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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr WILSON (Sturt) .- I very much regret that the Government is proceeding with this bill at the present time. I have consistently advocated, both in this Parliament and outside it, that the aboriginal native should have the same right to a vote as any other Australian-born citizen. However, I am not unmindful of the difficulties that are involved, and I believe the correct procedure would be to postpone the implementation of legislation of this kind until after we receive the report of the proposed select committee.

I am sure that every member of this Parliament agrees that there should be no discrimination against aboriginal natives. However, every thinking member of the Parliament also realizes that there are very great difficulties to be surmounted before that principle can be fully implemented. I. for one, would hate to see the Parliament provide that it shall be an offence for aboriginal natives in their tribal state to fail to enrol. The question of requiring natives to enrol is, I suggest, one of the matters for the select committee to consider. Should we discriminate against white Australians by maintaining a provision that it shall be an offence for them to fail to enrol, while such a failure on the part of aboriginal natives shall not constitute an offence? We must consider whether it is fair and practicable to provide by law that an aboriginal native who is still in his tribal state commits an offence if he does not enrol, when obviously he does not know what enrolment means or what a vote means. This merely emphasizes the need for an investigation by the select committee.

Amongst other matters that the committee will have to investigate is the question of whether an aboriginal native in the tribal state should be compelled to vote, and, if he is so compelled, of what arrangements should be made for him to vote. Are we to establish polling places in the remote parts of the Northern Territory and the north of Western Australia? Are we to send electoral officers to those places to guide the aboriginal natives who cannot read or write and show them how to vote? How are are we going to do about enrolling them when they cannot read or write? How are they going to fill in the usual enrolment card?

So 1 say, Sir, that there are many matters that have to be considered by the select committee before legislation such as this can be implemented. I find myself, therefore, in the position of being unable to support the Government's proposal, as contained in clause 4 of the bill, and I also find myself unable to support the Labour Party's amendment, because it does not deal with the question of how aboriginal natives in their tribal state are to be enabled to cast votes. I want to make my attitude perfectly clear. I believe that aboriginal natives should have the same right to vote as any other Australian-born persons. At the same time I believe that they should not be compelled to enrol and also that we should devise methods such as those that have been adopted in New Guinea and elsewhere of enabling the natives to vote in such a way that they will understand what they are doing. We know perfectly well that the great majority of them at the present time will not understand our system of voting.

For these reasons I support neither clause 4 nor the proposed amendment.

Mr. CLYDECAMERON (Hindmarsh) 18.56]. - I find myself to a large extent in agreement with some of the remarks of the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). I believe he was right, up to a point, when he said that the Government should not have brought this bill down until we had received the report of the select committee. However, the Government seems to be more interested in getting the bill through than in putting the select committee to work. Although the Labour Party has long since selected its representatives on the committee, so far as I am aware the Government has done absolutely nothing about selecting its nominees. If it has selected them, and I understand that it has not, it has certainly shown no enthusiasm for getting the committee on the job, so that it may present an early report and legislation may be prepared as a result of that report.

In common with other members on the Government side, the honorable member for Sturt tried to stress the difficulties attendant upon implementing a plan to give aborigines the right to vote. Great emphasis was placed on the position of the tribal aborigines. But what was conveniently overlooked was the fact that there are thousands of de-tribalized natives who have no vote, and who could be given a vote at once, without any of the difficulties that it is suggested would be encountered in giving the vote to natives still living in tribal conditions.

Mr Hamilton - How long has this been the policy of the Labour Party?

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