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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- If the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) would only spend as much time chasing clauses as he spends in chasing votes he would be of more use in this place. The honorable member was apparently a member of the Constitutional Review Committee. When the committee ceased its deliberations in 1958 it had given some consideration to the very important question of making laws with respect to aborigines. The committee did not complete its inquiries on this issue and, consequently, no recommendations were made. In other words, the Constitutional Review Committee had no time to deal with the matter.

The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) said that I had my head in the clouds. Honorable members on the other side, of the chamber can rest assured that when the people of Australia realize their attitude to this matter they will have fleas in their electoral ears. Let me start with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) who is concerned, as is the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), with the position of the aborigines who may well be primitives, but who nevertheless have had votes in South Australian State elections since 1902. Apparently it was possible to overcome the difficulties in South Australia. Why can the Commonwealth Government not enable aborigines in other States to vote at Commonwealth general elections? On that point, the Government's case falls to the ground.

The honorable member for Sturt said that he could not vote for the Opposition's amendment although he could not vote with Government supporters either because he is in doubt about the position. Why does not he look at the position in his own State? There are about 6,000 aborigines in South Australia. Many of whom live in such a primitive state that the Aborigines Welfare Board does not even count them, yet this has not inhibited in any way the granting of a vote to aborigines in that State. Why cannot South Australian members of the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party agree to give to the aborigines of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory the same right that is enjoyed by the aborigines of their own State?

The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) spoke about primitive aborigines in remote spots. Why does he not visit Palm Island where there have been schools since 1919 and where there are 600 or 700 adult aborigines, most of them literate and capable of handling their own affairs although the Queensland department concerned will not admit it and they have not had a vote? In the next federal elections some 70 white people on the island will vote and some 700 aborigines will not. This is the position all over Australia.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member for Moreton will cease interjecting.

Mr Killen - He is being rude.

Mr BRYANT - I am simply asking you to examine this with your well known critical mind. If you would only apply yourself to this question and criticize your own party's viewpoint in the same way as you sometimes criticize ours you might bring something more productive to this chamber.

Every argument put forward from the other side of the chamber can be invalidated in the light of the facts existing in Australia at the moment. Let us take the position created by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). He has given the vote to aborigines in the Northern Territory with any European blood in their veins. Yet if those people cross the border into Queensland cannot vote. Why will the Minister not take action to enable those people to vote if they move to Queensland or Western Australia? This is an anomaly. How can the Minister justify his attitude on these matters? Why is it that honorable members from New South Wales, where aborigines have had the vote for years, will not support the right of their aboriginal constituents to vote if they move to Queensland?

Mr Killen - I rise to order. Is it in order for the honorable member for Wills to give the same speech twice in one night?

The CHAIRMAN - The point of order is not upheld.

Mr BRYANT - These arguments have been raised by honorable members opposite since I spoke last, I am grateful, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to speak to those members who, before the suspension of the sitting, were dilatory and were absent from the chamber. I am grateful, also, for the opportunity to speak to those who are here again. It will do them good to hear me twice. The honorable member foi Bowman (Mr. McColm), perhaps, will be able to adopt a better attitude as a result of hearing me speak twice on this issue. All the arguments produced by honorable members opposite have been invalidated.

I have come to the conclusion that honorable members opposite are hiding behind a select committee. I know very well that it will not produce its report before-

Mr Killen - That is because you are not on it.

Mr BRYANT - The Labour Party made its decision before the select committee was announced. The Minister came out of his seat in a death bed repentance on this question because it is a burning issue all over Australia. A select committee was established some weeks ago, but the Prime Minister has not nominated the Government members of it. Therefore, the select committee has no validity as far as this particular provision is concerned. This Parliament has to make its decision now. The honorable member for Sturt may well leave the chamber. If he had the courage of his convictions, he would vote with us on this issue. You cannot have it both ways. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney), in January or February, at a meeting in Perth, made, I understand, a rousing speech in which he talked about full equality for the aborigines of Australia. Now is his chance to prove that he meant what he said. The aborigines of Western Australia could well be given the vote by the Government there, as I have pointed out before, but apparently it has not got through to honorable members opposite. Only two or three years ago a Labour government in Western Australia provided for this in a bill, but the bill was rejected by the upper House of that State. The facts are that this Parliament confers citizenship on everybody bom in the Commonwealth. Aborigines are citizens, but we allow the State parliaments to remove from them the rights which we ourselves have conferred.

Mr Chresby - Only 20,000 of the 70,000 aborigines in Queensland have the vote.

Mr BRYANT - I will write to the honorable member about it later. Perhaps if he takes time to study my letter he will understand what this is all about. The facts are that we are allowing the initiative to lie with other parliaments. I am glad to see that honorable members opposite are able to wring some humour out of a situation which is, unfortunately, one which will seriously reflect on the people of Australia as a whole, and not only on those honorable members, if their constituents continue to elect them as their representatives in this place. I personally know many aborigines well. I can show you a man now living in Victoria who has the right to vote in Commonwealth elections, but who will lose the right to vote if he returns to Queensland. We ought at least to provide in our law that any aboriginal who secures the right to vote at Commonwealth elections may not have it taken from him by the law of a State. The present position is that aborigines have the right to vote in Victoria and New South Wales, but the Queensland Parliament takes that right from them if they go there, because we allow this law to remain on our statutebooks.

I am not appealing to people's emotions or anything of that nature. I simply ask the Government to apply the faculties of reason, with which most honorable members are endowed, to the facts of life as they exist in the electoral system. Let "honorable members opposite make a simple examination of the electoral laws as they apply to aborigines, and give to the aborigines in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory the rights which are freely conferred, and which nobody thinks of taking away, on aborigines in "New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.

Mr. FREETH(Forrest- Minister for the Interior [9.23].- The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) has used again the argument that he used previously to-night. On the former occasion I said that he rather had his head in the clouds. Let me make it clear once again, if it was not clear to him in the first place, that nobody quarrels with his ideals. Let me make it clear that everybody hopes that it will be practicable to give aborigines the vote if they want it. But the difficulties involved in giving aborigines the vote, if they want it, in accordance with our particular electoral laws are many. It is rather significant that the only places in the Commonwealth where there are considerable numbers of aborigines most nearly in their original state are the places which recognize those practical difficulties. Where there are relatively few aborigines, the State Governments concerned have decided that there may be odd difficulties but that that does not matter. Where there are large numbers of aborigines, the difficulties are recognized.

The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) tred to argue that none of these difficulties was any different in kind from the difficulties that exist with certain types of Australian white voters in certain cases. He mentioned illiterates, and then he went on to make some very heated and rather shameful accusations about improper activities at outback polling booths. Then, if you please, the only evidence that he had to support his accusations was that no votes for the Labour Party were recorded at some of those booths. I have heard stories about voting at outback polling boths in north Queensland where there is rarely a vote recorded for the Liberal Party or the Country Party, but we do not say that that results necessarily from any improper action on the part of the electoral officers there. It results from the congregation of certain people who think alike either by persuasion or because they happen to be the same kind of people. But there are not the difficulties which exist in regard to natives.

First of all, there is the question of compulsory enrolment and compulsory voting. I dare say that if we decided not to apply this provision and to have an honorable understanding that, if a native did not want to enrol or did not want to vote, we would not force him to do so, but would leave it entirely to the discretion of the electoral officer, an electoral officer in the north-west of Western Australia might apply a rather different practice from that applied by an electoral officer in the north of Queensland. Or should we incorporate a provision in the act making voting non-compulsory for the people who do not want to vote or do not understand what it is all about? When you get an illiterate into a polling both, he must be assisted to vote, but he must have some knowledge of whom he wants to vote for, because he has to instruct the electoral officer accordingly. If you have somebody in the polling booth who does not know what it is all about and has not the slightest clue to the identity of the candidates or what they are standing for or anything else, how can this particular section of the act come into force?

These things must be examined. It may not matter, perhaps, where there are only two, or a dozen or even 100 such people in a State of 1,000,000 people, but in a State with 500,000 people where you may have some thousands of illiterates, the problem assumes large proportions. I am rather sorry for the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) who, I think, differs no whit in his ideals from other members of the Government parties. He apparently does not understand the situation that arises in regard to this particular amendment. This only re-enacts the existing situation. The rest of the bill is brought in for other reasons and to deal with other provisions. If he cannot support the status quo at least until the select committee brings in its report, I am rather sorry for him.

I come to one final point. Several members of the Opposition have made some play to-night on the fact that the Prime Minister has not yet appointed the Government members who will sit on this select committee. By interjection I gave an assurance to one Labour member that if the Government members had not already been appointed, they would be appointed within the next day or so. Checking up, I am told that these members have been appointed and that the notification is in writing and on its way to Mr. Speaker, in accordance with the normal requirements. The only thing that prevents me from announcing the names now is that I do not know whether that communication is yet in the hands of the Speaker, but I understand it is already on its way.

Mr Cope - What was the voting on that?

Mr FREETH - There is no voting in the Government parties on such matters. We do not have the troubles that you have in the Labour Party. 1 know that the honorable member for Wills is broken-hearted because he did not get a guernsey in this matter, but we have far fewer troubles and far more peace in our party meetings than honorable members opposite have in theirs. Let that be disposed of once and for all. The Government does intend to press on with this select committee. It has taken the necessary action to appoint it. I hope that honorable members opposite will let this matter be voted on very shortly. We have had a long and exhaustive argument on it and I think that most matters have been canvassed on one side or the other.

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