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Thursday, 10 March 1966


Mr ERWIN (Ballaarat) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,it gave me very much pleasure indeed to second the motion of my colleague, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). I congratulate him on the great deal of work that he has put into this. I must say at the outset that we are all very pleased to see Mrs. Kathleen Walker, the Australian Aboriginal poetess, in the chamber. When we tackle the problem of the integration of these two races, we must first realise that the responsibility is on not only our shoulders but also the shoulders of the Australian Aborigines. Through the years, we have passed the buck by saying that this is not our fault, that it is the fault of our forefathers. We must realise that if we are to bring about any successful integration of Aborigines with Europeans those in the majority - the Europeans - must take the lead. We must give because we have taken. We have taken a good deal, so now it must be nearly all giving on our part. Both races have to work at the task. Today we cannot say that we have Queensland Aborigines, New South Wales Aborigines or Western Australian Aborigines. All are Australian Aborigines. Section 51 of the Constitution, if we allow it to stay as it is at the moment, will not permit us to introduce legislation providing for definite assistance at the national level towards the welfare of our Aborigines, apart from those in the Northern Territory, as we know.

I want to emphasise a point that was stressed by previous speakers. We shall not take anything away from the States. On the contrary, we shall give something. I believe that State officials to whom I have spoken realise their responsibilities and will look at the situation in this light. We realise, as has been realised in many of the other countries where similar problems have existed, that these problems must be tackled first through the channels of education. But when we think of the education of Australian Aborigines we must think not only of reading, writing and arithmetic in our primary schools. We must think of something that is even more important than our Aboriginal children attending with European children in the same schools.

We must think of a special kind of education - an education that will bring these people to appreciate our way of life so that they can have a good life beside us, living as we do and respecting the kind of things that we respect. This will mean a special kind of education. I think this is what the honorable member for Mackellar and the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) were referring to when they spoke of a kind of discrimination.

In the field of primary and secondary education, the States have done and are doing a wonderful job in the education of Aboriginal children. Recently in the United States of America on a federal basis there has been started what is called the Head Start Programme. This has appealed to me as the sort of thing we could well emulate in Australia. The idea of the Head Start Programme is to bring children back to school during vacation periods. What is more, each child is paid $1.50 a day as an incentive to return to school at that time. During this period they are given a special type of education they need so much. This is the sort of thing we have to look at from a federal angle.

So I say: Let us all look seriously at the amendment of sub-section (xxxvi) of section. 51 of the Constitution and let us do it now. Unless we correct it now, the eyes of the world will soon be turned on us and we will be held to criticism for our treatment of the Aborigines. To use the common vernacular term, it is better to beat the gun and act now.

Despite the collective wisdom of those who framed the Constitution, one can hardly imagine that the section under discussion would be accepted today as readily as it was almost 70 years ago. This was not the fault of those who framed the Constitution. Conditions were different then. The simple truth is that our knowledge and understanding of the problem have grown. Our ideas have altered and developed. There is now a growing awareness of the human value of these neglected people. Our national task is patiently consistently and with understanding to help these shy, diffident and deprived people whose age old culture and organisation have been destroyed or are being threatened and disturbed by the march of our own civilisation.

The Aborigines face what is for them the immensely difficult transition from the despised shanty settlements that fringe some of our towns to secure integration and equality within the hearts of our communities. The transition can be achieved only if our national Government has the required constitutional power. This Government has a strong desire to legislate on all matters that will bring about an improvement in the assistance available to our Aborigines so that in time - no one knows how long - our two peoples ultimately will be successfully integrated.







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