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Friday, 10 December 1965

Mr BARNES (Mcpherson) (Minister for Territories) . - by leave - Commonwealth and State Ministers responsible for Aboriginal welfare meet every two years to examine progress in this field throughout Australia and to increase co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. The 1965 conference was held in Adelaide on 22nd July 1965 under the chairmanship of the South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Honorable D. A. Dunstan. All States except Tasmania attended. Unfortunately this year the business of Government prevented, at the last moment, any Commonwealth Minister attending. I was represented by the Administrator of the Northern Territory and the Director-General of Health represented the Minister for Health (Mr. Swartz).

Perhaps the most valuable result of this conference, as of the others that preceded it, was the interchange of ideas and information that took place. I shall give later some detail of the progress throughout Australia in the field of Aboriginal advancement that was revealed by the discussions. There were, also, decisions on some matters of policy, the most important of which was a reaffirmation of the objective of assimilation, with some changes in the language in which the principle has been expressed. I shall tell the House later in some detail of these matters also. In recent years the record of every State in the field of Aboriginal advancement - as, I believe, it is of the Commonwealth also - is one in which they can take pride. Governments have, of course, no monopoly of energy, altruism and wisdom in this field; but neither have they a corner on lethargy, self interest and stupidity, as some of their critics are all too prone to imply. Some of these critics are using the Aboriginal question for their own political ends and would be most disappointed if it were no longer a " question ". Even among those who are sincere in their criticism, many spend a good deal of their energy seeking someone to blame - Australians of the past or Governments of the present, employers, townspeople in some particular place - for what is being done or not being done for Aborigines.

The major obstacle, however, is not a lack of desire by governments and others immediately at grips with this problem to do well; it is not parsimony or vested interests. The main obstacle is the intrinsic difficulty of the problem itself. In no place where people of an advanced and dynamic culture have met those of a static one has it been anything but desperately difficult to save the people of the primitive culture. In the case of the Australian Aboriginal the gulf between the two cultures was very wide. Neither at home nor abroad, and especially not abroad, do we do Australia a service by being professional knockers of governments which have responsibilities in this field of Aboriginal advancement.

What I have said for some critics does not apply to the many people and organisations of goodwill who are genuinely trying to understand the problems and to assist in their solution, particularly in the field of personal relations between the two races. These people do not refrain from stating their views about Government action but they are willing to listen thoughtfully to what the governments say and to give them credit for experience and some sincerity and sense.

It is necessary that we beware of seeking for the Aborigines objectives that are mutually incompatible. There are those who on the one hand want the Aborigines to retain fully their own racial separateness, their own language, customs and characteristics and on the other would have them achieve educational, social and economic standards that are not inferior to those of other Australians. They fail to realise that keeping fully to the former will prevent the latter.

This brings me back to the Adelaide conference. I mentioned earlier that at the conference all governments re-affirmed the policy of assimilation. This means that they are in no doubt as to the side on which they stand in any case where there must be a choice between racial separateness and full membership of the Australian community. They did, however, restate the policy in the following words -

The policy of assimilation seeks that all persons of Aboriginal descent will choose to attain a similar manner and standard of living to that of other Australians and live as members of a single Australian community- enjoying the same

Tights and privileges, accepting the same responsibilities and influenced by the same hopes and loyalties as other Australians. Any special measures taken are regarded as temporary measures, not based on race, but intended to meet their need for special care and assistance and to make the transition from one stage to another in such a way as will be favourable to their social, economic and political advancement.

This is a somewhat shorter statement than the earlier one. As now expressed it states explicitly what has always been implicit in the assimilation policy, that Aborigines must themselves choose to become part of the general Australian community. This is not in any way to imply that the attitude of governments is to be a neutral one as to the choice to be made. Governments will provide every opportunity they can whether in education and training, in housing and employment, or in any other way for Aborigines to attain full Australian standards. They will give every encouragement to Aborigines to avail themselves of these opportunities. But the use of the word " choose " is to recognise that an important element is that the Aborigines see the goal and want to reach it and that means must be found for them to participate fully in the shaping of their future.

It will be noted, also, that the restatement of the policy omits the words in the earlier statement referring to Aborigines observing the same customs and being influenced by the same beliefs. This change was made to avoid misunderstandings that had arisen that the assimilation policy sought the destruction of Aboriginal culture. It does not. As I mentioned earlier, the various governments reviewed their recent progress in Aboriginal advancement. Most striking was the progress made in bringing Aborigines within the ambit of the general law and general community services that apply to the rest of the community.

In the Northern Territory there are now no laws which discriminate against Aborigines; they are equal at law with all other Northern Territory residents though some special benefits have been retained to them such as special rights to reserved lands, including royalties arising from those lands, and the right everywhere to take natural game and to use natural waters. An amending act in Victoria has placed the Aborigines Welfare Board under the jurisdiction of the Minister for Housing. A person selected from nominations by the Aborigines Advancement League is now included on the new Board. In Queensland new legislation has been passed placing Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to the maximum extent possible on the same footing at law as all other members of the Queensland community while continuing essential provision for their special care and assistance. In Western Australia amended legislation aims to promote the integration of Aborigines into the general community and to provide special welfare measures during the transitional period. One special provision is retained in regard to liquor where prohibition is applied to Aborigines in the area outside the south western land division in that State.

The 1963 conference in Darwin agreed that in principle it would be preferable that any restraints during a transitional period should be applied to areas and not groups of people. In Western Australia the position is that liquor is freely available on an area basis to approximately one third of the Aboriginal population in that State. The only proscription in South Australia is on Aboriginal reserves. There are now no special liquor laws applying to the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and Queensland has announced the intention of removing special laws. In New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, where the people concerned are almost all partAborigines, there have been no restrictions for some time.

Difficulties at present facing Aborigines moving into Western Australia and Queensland from the Northern Territory were discussed at the conference. As most of these concerned the present restrictions on the supply of liquor to Aborigines in the two States it was noted that the expected commencement of new legislation in Queensland early next year and the possible extension of the area in which Aborigines may consume liquor in Western Australia will ease many of the difficulties.

The Commonwealth Department of Health reported progress in measures taken for Aboriginal health in the Northern Territory. Rural health services have been established and are being expanded and a health education programme is being carried out. The National Health and Medical Research

Council Committee which had been formed at the request of the 1961 conference of Ministers to look at medical research projects dealing with Aboriginal people has been active.

The Central Reserves Committee, a consultative body of officers of the welfare authorities of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory and the Department of Supply has been constituted to deal with the problems of some 2,000 Aboriginal people inhabiting approximately 100,000 square miles of reserves in Central Australia. The conference agreed that Queensland should join this Committee because of the increasing movement of Aborigines between this area and Queensland.

The conference reviewed the work that has been done and is to be done in the public relations field. Two films have been produced for national and overseas distribution; booklets and pamphlets have had a distribution of 1,300,000 copies and more are planned. The conference noted {he very great increase in research interest. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies and the National Health and Medical Research Council currently play a part in advice to governments on aspects of Aboriginal research that relate to their fields of interest. The conference decided to ask the Social Science Research Council, which is currently undertaking a major project of research into Aboriginal assimilation, to undertake a general role of advice to governments on research into current assimilation problems.

The conference discussed the training of professional officers of the aboriginal welfare departments and Ministers expressed an interest in the possibility of appropriate courses being provided at the Australian School of Pacific Administration.

Ministers gave some consideration as to the advice they might give to the Commonwealth about requirements for Aborigines to register for national service. They considered that though there would be some Aborigines who would be unsuitable for national service these could be excluded from call-up by administrative arrangements in collaboration with the Aboriginal welfare authorities and that they would prefer there be no general exemption. The conference asked that consideration be given to paying full repatriation benefits to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders who are called up. There was a useful exchange of views on Aboriginal communities and their future in economic opportunities for Aborigines and the economic development of reserves.

This brings me to the important matter of Aboriginal employment. I will take this opportunity of stating the present position briefly. The North Australian Workers Union has applied to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for the removal of the exclusion of Aborigines from the Cattle Station Industry (Northern Territory) Award. This application affects the future employment and wages of some 1,500 Aboriginal men and women, who comprise the great bulk of Aborigines employed in the Northern Territory. The Commonwealth Government has formally intervened in the public interest in the proceedings before the Commission, exercising its statutory power under section 36(1.) of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to do so.

The general policy of the Commonwealth Government in the field of Aboriginal employment is one of nondiscrimination. The Commonwealth has stated its view to the Commission that as a result of the proceedings the minimum wages and conditions of the award should apply equally to Aborigines as to other Australian workers. The Commonwealth is concerned that the manner of implementing the application should not do unnecessary harm to the very people whom the application is designed to assist. It believes that there could be no substantial objection to a proposal which would obtain full award rates for all workers in the industry within a period and by steps determined by the Commission.

Outside the cattle industry, there are about 250 Aborigines employed privately and 300 employed by the Administration and Commonwealth departments. The Government's general policy objective of nondiscrimination applies also to this employment and the Government will be pursuing this objective when the Commission's decision is known in the cattle industry case.

I feel that the results of the conference in Adelaide show that continued co-opera tion between the Commonwealth and the. States on Aboriginal welfare matters is achieving the aim of Australia-wide progress in a difficult and changing field. The areas of difference have receded to a large degree over the past two years and further progress is assured. Ministers responsible for Aboriginal welfare will continue to meet every two years and there will be an annual meeting of officers. The next conference will be held in Perth in 1967 at the invitation of the Western Australian Minister for Native Welfare, the Hon. E. H. M. Lewis.

I present the following paper -

Statement of Policy and Text of Resolutions approved by Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers on Aboriginal Welfare held in Adelaide on 22nd July 1965 - and move -

That the House take note of the papers.

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