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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- I would not have risen to speak except for certain statements made by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), which, I think, need answering because they related to a time when the Labour Party was in office. The first thing that must be realized is that there was a general belief that the Commonwealth had to follow the States in this matter. We are indebted to the Constitutional Review Committee for disillusioning many people on this aspect of the matter. This erroneous belief was based on a misreading of section 41 of the Constitution. I believe that the same misapprehension was in the mind, for a time, of the Minister who is particularly responsible for law. Section 41 of the Constitution says that no adult person who has or acquires the right to vote at elections for the more numerous House of Parliament of the State in which he resides shall, while that right continues, be prevented by any law of the Commonwealth from voting at elections for either House of the Parliament of the Commonwealth. That was interpreted to mean that the Commonwealth must follow the States. In actual fact, it does not mean that. It means that the Commonwealth may not be less generousthan a State in conferring the right to vote. But it can be more generous than the State in conferring the right. However, that wasnot generally recognized, although these matters were discussed.

The honorable member for Canning said that the Australian Labour Party introduced no amendment of section 39 of the principal act.

Mr Hamilton - I corrected that.

Mr BEAZLEY - Yes . I am glad that the honorable member did so. The Labour Government introduced this provision about aborigines who had been members of the defence forces. That was believed to be a matter in which the Commonwealth could move because the Commonwealth powersover repatriation, defence and the like would cover it. But, otherwise, the rather oblique wording of section 41 of the principal act, and also of placitum (xxvi.) of section 51 of the Australian Constitution, which gives the Commonwealth power to legislate with respect to the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, foi' whom it is deemed necessary to make special: laws, inhibited the action of the Commonwealth.

I think that before we get this select committee out of perspective, we ought to look at the steps that have been taken in the introduction of this bill. The select committee has been within our knowledge only over the last two weeks; this bill was introduced late last year. When it was re-introduced this year, it was before us long before the proposal for the appointment of the select committee. There was an understanding with the Government that the Opposition would discuss the measure at the next party meeting after i:s re-introduction and be prepared to go on with it. At our next party meeting, we decided on these amendments. Subsequently, the Government brought forward the proposal for the appointment of the select committee. The Opposition is entitled to its point of view. Based on our experience over the last twelve years, realism suggests to us that our view will not prevail and that the Government has chosen another method - that of appointing a select committee. We have not rejected the idea of appointing that committee, but all those honorable members o" this side of the chamber who believe that this Parliament can go ahead, and legislate in this matter without waiting for the report of a select committee, are not obliged to abandon their views because the Government has chosen this other method.

I think that the two sides of the chamber can disagree in this matter. We have heard these charges of hypocrisy and vote-seeking. I personally do not care if every aborigina! upon whom is conferred the right to vote decides to vote against the Australian Labour Party. I think that those in the Great Southern area of Western Australia, for instance, may well take the view taken by the farmers who employ them, and they may as a consequence vote for the Australian Country Party.

Mr Freeth - Many of them may support the Liberal Party of Australia.

Mr BEAZLEY - I forgot for the moment that the Minister represents part of that area. It is true that some of these aborigines may vote Liberal. But what on earth has that to do with the matter? That is beside the point. The point is we either believe or do not believe that aborigines are ready now to exercise the right to vote.

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