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Thursday, 10 March 1966

Mr BEAZLEY (FREMANTLE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - And will they pick out the Aborigine who has skills equal to those of the white stockman and give him equal wages?

Mr Snedden - But there were inspections.

Mr BEAZLEY - I am grateful to know that, but did Aborigines testify before the judge?

Mr Snedden - I believe so.

Mr BEAZLEY - There were customs among the Aborigines, such as wife lending, which become desperately degrading out of the context of tribal law and safeguards, and yet when we make a reform like the fornicating rights we do not notice this. In Western Australia venereal disease has quadrupled in the last two or three years and it is very often among Aborigines. We do not want any charges of apartheid. We are not thinking in terms of the real welfare of the Aborigines. We are not thinking of this background of custom. And a double hit is made. They have not wages equal to those of the Europeans. They have this background of wife lending and the giving out of their daughters, and they have developed the expenditure needs of the Europeans. Inadequate income among Aborigines in contact with Europeans leads too often to prostitution and venereal disease. We have really to look intelligently at this Aboriginal community. The honorable member for Mackellar has attempted to make us look at these people - as they look at themselves - through the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. We have to look at what is really happening to them in health.

The Commonwealth Government, in the 1930s, avoided collecting unemployment statistics because it did not wish to be judged by them; therefore they were not published. Now the Commonwealth and the States avoid any statistics in relation to Aborigines and treat this deliberately cultivated ignorance as a matter for pride. It is evident that most tuberculosis is among Aboriginal people. If you ask what are the statistics for leprosy and tuberculosis you are told, smugly, that no separation of statistics on racial grounds takes place. Why not? You want statistics if you want to measure the true effectiveness of your health policy. We get glimpses from reputable private investigations of an Aboriginal infant mortality seven or eight times the European rate. If the Commonwealth and the States wish to know the success or failure of their policies they should have clear statistics of leprosy, tuberculosis, infant mortality, housing, education and levels of education before them. The honorable member for Mackellar has tried to write into the Constitution a new attitude of responsibility on the part of the Commonwealth Government. I hope that whatever problems there are about this constitutional referendum the proposals are not going to be bogged down in a fight about power between the Commonwealth and States, and I think that the honorable member has done his uttermost to avoid this.

The nation is judged on this matter. I remember that at the time Dr. Evatt raised before the United Nations the question of the maltreatment by the Communist authorities of the people in certain former Baltic States, an Aborigine was chained, in Western Australia, by the State police. The policeman had gone out to arrest an Aborigine. There were no prisons in which he could put him and he chained him to a tree overnight when bringing him to trial. But there is something peculiarly horrible about handcuffing or chaining people to trees or posts, as we have noticed quite recently. Within 24 hours the account of this episode was in Molotov's hands in the United Nations. The whole of the AfroAsian delegations in the United Nations immediately reacted. They were much more interested in what was happening to an Aboriginal in Western Australia who had been chained - which nobody denied - than they were in what was happening to thousands of people in the former Baltic independent states, which was denied by the Soviet Government at the time. In the Commonwealth Government Doctor Evatt had no power whatever over what the Western Australian police did and no authority whatever over Western Australian Aboriginal policy, but nobody in the world cares anything for our constitutional distinctions between the Commonwealth and the States. The whole nation is judged on any Aboriginal policy, anywhere in any State, and I feel that this constitutional amendment by the honorable member for Mackellar, which gives the Commonwealth the power to legislate positively for the benefit of people of Aboriginal race - I do not conceive of brushing the States aside and I think we would need to use all the States' instrumentalities and work in con- junction with them - at least places the final responsibility on the Government of this nation; and the final responsibility is placed on the Government of this nation by the world, whether or not we have constitutional power.

If I seem to be critical of any aspect of the policy of the Government or the Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes). I should like to say that I do not think that there is any place for superiority in this debate. This is not a normal party attack on the Government, even if I am critical of certain things that exist in the Commonwealth. From working with the Minister on two select committees, I know of his interest in the Aboriginal people, though sometimes he disagrees with me and sometimes he agrees with me. What we are trying to conduct here is a dialogue on the question of the Aboriginal people - the people on whose wellbeing we as a nation may very well be judged. The honorable member for Mackellar wants the Commonwealth to have power to discriminate for the Aborigines. " Discrimination ", as we know, has become a dirty word because we always assume that discrimination is hostile. I use again an analogy that 1 have used before. The Commonwealth, under its defence powers, discriminates for exservicemen who have suffered special disabilities in the service of the country. We do not give everybody in Australia a repatriation pension, but under the defence powers, the Commonwealth can discriminate in favour of demobilised servicemen so as to meet their needs.

The Aborigines are people whom in the past we have not treated as they should have been treated. They are our people. But we have not acknowledged their entitlement lo any land. We have not, until very recently, bothered to study their outlook and their customs. It almost seems that whenever any action is taken about benefits for Aborigines some delay is involved. Even though the Government's own proposals for amendment of the Constitution with respect to a provision relating to Aborigines related merely to the census, I regret that for the time being we have brushed aside that referendum proposal and decided to delay it. As I have just said, it almost seems that for some reason or other proposed improvements in the conditions of the

Aboriginal people are fated always to be delayed. We now propose not to go ahead with the referendum on which we had agreed. There is to be further delay. The Aborigines in the Northern Territory who are engaged in the pastoral industry are not to be given equality of wages until further delay has occurred. This sort of thing always seems to happen in relation to the Aboriginal people. We know that if this were to happen in relation to trade unions, business or any other section of the Australian community the kind of uproar that would immediately arise would prevent any delay in meeting what those people conceived to be their needs. Somehow or other, Aboriginal affairs always seem to be thrust aside as secondary. This is because perhaps I in my heart and many others in their own hearts, as they would agree if they were quite honest, in our basic motives feel that Aborigines are a secondary people.

Dr. IdaMann, Professor of Medicine at the University of Western Australia, reported some years ago that 78 per cent, of Aboriginal children suffered from trachoma. 1 think that was the percentage. Magnificently, the State Government has got rid of that disease some years since. If it had been reported that 78 per cent, of the children at the Claremont School, which my children attended, suffered from trachoma, the uproar would have resounded from one end of the State to the other and the State Government either would have had to clear up the situation in a couple of weeks or it would have been out of office, because we are passionately concerned about our own children. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we are not passionately concerned about the Aboriginal people. I believe that this Parliament is capable of being passionately concerned about them.

I consider that the referendum campaign that the honorable member for Mackellar proposes, whether it were to succeed or fail, would be of vital importance as an educational campaign in focusing in the minds of all Australians the whole position of the people of the Aboriginal race. They will not die out. This is the point that makes the issue so vital. Across the north of Australia, there has been a reversal of the population trend. We shall have many more Aborigines in the future. We must get down to some real thinking about their place in the Australian community. I believe that the constitutional changes proposed by the honorable member for Mackellar will provide a documentary basis for new action by the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the States, in the field of Aboriginal welfare. Let us be quite clear about the situation. The States now live with the battle to get money from the Commonwealth. As far as I can see, the sums allocated for the Aboriginal people are not sufficient to meet their needs. But once there is written into the Commonwealth Constitution a clear statement of the Commonwealth's own responsibilities, this will, I believe, lead to a transformation in the finance available to meet the needs of the Aborigines. I believe that it will lead also to a vital transformation of attitude to the building up of staffs to deal with the needs of the Aboriginal people and to a transformation in their conditions.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, which was established at the suggestion of the honorable member for Mackellar, has now given us many clues about the way in which we should deal with the Aborigines. For the first time their thought is being opened to us and we have been shown how to treat them with real respect as a distinctive people with the right to be distinctive. For that reason, the Opposition wholeheartedly supports this Bill which was presented this morning by the honorable member for Mackellar and which is designed to amend the Constitution as it relates to Aborigines.

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