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Thursday, 20 April 1961

Mr NELSON (Northern Territory) . - The statement by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), dealing with the Native Welfare Conference held in Canberra on 26th January last seems to me to highlight the main weakness in our methods of dealing with native welfare, that is, the lack Of continuous and permanent machinery of consultation. Here we have a conference of Ministers who have not met for many years and who do not intend to meet again for another two years. We know only too well, from recent events, that the eyes of the world are shifting from the South African episode to our own country and its policies. In particular we want to see, at this stage, something concrete emerging from conferences of this nature, so that we can reassure not only our own people in Australia but also the rest of the world, that we are in earnest when we say we are doing our utmost as a nation to assist our native people.

It is useless in these days to shrug off the scrutiny and queries of people overseas when they deal with our own native policy. It is useless for the Commonwealth to say that it has no control or only limited control over all the aborigines in Australia and that the States exercise sovereign rights and control nearly 75 per cent, of the native people of the continent. The people of the outside world hold the Commonwealth Government responsible for the treatment of these people. It cannot be too strongly stressed that although in Australia we realize these facts, in the eyes of the world it is the Commonwealth Government which has to accept responsibility for the welfare of our native people. No reason and no excuse that we as a nation can offer in this regard will alter that position. Here we have a weakness in our own domestic position, where each State goes its own way, subject to these casual conferences at some fiveyearly intervals. It is no wonder the world asks of us what our national policy is and what we are doing in respect of it not only in one area such as the Northern Territory but also in the States in respect of the native people within the continent of Australia.

Conferences of this kind, held at infrequent intervals, do not provide a satisfactory answer to this question. I know that from the constitutional point of view the Commonwealth Government lacks the power to take over the responsibility of providing for the care and future of the whole of these people. I know that in existing circumstances only the States, exercising their sovereign right, can dictate policy in respect of the people in their respective States. Surely, however, the time has arrived when some overriding commission or body, acceptable to the States and the Commonwealth, can be set up to sit in constant watch over the policy and the implementation of the policy for the whole of Australia. Financed by Commonwealth funds, such a body, having State representation, after taking into consideration the differing conditions prevailing in each State as well as the differing state of advancement of these people, could even lay down a policy which would set the minds of our own people in Australia at rest and impress upon them that everything possible is being done to facilitate the advancement and assimilation of these people into our society, as well as impressing on the minds of people overseas that that is in actual fact what is happening. This, in turn, would demonstrate to the world at large that we have at long last decided to treat the matter of our native races as a national one and that we are drawing on the full resources of the central government in all our efforts to overcome the back-lag. I appreciate that there will be a fear in the minds of some people that the States, or particular States, might be ahead of the Commonwealth at this particular time in the care and welfare of the native people, but I envisage a policy accepting the most progressive and practicable ideas and applying that policy for the benefit of the more backward States, which, although not lacking in feeling or interest, are not able to assist their people adequately through lack of funds and the means to do the job properly.

The figures of population are interesting in this respect. The figures that I will mention have been taken from the Commonwealth "Year-Book" for 1960, and refer to the census of the year 1954. That is the only figure we have to go on in respect of the States in regard to population figures. The expenditure figures are for the year 1958-59. When dealing with the three States or areas of the Commonwealth *>»« have the main body of the native people, we find that in the Northern Territory, where there are 17,000 natives, there was an expenditure of £791,695, or approximately £45 per head. Western Australia had a native population of 10,000. The amount spent on them was £591,000, which works out at a little less than £60 a head. In Queensland there were 10,000 natives, and the expenditure amounted to £726,000, or about £70 a head.

I do not know whether these figures include expenditure on capital works, but in any case they give a fair indication of the amounts spent on native welfare during the period in question. I know that substantial increases have taken place in Commonwealth expenditure in this direction since these figures were prepared. I know that last year the expenditure by the Commonwealth on native people in the Northern Territory amounted to £1,300,000. This included expenditure on capital works.

I realize, of course, that the expenditure of money does not necessarily indicate that progress is being made, or even that a given position is being maintained. What is important is that the money should be spent wisely and the maximum benefit derived from it. It is for this reason that I consider there would be an advantage in having an overriding commission comprising many members rather than that the responsibility be left to one person, as is the case at the present time.

The problem of assimilation cannot be solved by a mere wave of the hand, lt must be done progressively. I agree with the Minister's comment that the assimilation policy must be carried out progressively, and in a manner that will not react to the disadvantage of the people whom it is sought to help, and will not disrupt the Australian economy in general.

I shall now turn to the Minister's statement itself. I shall deal with only a few of the points that he made, because other speakers will also advert to various parts of the statement. First, let me say that this is not a statement of achievement. It simply sets out the Government's aims and objectives, and in no way does it tell us what is being done by the States in the various fields of activity that are mentioned in the statement. I would like to have had & state ment from the States themselves showing what they are doing at this point of time in respect of education, housing, employment, health and other services. I would like to have heard from the States what they are doing about providing homes for aborigines. We realize, of course, that one cannot take natives from the nomadic state, put them straight into homes and expect them to look after themselves. Therefore we would like to know what the States are doing in this regard.

I would like to have had information also on what the States are doing to fit the natives to take their places in the community. I believe that one of the weaknesses inherent in the Commonwealth's policy in regard to native affairs is a tendency to put natives in settlements and so take away from them their initiative. They are not imbued with any desire to go out end work and become producing members of the community. While we are trying to assist these natives we should not deprive them of their initiative, because this is something they must retain if they are to fit themselves into the community. While it is highly desirable that we should help the natives to renounce their nomadic existence, educate them and house them, we should not merely put them into houses and feed them and provide other services without emphasizing the necessity for them to help themselves and to acquire some degree of initiative and preserve their selfrespect. We do not want them to become mere mendicants, but rather essential and valuable units in the community.

I would like to have heard something of what the States are doing with respect to education. Are they concentrating on the academic side of education, or are they trying to make the natives proficient tradesmen so that they can perform valuable work for themselves and the community? We all know that it is not easy for natives to go through their schooling period in the same way as other Australian children do. The parents of the native children are still nomadic in many cases, and for this reason a child's schooling is often interrupted. Children may acquire a certain amount of academic education, but as they have had no trade training they find it very difficult to play a worth-while part in the life of the community. We realize that they must have some degree of academic education, so that they can compete with other members of the community.

I.   pay a warm tribute to the missions for the work they perform. They are taking a terrific burden from the shoulders of the Government in providing teaching staff and medical staff for the natives, and many social services and amenities. If these services were not provided by the missions they would have to be provided by the Government.

I wish now to refer to the consumption of alcohol by aborigines. This is a most important problem, and it is no use sidestepping it. I believe this is one matter that should have been settled by the conference about which the Minister has spoken. Natives are constantly moving from one area to another. If a native has spent some time in a State in which he is allowed to consume alcohol, he should not be penalized if he happens to cross the border into a State in which he is prohibited from taking alcohol. This is a most important subject, and it does nobody any good for the States and the Commonwealth to dodge their responsibility to lay down and follow a common policy.

I come now to the very important matter of personal hygiene, which is bound up with the problem of preparing natives to fit themselves into our society. Great pains should be taken to teach the native people the essentials of personal hygiene. Speaking from my knowledge of these matters in the Northern Territory, I can say that this problem is of particular importance in connexion with education. Many white parents object to native children sitting beside their children in the schools, because they feel strongly that the personal hygiene of native children is by no means what it should be. They believe that there is a definite risk in allowing the children to mix at present. I know that this lack of personal hygiene on the part of native children is one of the objections that have been raised to mixed schooling. This objection in some instances is valid. We must be at great pains and exercise extreme care until the natives learn the rudiments of hygiene. They should be constantly supervised and advised of the need for it.

Although the conference mentioned the subject of employment of natives it did not touch upon the wages and conditions of natives employed within this and other areas. The conference should have called the trade unions into consultation so that some broad means of gradually developing and improving the wages and conditions of native employees, not only on stations but also throughout industry generally, could have been hammered out. Many problems are associated with this aspect. If, in general form, we impose award wages and conditions out of hand, we may legislate a lot of natives out of work. I believe that the unions have a sympathetic attitude towards these people and are knowledgeable enough to hammer out a workable arrangement, with the parties concerned, some means of granting to the native workers some, if not all, of the conditions that are the privilege and right of every other citizen of Australia.

A biennial conference is not sufficient. The conferences should be held much more frequently to formulate any changes in policy that may be necessary from time to time. That is why I have suggested the appointment of an overriding commission. Such a body would be the answer to many of the problems associated with the biennial conferences that are held at present.

As honorable members know, the Parliament recently set up a select committee to inquire into the advisability of granting voting rights to aborigines. I have my own views on this question, but it would be wise for me to refrain from expressing them at this stage because in the next few months I, as one of the representatives of my party on the committee, will have to gather, sift and consider evidence relating to many aspects of this problem.

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

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