. That problem is encountered, in greater or lesser degree at all levels, from the tribal native to the native who is completely assimilated. That is one matter which honorable members opposite have not faced.

We cannot, overnight, say to a native, whatever his degree of assimilation, " You are to be treated for all practical purposes as a white man. You are entitled to all the cash, and other benefits, of our civilization ". He simply cannot appreciate it, and when I use the term " appreciate " I mean that he simply cannot begin to understand the position in which we are trying to place him.

It is very true that in those areas where native children are educated alongside white children, they can up to a certain standard absorb education equally well. They have a similar degree of intelligence. But beyond that point, lacking the home environment of white children, they begin to fade away, and lose the competitive race with white children. Therefore, though more money may help, it hardly begins to solve the problem.

Mention has been made of the work of missions in the aboriginal field. I am sure that church leaders would agree that mere money could not begin to solve their problems. Every mission to aborigines will tell you that they are short of men of sympathy and understanding who will work among the natives, attempt to understand their difficulties, and be prepared to lift them up to the level that we desire.

It is, because of the different degrees of assimilation, an intensely complex problem. In Western Australia, for example, you have over wide areas the tribal native, the native who is working as a more or less permanent employee of large stations, and the native who is to be found in the south-west - very often a quarter-caste or half-caste who takes casual work from place to place. His headquarters is probably near a country town so that his children can receive education, and he is probably living in housing of a very makeshift type.

For all those reasons I do not believe that we get any further towards solving the problem by merely transferring authority from the State Native Welfare Departments to the Commonwealth, as was suggested by the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt). The State Native Welfare Department of Western Australia has certainly approached the matter with a great deal of sympathy. It has tried to study the individual. I do not think that in any other State an aboriginal student is attending a university. We have, in the city, a home where native children are brought up as white children. They mix with the white community as equals. At the same time, we cannot deny that despite the spotlight that has been thrown on the conditions of natives in the Warburton Range area, there are, close to the metropolitan area of Perth, natives living in degradation and misery, under conditions which are a far greater blot on our administration of native affairs than the plight of the tribal or semi-tribal natives in the Warburton Range area. The natives who live on the fringe of the city at East Perth and Bassendean have not the same publicity value and consequently nothing, or very little, is done for them.

Mr Hasluck - There are a few down in Footscray, too.

Mr FREETH - 1 cannot speak of the conditions in other cities, but it would be highly undesirable to centralize the administration of native affairs. It has been suggested that the aboriginal native should be entitled to receive full social service benefits. The Minister for Territories explained very clearly that the mere handing out of cash would not necessarily do any good. It has also been suggested that in those circumstances the money should be kept in trust for the native. The basic principle underlying the administration of native affairs in both the Commonwealth and the State of Western Australia is that the head of the department is the protector of aborigines. Indeed, he enjoys that title. The additional food, clothing and other amenities that are given to natives are a substitute for the normal cash benefits that are given by the Commonwealth to needy white people. A trustee must work for the benefit of his ward, and such restrictions as are placed upon natives with a lower living standard than that of white people are imposed simply for their own benefit.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The honorable member's time has expired.

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