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Thursday, 20 April 1961

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- There was quite a deal of warmth and humanity in much of what was said by the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate). 1 agree with the remarks which have been passed about the general administration of the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). He has probably made a bigger contribution to the solving of this single problem than has any other person of ministerial rank. I do not know that I would call all of his policy enlightened, but I will say that in many respects he has reversed some of the rather poor trend's that were in evidence in relation to native welfare over the rest of Australia. I wish that people would get away from the atmosphere that was developed in the remarks of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Browne). After all, he has probably some thousands of constituents who fall into this category. The tone in which the honorable member for Macarthur opened his remarks was one of pessimism. He started off with what might be termed the old approach about coals in the bath, and you cannot put aborigines in good houses because they will smash the windows and break the walls, and they would not wash and so on. I do not know in what way that is particularly relevant to this matter, because housing is, of course, a difficult problem for the underprivileged white people in our society also. I believe that talk like that produces an atmosphere of pessimism. After all, we are talking about some 70,000 people who are defined as aborigines, and another 30,000 who are part aboriginal, so there are 100,000 people who can reasonably call themselves aborigines. When you speak of these people you speak of some very primitive folk and of large numbers of people for whom somebody has coined a most appropriate term - " fringe dwellers " - a large number of people who live in missions and government stations, and thousands scattered throughout the metropolitan, urban and country areas of Australia. There is a complexity involved, not so much because of geographical location as because of the diversity of approach of State and Commonwealth governments. This is where I think we must take up the cause. The first need is definite Commonwealth action and the acceptance of definite Commonwealth responsibility, and this is where the initiative lies in the hands of the present Minister. How can aborigines feel that they are free citizens in a free Commonwealth while there is the following section in the Commonwealth Constitution: -

In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.

I know lots of aboriginal folk, some of them very well, and every one of them is hurt by that section. That is part of the morale-damaging structure of the legal system of Australia which ought not to be allowed to persist. So, I suggest that the first step that the Minister should take before he retires from his high office as a result, perhaps, of the next general election, is to initiate adoption of the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee which, I think, recommended that this particular section be amended. That can only be done by a Commonwealth referendum. The initiative lies right here with this Government, in this Parliament and, I would say, in particular with the Minister. That is the first step that ought to be taken. If we are to induce self-respect and a growth of morale among the aboriginal folk, we must remove the legal disabilities that make it look to these people that they are Jess than others are. That is an essential step towards what one might term full citizenship, or equality, or just the common brotherhood of fellow Australians.

There are other provisions in the Constitution which should be attended to also. The first thing I note is that the constitutional position is difficult, and it appears to me that at the conference of Ministers this was inadequately dealt with. The legal position of the Australian aboriginal is terribly complex. It is especially difficult. An aboriginal would almost need to take his legal adviser with him if he wants to travel round the country. In Victoria - and this is to the credit of the Liberal Party there - I think it was in 1950, all legal disabilities were removed from aborigines. People from the northern parts of Australia might say, " That is all right for you in Victoria, because there are not many aborigines there ". But the fact is that in Victoria and Tasmania all legal disabilities have been removed. An aboriginal from northern Queensland, who suffers disabilities under the legislation there, may come to Victoria and may go on the electoral roll, and drink in an hotel if he wants to do so. Unfortunately, one of the things that has developed around the whole question is that the right to drink has become almost the badge of citizenship for an aboriginal. There is, in fact, an aboriginal at the Broadmeadows Police Depot now. He is from northern Queensland, and he may go on the electoral roll and vote at the next Victorian State election. But as soon as he returns to Queensland he will be deprived of a vote, because he will come under the act there. So, no matter how distinguished an Australian may be, if he is an aboriginal, as soon as he crosses a State border he may well have to look to his right to go into an hotel, and he may have to get into an argument if he wants to vote. That is the legal position, and it should not be allowed to continue. That disability can be removed only by Commonwealth action and Commonwealth initiative. It is not good enough to ask the State Ministers to do something about it. We all know - we on this side of the House in particular - how difficult it is to get coordinated State legislation through.

I speak as one who may perhaps come within the honorable member for Kalgoorlie's category of do-gooder, but as one also who has seen and has talked with the people and done his best to make the community conscious of its duties in this matter. I think that while these legal disabilities make it appear on paper that the aboriginal is less than his white fellow he is obviously hurt, and we thereby start an oppressive system which we ought to remove. Laws were made for men, and men ought not to have to conform to laws which oppress them or put disabilities on them.

These are the first steps that the Parliament should take. The material position of the aborigines, of course, gives any person with a sense of humanity a great deal of concern. Recently, I showed at my home some slides taken in Queensland. The position is much the same all over Australia, and I am not picking Queensland out in particular. I remember throwing a picture on the wall when there was sitting in the room a woman member of the aboriginal community of Victoria. She said, when she saw a picture of some dwellings, " Aborigines live there?" I said, " Yes." She looked in a hopeless sort of a way and said, " Why must our people live in humpies all over the country?" That is another step you have to take - a national housing programme which will overcome one of the disabilities under which the aborigines suffer.

Then there is the employment problem. It is a misfortune, because of geography as much as anything else, and of Australia's pattern of development, that a great number of these aboriginal people live in parts of Australia where there is the least possibility of full employment for them once they have been through the processing which, particularly in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, is being given in the education system. That also will need Commonwealth initiative. One thing that needs special attention is education at all levels. It is not just a matter of their passing through the primary schools. We perhaps need to call in international assistance to see what we are going to do with a special group who need education not only in the 3 R's, but also in the management of homes and domestic life and ali the rest of it. I know that in the Northern Territory a good deal of this, on the material side, is being done. I have seen it, and I have talked to the people who are faced with the problem up there. But, unfortunately, the Commonwealth work is being carried out in isolation. The superintendent of Aboriginal Welfare in Victoria has little chance of visiting the Northern Territory and talking to his colleague up there. The superintendent in New South Wales is also in the same position, because all State government departments are bedevilled by lack of money and other resources. A telephone call from one end of Australia to the other is almost beyond the resources of some State departments.

Here again is another field in which there should be co-ordination and Commonwealth initiative and action. This is a national question that should be the concern of all the people of Australia. I come from south of the Murray, the wealthiest part of Australia, according to taxation statistics. We have a minute aboriginal problem. I suppose 300 homes would solve the principal part of the social question. But in Western Australia, somewhere between one in 30 and one in 33 of the population is in this category. The people of Western Australia should not be asked to carry the burden on their own. So I look for Commonwealth acceptance of responsibility.

The aborigines should have citizenship - citizenship in whatever way the Government cares to define it, but they should become Australian citizens. I know that the Nationality and Citizenship Act gives them Australian citizenship. Once an aboriginal from Queensland lands in New Zealand or in Victoria, he is a free Australian. But something must be done to give aborigines the same rights all over Australia. They should have the same privileges and should be encouraged to develop the same sense of responsibility that other citizens have. This is a national question that only Commonwealth resources can resolve, and only Commonwealth initiative can overcome.

Therefore it lies principally in the hands of the Minister for Territories.

In some ways, one looks at the report given us by the Minister with, well, a little bit of dismay that further and more definite steps were not taken. I realize, of course, that it is not always easy to get State Ministers and State senior public servants in the one place at the one time, and I recognize that the Minister had taken the initiative sometime before but the invitations had not been accepted, or something of that nature. However, eight or nine years were allowed to pass, then we had a conference but will have no more for two years. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) was quite right when he said that there should be a continuing consultative body pending the time when the Commonwealth has responsibility. I hope the Minister will do something on these matters. I believe that he would have the encouragement and support of every member of the Parliament and the great mass of the people outside, if he would only take more definite and bolder steps in his dealings with his colleagues in the State spheres.

I have dealt with the ministerial conference. I want now to tell the House of another conference held recently. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie referred to people who like to talk about this problem without having lived amongst the aborigines. I am one who could be included in the dogooder department. At Easter, I attended a conference in Brisbane of people concerned with the aboriginal question. It was the annual conference of the Council for Aborigines Advancement and it was attended by 150 people. Four years ago, we started in Adelaide with seventeen. In Victoria in the following year we had some 35 or so. In New South Wales last year, we had more than 100 and this year we had approximately 150. These people come from all walks of life and hold varying political opinions, and a significant proportion of them are aborigines. The conference was a sign of life amongst the aborigines themselves and a sign of the growing consciousness of the Australian people. One of the big disappointments of the conference was that the Minister in Queensland chose to be rude to us. He was invited to attend or to send his representative. He said that he considered no good purpose would be served by having his representative attend. I could have forgiven him had he not also done this some years earlier at a similar conference in Cairns. Fortunately the Minister for Territories enabled one of his officers to attend and to give advice.

At the Brisbane conference there was a man from the far north-west of Western Australia. He came from the Roebourne district, in the Port Hedland area, where he was associated with the activities of cooperatives. He was a full-blooded aboriginal and he stood up and spoke at this conference. I know that one delegate to the conference made sure that he obtained a photograph of him. He said, " 1 wonder whether at any time before, a full-blooded, almost tribal, aboriginal has addressed an Australian national conference ". There he was. He told in halting, slow terms some of the story of the attempt that was being made by his people to lift themselves above their disabilities. He was one of the original men of the Pindan group. I know that a lot of contention revolves around these matters, but during my visit to the people of the Pindan some five or six months ago, I was impressed by the fact that they could meet you on equal terms and look you in the eye. They showed that they could look after their camp and handle their own affairs. They have a long uphill struggle ahead of them, and we must give them all the assistance that we can.

At the conference there was another man, I suppose a three-quarter aboriginal. He came from Cairns and he became president of the organization. Aborigines were present and they spoke for themselves. Sometimes I do not agree with what they say, but I think it is an essential part of building the spirit of the Australian aborigines that we provide every possible opportunity for them to meet and to speak for themselves amongst themselves and amongst their fellow Australians. I believe that the organization to which I belong and to which I have given some encouragement is doing just that, and I hope that in the future the governments of Australia will give it a conscious lift, and some assistance and support. I do not necessarily mean financial assistance. I am speaking of the encouragement and support that should be given to those who attempt to achieve something in a national way.

In Victoria, the league has a hostel for girls. It runs a holiday scheme and also has an education system for the schools. If any secondary school concerned with the study of the aboriginal question wants information, we try to supply a speaker or to give the information that is needed. I think that the Minister should encourage the States to turn an encouraging eye on these matters. As the Minister points out, it is only the community itself that can handle these problems. It is the community that must break down social barriers; it is the community that must enfold the aboriginal people and make them feel at home as free citizens.

I support the approach of the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) to the question of assimilation. I hope that the Minister does not mean the breeding out of the Australian aboriginal. As my friend Pastor Dick Nicholls says in Victoria, " What is wrong with being black? " Only a few weeks ago a leading Australian athlete, a champion in his own field, sat in my home and discussed these matters with me. He had come from Queensland where in fact it is necessary for a person to deny that he is an aboriginal before he can be exempted from the act and so become a free citizen. He said, " Why should I have to deny that I am an aboriginal to become a free citizen? " I agree with him all the way. If the assimilation policy is carried to such a length that it becomes an abstract doctrine, as it has apparently in some ways, little will be achieved. For a girl from the north coming to Victoria to be told not to associate with the aboriginal people in Victoria is to pursue a hard and fast doctrine that transcends human rights.

As far as I can see, it is only when aborigines start to speak up for themselves and to be proud of their ancestry that they will be accepted as citizens. Aborigines can be just as proud of their ancestry as any of us here can be proud of our European ancestry. If it is good enough for the Prime Minister of Australia to be proud of his Scottish ancestry, it is good enough for the aboriginal people of Australia to be proud of their ancestry. These are essential features in building their morale and I hope in the near future more initiative will be taken by the governments. The Minister for Territories has a great opportunity laid at his door. This is the field in which Australia is most earnestly and critically examined by many people overseas. This is the question that was raised at the United Nations by Khrushchev himself. We cannot rest at peace at night while these problems face us. It is not much good our wringing our hands about the people of the Congo or South Africa if some thousands of our aboriginal people are left to sleep at night on the river banks, cold, wet and hungry.

This problem can be solved only by coordinated Commonwealth action. I want to make it clear - I believe that this is the feeling of my fellow citizens in Victoria - that people living in a State which has no great material responsibility for aborigines should consider it their duty to share the burden that falls so heavily on the people of the northern part of Australia. This sharing of the burden can be achieved only through Commonwealth action. One of the most pressing problems involves employment, I do not know exactly how this will be solved, but there should be some industrial opportunities offered in the northern parts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. It is no good passing them through primary or secondary schools if, when they stand outside the school door, there is nowhere for them to turn for full employment and a gainful and satisfactory existence. It is not a question of a sub-race or an inferior people. I think everybody with any conscience in this field has given that idea away. The aborigines of Australia are entitled to equal legal rights.

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