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Tuesday, 23 November 1965


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I think the honorable member is getting a little wide of the Bill now. This sounds like a subject for Committee debate.


Mr WENTWORTH - Sir, ifyou will bear with me a moment, I will quote my proposed new section and indicate a course that I think will be within your ruling. The suggestion I make is that we add this new section -

Neither the Commonwealth nor any State shall make or maintain any law which subjects any person who has been born or naturalised within the Commonwealth of Australia to any discrimination or disability within the Commonwealth by reason of his racial origin:

Provided that this section shall not operate so as to preclude the making of laws for the special benefit of the aboriginal natives of the Commonwealth of Australia.

This drafting, I acknowledge with gratitude, has been seen and vetted by some constitutional lawyers. I have had some help from the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowen). I think the provision I have suggested is free from the objections that might be raised in this matter. Let me point out that, under the proposal I have made, adequate power will remain with the Commonwealth, including the immigration power. My proposal would establish Australia as a non-racial society, in which we believe. It would give the Commonwealth adequate power, not necessarily exclusive power, to help the Aborigines and would prevent any discriminatory laws against them.

I have been told, and I am afraid that it is advice that I must follow, that my proposed amendment would be out of order because it is not technically within the title of the Bill. The Bill is drawn with a very narrow title. I have been advised, and I think the advice given to me is correct, that the amendment I have suggested is out of order. The proposal I make, therefore, is that, in place of pressing this amendment in Committee, I shall later this week submit a private member's bill to this House with these identical proposals in it for the amendment of the Constitution. If that bill is dealt with and approved by the House before 28th March next, it will go forward to the referendum of the people that will be held on 28th May. The time from now until 28th March will permit the adequate ventilation outside the House and inside it of the points at issue.

In a constitutional matter, the House does not have the final power to vote. The final power to vote on a constitutional issue lies outside the House and with the electorate. We only formulate the proposals which, in their wisdom, the electors either approve or disapprove. If during the time between now and 28th March it should become apparent that there is in the electorate any substantial feeling for the proposals that I have put forward, I have no doubt that the Government will see fit to allow them to be passed through the House before the critical date of 28th March.

I sympathise very much with the practical objections that no doubt have lain in the Prime Minister's mind about the possibility of going too far with these constitutional amendments and therefore putting himself in a position where the whole may be turned down. I can understand that he wants to keep this as simple as possible and therefore it may not be a bad idea if on 28th May we were to put before the people not two questions but three. This would not prejudice anything that the Prime Minister has in mind at present. It might even help him, because there are some critics - they are the only critics of the legislation before us now - who are affronted because, in their view, it does not quite do enough. They believe it is good, but it does not go far enough. If, between now and 28th March, these people can make their voices heard, they will be able to assure the Government that it can go through with this extended proposal without any risk of jeopardising the other questions put forward.

Indeed, if it should be that the Opposition has it in its heart to support this, we would be able to get it through without difficulty. I do not think it would be practicable to put to a referendum a proposal that did not have real bipartisan support in this House. Therefore, I shall later this week endeavour to lay the bill before the House. I hope that the expression of public opinion outside the House will be sufficiently strong to induce the Government to let the bill be dealt with sometime between now and 28th March.

In this matter of Aboriginal welfare the present Government has a good record. It has given Aborigines the right to vote, it has extended the social services accorded to them and it has reduced discrimination. I believe that by establishing the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies the Government has recognised the importance of the background and culture of these people and has restored to them something of their inherent dignity. This is perhaps only a psychological factor, but I believe that it is of great importance if we are to make these people fully participators with us in the benefits of Australian citizenship.


Mr Calwell - The present Government has not done all this alone. The Labour Government extended social services to the Aborigines.


Mr WENTWORTH - To some of them, Sir. As I have said, the present Govern ment has enlarged the social services accorded to the Aborigines. I am not saying that the present Government is the only-


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I ask the honorable member not to open up this subject matter too widely.


Mr WENTWORTH - Thank you, Sir. This Government has a good record, lt is not necessarily the only one that has a good record in this matter. Here surely we can get the co-operation of all members in this House for a purpose that is truly Australian. 1 appeal first to the Prime Minister in this regard. I believe that the only thing that has deterred him from going further than he has gone with the present proposal relating to section 127 of the Constitution is the fear that he may lose the whole of what he seeks by asking for too much. I think that 1 can appeal wilh some confidence to the Opposition, and I do so, because I believe that what I have suggested is in line with what Opposition members have put forward. They are not the only people who have proposed it, but they have put it forward over the last year or two. Above all I appeal for support outside this House to the people who must vote at the referendum. Without their support the proposal must come to nothing. I believe that unless support for the proposal that I have outlined is made sufficiently evident between now and 28th March it would be wise for the Government not to proceed with the proposition. Unless support is available when the proposal goes before a referendum of the sovereign electors it must fail. So above everything I appeal for support outside this House on a constitutional matter, as distinct from a vote of another kind in this chamber. I seek support before the ultimate court of appeal, the electors, whose support is required.

I believe that Australia can show herself, in accordance with the principles now established overseas, as a non-racial, homogenous society. I believe that within our borders there is no room for discrimination on racial grounds. There are people, such as the Aborigines, who need special help and support. I believe that we have to give to them certain privileges that will help them to make good the gap that still exists between them and us in their present stage of development. But I do not believe that there is any room for discrimination against Aborigines or anybody else inside Australia on racial grounds. For that reason I ask the House, I ask the Opposition, I ask the Prime Minister and I ask the country for support, if people can find it in their hearts to give it, for the very definite and concrete proposal that I shall bring before the House later this week in the form of a bill.







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