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Thursday, 20 April 1961

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) . - Mr. Speaker, I agree .with the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) that many .constructive speeches have been made in this debate and that many honorable members have looked impartially at the problems which confrant the various governments in Australia and the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) with respect to the aborigines. The speech made by the honorable member himself was an example of .constructive and impartial thinking, as were those of the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) and the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson). However, unfortunately, .a little earlier, the House was treated to a demonstration by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) which was of an entirely different kind and which has indeed cast a shadow over the whole of this debate. As the honorable member for -Perth (Mr. Chaney) stated, what the honorable member for Hindmarsh said during his speech could be used by 'the enemies of this country to do Australia great harm in the forums of the world. The honorable member for Hindmarsh attacked the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) when, amongst other things, he belittled the great advance that had been made by giving aborigines the full social service and pension rights that are applicable to other Australians. It may well be that this should have been done earlier. There have been Commonwealth governments in Australia for 60 years, but it has only been during the term of office of this Government and of the present Minister for Social Services that this advantage has been given to the Australian aborigines That is something for which credit must be given.

The .honorable member for Hindmarsh said that our progress in dealing with the problems, of aborigines over a period of 150 years has been much too slow. If he had been just in his remarks, he would have admitted that for a great while no one tried to do very much about it. This Government and the present Minister for Territories in -particular have kept pace with changing conditions over the last ten or twelve years. More has been done in relation to these matters under the administration of the -present Minister than was done during -the whole of the earlier history of the Commonwealth.

There is only one other remark that 1 should like to pass about the honorable member for Hindmarsh. It is something of which honorable members and the country at large may well take note. The honorable gentleman has been engaged in a battle with the union to which he belongs - the Australian Workers Union, the greatest union in Australia - for much more than one year. In fact, "I think it has now extended over several years. The A.W.U. does not want this man as a member of the union or of its executive, and it will do everything it possibly can to reject him. It is a pity that electors in the division of Hindmarsh do not examine the reasons for the A.W.U.'s action and do the same in regard to his membership of this House.

Having regard to earlier debates in this session and events that have occurred overseas, the statement of the Minister for Territories is very important. It dennes quite clearly the aim of assimilation and sets out in clear and concise terms which cannot be misunderstood, except by those who want to misunderstand them, the meaning of and the methods that will be used to achieve assimilation. Unfortunately, some doubt has been cast upon the meaning of the term " assimilation ". Surely it means that ultimately the aborigines will have the same privileges, responsibilities and rights that other Australians now have. In other words, aborigines will live in the same street as other Australians and will be treated as their equal, as indeed they are in certain areas already. It is our hope that at some stage in the future all aborigines will achieve that status. The marriage of two persons of different colour would be a part of their assimilation. It may well be that by that means the aboriginal race will be absorbed over a period of time. As far as I can see, assimilation and absorption are part of one and the same thing.

The methods that the Government and those who attended the conference on native welfare laid down in moving towards this objective of assimilation are many and varied and are different in the various States. It has been pointed out that the processes that are applicable to the north of Australia may not be applicable to the State of Victoria in which I live and in which the problems are different. Various methods of assimilation will be followed out. There will be greater government settlement of tribes and" people who are still living in a nomadic or a semi-nomadic state. More health services and education services must be made available to aborigines in all States. Child welfare services will have to be extended. Already there are special schools for aborigines. Those will have to be extended so that aboriginal children ultimately may be taken to the stage where they will sit side by side with white children in the same school. The provision of special schools is a transitional process which we hope will not last for too much longer. The special school is necessary because of language difficulties, environment and heredity. It is not necessary because of any lack of natural intelligence in native children who, I am led to understand, having regard to language difficulties and difficulties of environment, are as intelligent as the average white child.

A great deal will have to be done in relation to housing and hygiene. I shall say more about that later. The provision of vocational training so that aborigines may get different kinds of jobs and not have to rely upon the pastoral industry for most of their employment is certainly important. It is also important that they play a great part in the sporting activities of this country. The honorable member for Perth has directed attention to the part that aborigines have been able to play in this sphere and to the increasing part that they will probably play in the future.

Perhaps most importantly, the report of the conference directs attention to the fact that certain restrictive legislation which remains on the statute-book must, as time permits, be removed and that the sooner it is done away with the better the position will be. The last point to which I wish to refer in dealing with this aspect of the problem of assimilation is the importance of ensuring that the white people accept their responsibility. The process of assimilation will succeed or fail according to the attitude that is adopted by the white people of Australia. There are many persons in this country who at some time or other have uttered what could be described as pious remarks in relation to the shortcomings of white people in other countries but who themselves have not been put to the test of facing up to the problems of a multi-racial society. Of course, in Australia the problem is a small one, because of the smallness of the number of aborigines. It is quite certain that in certain parts of Australia the good faith of Australians will be put to the test. It is my hope and belief that Australians will not fall short in this regard.

The conference agreed that particular attention will have to be given to the transitional housing of members of the aboriginal race who are not used to housing of any kind and who are reluctant to move into the kind of houses that we regard as being traditional and normal. The conference also directed particular attention to the supervision of welfare staff. I think it was the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Browne) who made some pertinent remarks regarding the importance of this matter. Attention was directed also to certain special problems brought about by the nomadic or semi-nomadic state of many aborigines, and to the fact that the settlement and assimilation of these people will involve the co-operation of several States and the Commonwealth, for reasons that have already been brought to the notice of the House. Quite clearly, if an aborigine is entitled to vote in one State, he should also be entitled to vote in other States. But that is not the position at the present time. The more that can be done to remove this anomaly, the sooner will a great step forward be taken in the process of assimilation.

Attention is also directed in the report of the conference to the fact that this problem involves approximately 70,000 aborigines throughout Australia, and that 30,000 or more aborigines and part aborigines have full citizenship rights. This is clear and straightforward evidence to any one who tries to argue to the contrary that our process is one of assimilation and that it is quite different from processes that are being followed in other countries, such as South Africa.

The Minister indicated, towards the end of his statement, that a conference of the kind we have been considering will be held every two years. That is a great step forward. I think the previous conference was held in 1951; the Minister might correct me if I am wrong. If a conference is held every two years, it will be much easier for the States and the Commonwealth to cooperate, and to learn from each other's successes and mistakes in this field.

The Minister is to be congratulated on the progress that has been made in the treatment of aboriginal people. The Department of Territories was created by this Government in 1951, and the present Minister has been Minister for Territories since that date. I said a little earlier that I believed more progress has been made in that time than was made in the whole of the previous history of the Commonwealth. This is due to the drive and the initiative of the Minister. If some people believe, on the facts and figures, that progress has at times been too slow, they should not forget the extreme difficulties of the task before us. The honorable member for Mackellar directed our attention to these difficulties. Few people in the world are living in a more primitive state than are the Australian aborigines. The aborigines here were, and some still are, in a nomadic state. Many are not accustomed to any kind of housing, many travel from one area to another and they do not possess any skills that could readily be used in their assimilation in the kind of society to which we are accustomed and which we are trying to bring the aboriginal people to accept.

About 16,000 aborigines in the Northern Territory receive benefit from the welfare ordinances. In this year, £1,100,000 is being spent on their account and works programmes costing nearly £130,000 are being undertaken. Development work has been, and is being, undertaken at each of several settlements, and on an average this costs £250,000 at each settlement. At the settlements, the growing of food, animal husbandry, fishing, forestry and trades are taught, and the aborigines show a readiness to learn these skills, which will be useful to them. The Government has afforded other assistance. Subsidies are paid to mission workers and to native hygiene assistants. In this year, about £370,000 will be going to missions for assistance of one kind or another.

I have already mentioned that, in the field of education, the object is ultimately to have one system of schools for black and white children where aborigines are living. However, at present this is not always possible, simply because of language and environment differences which make it impossible for the aborigines to take their place in the white schools. So, special schools have been created to meet this demand. I emphasize that this is a transitional phase which will not be continued. It is worth noting, and it is praiseworthy, that there are now more than 2,000 native children in 28 schools in native settlements, pastoral properties which have willingly co-operated, and missions.

One of the most important factors in the assimilation of aborigines is housing - and the acceptance by white people df aborigines living in houses in the same street. This is an important question, and at times there have been arguments on it. I believe that Victoria has set a good example. The report of the Aborigines Welfare Board1 for 1959 draws attention to this question of housing and points to the success that has been achieved in Victoria. It is worth noting that, as the honorable member for Wills said, aborigines in Victoria, whether of full or part blood, have full citizenship and voting rights. Referring to housing, the board reported -

Approximately 30 families are tenants of the Housing Commission in the city and in various country towns and generally they are making a good effort to maintain themselves, but are faced with rentals which some of them cannot consistently meet. During the year the Board has assisted some of these families who have fallen into arrears with rent, taking the view that it was essential to preserve the tenancy and keep the family together rather than allow them to drift back to sub-standard living conditions and become a heavier burden not only on the Board but on other Social Service activities of the State. There are 160 families satisfactorily housed in various districts throughout Victoria - some ot them owning their own homes or in the process of buying them.

The report refers to the Mooroopna Housing Settlement, which is the first special housing project for aborigines. It was originated by the board and carried out with the co-operation of the Housing Commission. The report also directs attention to the fact that aborigines quickly adapted themselves to their new homes and set about improving the surroundings with gardens. The report goes on to say - . . regardless of their previous conditions the tenants' response to new housing has been immediate and continuous and a very potent factor in the acceptance of the settlement's child!im in the schools and their parents in the general life of the town.

That is a most important feature, because in this debate some doubt has been cast on the ability of aborigines to look after a house when given one for the first time. The general experience in Victoria is that the aborigines have looked after their houses very well and have taken a pride in them, and good care of them.

The report of the Aborigines Welfare Board refers to the fact that several aborigines are living in town districts in areas not by any means set aside for aborigines, but in ordinary houses in a street just as any one else would have a house in a street. No objection is raised to this, and there is a very willing acceptance of it. However, this must be extended, and further efforts in this regard are being made in Victoria.

The Commonwealth has shown a very real sympathy for the problems of the aborigines, especially in the last few years under the administration of the present Minister. Further evidence of this is shown in the fact that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) has announced in the House that a select committee has been appointed to examine the subject of full voting rightsfor aborigines. Surely enough has- been said in this Parliament to make honorable members doubt the wisdom of giving full voting rights to aborigines immediately. I hope honorable members will agree with me. A select committee has been established to examine the difficulties, to see what more can be done to speed up the process and to see whether advantage can be taken of this as a further move in bringing the aboriginal people' closer to full assimilation. The Commonwealth has shown its sympathy and understanding by its attitude in the field of social services, and I have previously mentioned this matter.

I Would like to emphasize the part that the Australian community must play. This will become increasingly important, and every Australian has a duty to ensure that the white race iri Australia plays its part honestly, fully and justly. But it is worth noting that the present policies are directed most to helping the children of the aborigines. An aboriginal who has lived a nomadic life can probably never be fully assimilated into the Australian community, but his child can if he has the right attention, care and help from welfare workers and from the State and Federal governments. It is my belief that if this assistance is given we will see the assimilation of aborigines.

Sitting suspended from 6.54 to 8 p.m.

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