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Thursday, 9 December 1965

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- by leave - 1 want to do something that is unusual for me, namely, to congratulate someone for having finally brought this matter before the Parliament. As honorable members are aware, for many years I have taken an active interest in the general subject of the Aboriginal people of Australia, including Torres Strait Islanders. In the last eight or ten years there have been remarkable advances in our legislation concerned with the Aboriginal people of Australia. It is one of the more interesting facts that in so many fields of legislation there have been small discriminations and differentiations that have remained unnoticed by members of the Parliament and even by people interested in that legislation. In recent years there was the case of the liquor ordinance in the Australian Capital Territory. In the present instance, although many of us have paid a great deal of attention to legislation on matters associated with Aborigines, including repatriation benefits and so on, most of us did not notice the anomalies that occurred in this field. It is surprising that it has taken us so long to get around to this simple measure. I understand that the Repatriation Department has been liberal for a long time in its payment of pensions to people of the Torres Strait Islands. I understand also that for a long time there was a differentiation in the rate they were paid.

The Torres Strait Islands Light Infantry Battalion was formed during the war and I think about 700 men served in it. Torres Strait islanders regard themselves as separate from and different from the Aboriginal people of the mainland. When one visits the area he finds that physically and in every other way probably they are different, but they are also Australians. It was one of the anomalies of the enlistment processes that during the war if a Torres Strait islander left his island and came to Brisbane to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force he received full pay and became a digger the same as everybody else, and in the final analysis if he qualified for repatriation benefits he received the same benefits as everybody else. However, the situation was different with the Torres Strait Islands Light Infantry Battalion which was specially enlisted. Some of its members served in Papua and New Guinea and elsewhere. I recall that recently I asked people why we paid them a different rate. The theory was that it was based on the economy of the islands. Happily we have overcome that disadvantage in our thinking. We are prepared now to receive them with some equality into the Australian community. Some disadvantages still prevail in the islands.

I thank the House for its indulgence in allowing me to place these remarks on record. I do not know whether congratulations are in order for the people who have taken the steps to remove finally whatever anomalies there may have been in the legislation. I hope that further attention will be paid to the remaining few pieces of legislation on the statute book which are of this nature. I have in mind the Social Services Act and the National Service Act. If honorable members can think of other legislation of this nature I am sure that, having regard to the attitudes that have been expressed in the Parliament, the offending provisions will be removed. I thank the House for its indulgence and trust that we have come to the end of the legislative era that has excluded the Aboriginal people and the Torres Strait Islanders from proper justice.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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