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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr HAMILTON (Canning) .- Once again members of the Opposition are using the proceedings of the Parliament for tactical purposes. Not long ago - within the past fortnight - the Opposition supported a move to appoint a select committee of this chamber to inquire into the vexed problem of voting rights for aborigines. One would think that as men of responsibility, having committed themselves in that way, Opposition members would let things stand until the select committee had had an opportunity to inquire into this matter before making any other move. To-night, we find that they are trying to remove portion of a section of the act which gives a vote to certain aborigines. That section has been in the act for years.

While the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) was speaking, 1 tried to find out by interjection how long the Labour Party had supported the views that he was putting before the committee. I did not quite get the answer, but one honorable member passed me a note to say that the change happened in 1953. Then we were treated to a recitation by the honorable member of portion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under the Charter of the United Nations. If my memory serves me correctly, that dates back to about 1945 or 1946. At that time the previous Leader of the Opposition was President of the General Assembly of the United Nations. If the Labour Party had had any real intention of doing something for the unfortunate aborigines, it would have done so then when it had the opportunity. The previous Labour Government could have done something between 1946 and 1949. But the original act shows that when the amendment was brought forward in 1949, the Labour Party did absolutely nothing about it but let the matter rest.

Mr Beazley - It gave the vote to aborigines who were ex-servicemen.

Mr HAMILTON - I am not taking any credit away from the Labour Government.

Mr Beazley - You said it did nothing.

Mr HAMILTON - You did nothing about the particular provision we are talking about. It is all right to be very nice to-night, but do not bring forward those matters because it has been recognized for many years that if an aboriginal served in the armed forces, he would get the vote. The Labour Party validated that provision on that occasion by including in the relevant section of the Commonwealth Electoral Act in respect of persons eligible to vote the words - is or has been a member of the Defence Force.

The Labour Government had already agreed to the United Nations Charter and one of its Ministers at that time was the president of the United Nations. What is the intention of the provision before the committee? lt merely renumbers the section. In the original act it is section 39, sub-section (5.), and the provision about aborigines is now to be altered to section 39, sub-section (6.), but not one word in respect of the aborigines is being altered by this Government. When it was thought that some move might be made in respect of the aborigines, the Government suggested the appointment of a select committee. The Opposition fell in with that proposal and has appointed three members to the select committee. Now, the Opposition wants to cut across the work of the select committee before it starts to inquire into this vexed question.

The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) became confused when speaking on this matter to-night, and I do not wonder that the aborigines are confused. The honorable member was confused about the boundaries of my electorate. He put portion of it into the electorate of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth). I want to say this, and the honorable member for Fremantle can swallow it as best he can: I was a member of the Constitutional Review Committee. We took evidence in Western Australia about the natives. During the morning tea break, I said to those people who were putting forward the case of the aborigines, " How far afield have you been on the question affecting these natives?" They had been to Narrogin, which is 120 miles from Perth. They had never been to Katanning, Tambellup, Gnowangerup or Kojonup. Members of the Labour Party who were on the committee were told by representatives of these people that the Labour Party need not think that it would catch all the votes by pandering to the aborigines.

Once again we find, in this place, that members of the Opposition, having agreed to a certain line of action - the appointment of a select committee to inquire into this matter - are not prepared to conform to that agreement. I ask them not to confuse the Constitution with the Commonwealth Electoral Act. If the Constitution is to be blamed, the fundamental cause of this problem goes right back to the founding fathers before 1901.

Mr Killen - Do not blame them.

Mr HAMILTON - I am not blaming them. But we do blame some members of the Opposition, because, when they were in government and since, they have had ample opportunity to discuss this question of the native population. They have run this way for a moment and have then dashed off at a tangent somewhere else, the whole time thinking that they would capture the vote of the aborigines. They have another think coming. I think it is a disgraceful exhibition of statesmanship for members of the Opposition, after having agreed to a course of action with which I think every citizen in Australia would agree - the appointment of a select committee - to try to drag a red herring across the path of this bill. They are trying to create a disturbance in the minds of people who are honestly, though perhaps misguidedly, trying to do something for the aborigines. If they studied the Electoral Act they would be much better informed.

All this clause proposes to do is to move a certain provision from section 39, subsection (5.) to section 39, sub-section (6.). This conforms to ideas to which the Labour Party has subscribed. Opposition members have had the opportunity to alter this provision and they have never done so. It accords with the principles to which they have subscribed through the years, and it does not affect in any way the idea of having a select committee to inquire into the matter. If we were foolish enough to support the amendment moved by the Opposition where would we stand in regard to the select committee which was set up so recently? Finally, we must remember this: Until the Constitution is altered, the State governments have some responsibility for the aborigines. Rather than go too far, I think it might be better if this matter were tackled from another direction altogether.

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