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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) spoke about the insistency of the Opposition in appointing three members to a select committee and yet having a view on this matter before the select committee reported. I do not think the Minister should be so ready to suggest that the actions of the Opposition are limited by the fact that it decided to co-operate with the Government on a vital matter. I believe the Government ought to recognize that the Labour Party may be prepared to enact a law now to confer voting rights on aborigines, but as the Government is the government of this country and has a very large majority in this chamber, if the tempo of the Government's reform is to be the tempo of the select committee, how foolish we would be not to be represented on the select committee. If we had refused to go on the select committee on the ground that we thought such a law ought to be enacted now, our attitude in refusing to cooperate with the Government in investigating the question of aboriginal voting would also have been used against us.

The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) has spoken of primitive aborigines. He knows that if we were to enact a law now which said that every aboriginal had the right to vote it would not be practicable for people to chase all the nomadic natives with ballot-boxes and so those natives would not get a vote. Their votes would not be recorded. There is nobody who knows this better than does the Minister for the Interior because his electorate contains some of these people. There are many people in Western Australia, classified as aborigines, who are people of mixed European and aboriginal race, living around towns like Katanning in the Minister's electorate-

Mr Freeth - You are mixing up your boundaries.

Mr BEAZLEY - That may be so. There are many people in such towns as Katanning where the Minister distinguished himself as a lawyer in representing these people. I am sorry I did not know that the boundaries of the Minister's electorate have changed, but he acted for aboriginal people at Katanning. An honorable member appears to query that statement. Well, I am not going to make points against the Minister. I know that, as a lawyer, he was a very important friend of the people classified as aborigines in Western Australia who were of mixed race and some of whom had rather a tough time from the police under the laws of that State.

Mr Hamilton - No. What rot!

Mr BEAZLEY - They had, on the question of drinking. They are always in trouble on that question, because it is an offence for them to drink in Western Australia. Members know how impossible the position is in areas where it is considered that citizenship rights for aborigines - as in Western Australia - have almost come to mean the right to drink rather than the right to vote. It is a deplorable situation. But 1 do not think that even if we enacted a law and enabled every aboriginal to vote, any Commonwealth authority would be stupid enough to prosecute all those aborigines who did not vote.

Mr Freeth - Of course not.

Mr BEAZLEY - There are risks attendant on granting the vote, and there are also risks attendant on the situation that we have to-day. There is a very distinguished aboriginal in Perth who is an officer of the Department of Native Welfare and who has no vote. There are some very highly educated aborigines in Western Australia who have refused to apply for Australian citizenship because to obtain it they must go to the State Government and make application, and they regard that as an insult. They were born in this country and are its original inhabitants yet the law of that State does not confer citizenship upon them. I know that some of those points are arguable. I am perfectly prepared to concede to anybody that the Labour Party has taken a very different view on this subject since members like the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) have come into this chamber from that taken in the past, and I hope it will constantly adjust its views. There are many things that we decided in the past which are not now valid and this is one of them.

It is wrong for the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) to suggest that we are doing damage to our country by speaking in this way. He seems to be concerned that our discussions on this matter will be construed as showing a division of opinion on a racial question, and that this will damage our prestige. I believe that what is really damaging in the world to-day is the attempt to cover up. If the honorable member for Hume were to study speeches made by the highest officers of the Department of Territories, and by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) himself, at political science summer schools, he might be able to point to what he could call most damaging admissions, which could be used as propaganda against Australia by any one who cared to do so. But I believe that if propaganda damaging to this country is soundly based, then the country's policies should be changed. It seems to me that real patriotism consists in advocating such a change, not in taking the stand that this is a subject that should not be mentioned.

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