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Wednesday, 3 May 1961


Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) ignores the fact that aborigines in Australia receive a vote for this Parliament, not because of the actions of this Parliament, but despite them. Any aboriginal who votes for a member of this Parliament at an election votes because of the action of his State Government in giving him a vote at State elections. The only provision in Commonwealth law enabling aborigines to vote for members of this Parliament is that which gives the vote to those who have served in the defence forces. The Minister for Territories imputed motives of insincerity to members of the Opposition and said that we were attempting to gain some political advantage on this occasion. I know that I have had the wholehearted support of my colleagues in this place and of the Labour movement wherever I have raised this question. If people are to impute motives to one another, I might examine with some criticism the choice of the date upon which the report of the select committee shall be tendered to the Parliament.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.


Mr BRYANT - Before the suspension of the sitting I was pointing out that the anomalies in the legislation are anomalies that can be removed only by this Parliament, and that this Parliament had failed in the past to take action to give equal voting rights to the aboriginal people of Australia. I said that in this particular instance the initiative lay with this Parliament. In fact, in those States in which aborigines have the vote - New South

Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania - they have the right to vote at Commonwealth elections only because it has been given to them on the initiative of the State parliaments and not on the initiative of this Parliament. They are able to vote for elections to this Parliament not because of the actions of this Parliament. I said that we ought to take action immediately to do something about this.

I do not believe that this Parliament can, in honour, allow to be perpetuated this discriminatory provision in its legislation. The Parliament has been faced squarely with the decision that it must make. The Minister has chosen to bring down an amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act in which this provision is specifically included, removing some of the people from its ambit who beforehand could not vote but leaving the aborigines under it.


Mr Freeth - It covers the same people, but puts it in a different way.


Mr BRYANT - What about people from the islands of the Pacific?


Mr Freeth - People who come here on temporary migration certificates are covered by it.


Mr BRYANT - That only makes it worse. We are faced with the decision of whether we will tolerate the continuance in Commonwealth legislation of a racial, discriminatory law, and we on this side say, " No ". It has been said that we are quibbling because of the select committee appointed to consider this matter. What is the position of this select committee? The date by which it must report to the Parliament has been set as not later than 31st October. The last two general elections were held in November and December; so, assuming that this Parliament runs its ordinary course, by 31st October not only will the Parliament have ceased sitting, but it will have been dissolved. Therefore, there is no obligation on this select committee to report to this Parliament at all. We cannot let this challenge go unanswered. Honorable members on this side of the chamber speak with all sincerity, and I think that in the few minutes that one has at this stage of the debate I should point out the anomalies which persist.


Mr Freeth - Then why did you not vote against the appointment of the select committee?


Mr BRYANT - I did not vote against it, because I regarded the actual stepping up to the table of a Minister of the present Government, and his admission that something ought to be done about the voting rights of aborigines, as a major break-through. I pay all credit to the Minister for doing so, but I believe that it was a very stumbling step indeed. I say that the select committee may well carry on with its duties and find how it may prevent anomalies, and the subversion of secret voting, and so on; but the general principle of the vote for the aborigines has been accepted by the Australian people. That has been stated by the Minister for Territories here to-day, yet the Government refuses to let this Parliament carry the principle through to its logical conclusion. Let us look at some of the anomalies. The Minister for Territories said there were difficulties. If he gave voting rights to many of the aborigines of the Northern Territory, provided they had European ancestry, why will he not give them the same voting rights if they step across the border into Queensland? As the law stands, if aborigines leave the Territory, which is under the Minister's control, and go to Queensland, they lose the right to vote. Why does the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes), who comes from South Australia, not wish to give aborigines from Western Australia the same right to vote in Commonwealth elections as the aborigines in South Australia have? Why is not the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney), who spoke earlier to-day and charged us with lack of sincerity, prepared to give the aborigines of Western Australia the voting rights that aborigines in South Australia have? Is it a question of these people being too primitive to vote. Of course, it is not! I have mentioned here before the case of the Palm Island natives. One of the anomalies and the great disadvantage of the Queensland electoral law is that an aboriginal must leave his mission station or reserve in order to be qualified for citizenship.


Mr McColm - What aborigines have not the vote in Queensland?


Mr BRYANT - Some aborigines have it, but thousands have not.


Mr McColm - The majority have the vote.


Mr BRYANT - Thousands have not got the vote. The honorable member has not the exact figures, and neither have I. However, even if one is disqualified, that makes it all the worse. If you admit it for one, you must admit it for the lot. You can find thousands of aborigines all over Australia who are literate, self-possessed, and capable of looking after their own affairs, who are deprived of the vote. The challenge is to this Parliament. It is not a question of a select committee or anything else. The Minister has chosen to put before us an amending bill including this particular provision. We say that there is no justification for its continuance. The eyes of the world are upon us in this particular instance. It is not an electoral law - it is a racial law.

Why is it that an aboriginal may not vote? Is it because he is illiterate? Of course not, because as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) pointed out there are provisions in the act to enable illiterate people to vote. Is it because he is not knowledgeable in the English language? Of course not, because a person may come here from, say, Malta, take up residence here and, after six months' residence, may vote, whether he is competent in the English language or not. Is it because he is not knowledgeable in Australian politics? Of course not, because that is not a test that is applied to anybody else. It is simply because he is an aboriginal, because he is a descendant of the original race of this continent, and because we have not yet developed the initiative or the know-how to give ourselves the confidence to overcome the problem. I say that we can overcome the problem and that we must overcome the problem.

Earlier this evening, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition pointed out that the aboriginal people of other nations have the right to vote. The honorable member for Barker said, by interjection, that that was not so in Malaya. I have checked on that, and, for the benefit of that honorable member and other honorable members, I shall read section 119 of the Constitution of Malaya. It states -

Every citizen who has attained the age of twenty-one years on the qualifying date and has been resident in a constituency for at least six months immediately preceding the qualifying date is entitled to vote in that constituency in any election to the House of Representatives or the Legislative Assembly . . .

The statutes which define this say -

On and after the appointed day, the following persons shall be Federal Citizens:

These persons include any person who - belongs to an aboriginal tribe resident in that State; . . .

So, in this case the interjection by the honorable member for Barker was irrelevant and was not based on fact. But of course this is a question for us to resolve. We do not need to have recourse to the rest of the world for examples. This is a simple straightforward question: Are you going to give literate people on Palm Island the right to vote? Are you going to deprive them of the right to vote because the Queensland act does not give them that right? If this is to be a sovereign parliament, if it is to make its own decisions, if the electoral laws are its responsibility, then we must face up to 0 Lir responsibility, lt is a simple fact that if the Queensland Government or the Western Australian Government to-morrow gave aborigines the right to vote they would be entitled to vote also at the next Commonwealth elections. The Minister is able to shed his authority on to the Western Australian Government. He is not prepared to accept it for himself. I say that this is a simple straightforward challenge. We cannot permit to continue to exist on our statute-book laws which can be denned as racial in their context and as being levelled against one section of a community, and not based on simple justice, or on the question of the ability of these people to exercise a valid vote, but are there simply because these people happen to be people of the aboriginal race.







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