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Tuesday, 10 November 1959

Mr HASLUCK (CURTIN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Territories) - To some extent, the question which the honorable member has asked involves an expression of legal opinion and, of course, it is not customary to express opinions on matters of law at question time. In general, the situation is this: First of all, assuming the honorable member is referring to those aborigines who have been committed to the care of the State and are wards of a Protector of Aborigines or a Director of Welfare, one question at issue is whether they have the capacity to make a will, and, as I understand it, they do have the legal capacity to make a will. The second question is, what happens when they die?

I can only speak of the practice in the Northern Territory. If an aboriginal who is a ward of the Director of Welfare dies and has made a will, then the usual steps are taken to try to prove the will. If he dies and is possessed of property and has not made a will but has died intestate, then the Director of Welfare follows the practice of submitting to the Public Trustee a report on the property that was owned by the deceased and his own recommendations regarding those persons, his kinsfolk - that is, kinsfolk according to native custom - who may be considered to have a claim on the estate. The Director of Welfare refers that to the Public Trustee.

Then it is the Public Trustee's duty, performing his functions under the acts applying to his functions, to make a determination. When he has made the determination he leaves it then to the Director of Welfare to carry out the decision and to distribute the property according to the Public Trustee's decision. I understand that, recently, in the Northern Territory the Public Trustee, interpreting his own duties in the way that he is required by statute to do so, did raise some fine points regarding recommendations that had been made to him by the Director of Welfare regarding who were or were not the kinsfolk of the deceased. That matter is currently being examined in the Northern Territory in order that an understanding can be reached between the Director of Welfare and the Public Trustee.

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