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Thursday, 26 November 1959

Mr HASLUCK (CURTIN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Territories) - No proposal of this kind is being considered by the Government. I am aware, however, that there has been a certain amount of what may be called public agitation in favour of such an amendment. Strangely enough, the agitation comes from people who profess to have the interests of the aborigines at heart. If I may say so, it seems to me that we need to straighten out some of our thinking on this subject. Any one who has worked among aborigines or had anything to do with them will know that there is no single cause which contributes more to the degradation and debasement of the primitive and ignorant aboriginal than does intoxicating liquor.

In the Northern Territory about eight years ago, it was found that the customary penalty of a fine did not act as a deterrent and that it certainly seemed to be an inadequate penalty for what is really an abominable offence of debasing a fellow human being. Therefore, a penalty of imprisonment without the option of a fine was introduced, and it has had a considerable deterrent effect. It should be remembered, also, that, although the penalty is a term of imprisonment, the law provides that a person - particularly a first offender - who incurs a penalty for having supplied liquor to an aboriginal may appeal to a higher court and, if he shows mitigating circumstances, have the penalty reduced.

I would, myself, on all occasions, strongly defend the appropriateness of this severe penalty, because the offence, in my mind, is one which requires a severe penalty. I would put the seriousness of the offence in its most extreme form by saying that, in the Northern Territory, we have had experience of excessive drinking among aborigines leading to other crimes even as great as the crime of murder. Surely honorable members would not think it appropriate that, when a poor, besotted aboriginal is gaoled for murder, we should say to the man who contributed to the aboriginal's corruption, " Pay a fiver at the door as you go out ".

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