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Thursday, 10 March 1966


Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- This Bill represents an effort to bring the Australian Aboriginal community into the body of the Australian Commonwealth in a fully constitutional way. That is the project before us.

I suppose the immediate project is for those of us who are convinced that this is necessary to convince our colleagues in this House and then to carry with us the rest of Australia - in the terms of the Constitution, a majority of the people in the majority of the States.

From my own experience, which is now lengthy and broad, I am convinced that the people of Australia will support wholeheartedly any referendum that flows from this Bill. I say that because in the 10 years I have been in the Parliament, I have associated myself closely with the movement of the Aboriginal people themselves and those other people who are concerned with this problem. Because of that association, I know that there is a campaign ready to be initiated immediately the Government decides that it is politically possible to proceed with this project.

So I say to honorable members that the first thing we should do is to shed any doubts about the feelings of the citizens of Australia in this matter. The last doubts lie with ourselves perhaps as to whether we can carry our own electorates with us. I think I can give a personal guarantee that a majority of the citizens of Wills will vote for this proposition. I am sure the pursuasive advocacy of the Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden) in Bruce will have the same result. The simple question is this: Are the people with us? 1 say: Yes, they are. This is not a campaign that started only yesterday. Like most of us, I came to this Parliament not very well informed on the Aborigines. The position of these people was brought to my notice only a year or two after I entered the Parliament in late 1955. With the permission of the Australian Labour Party, we of the Opposition moved a motion on the general subject of Aboriginal welfare as long ago as 1937. Only a week later my close friend and former colleague, Mr. Haylen who was then the honorable member for Parkes, tabled a petition in this House asking that the Commonwealth take action to remove sub-section (xxvi) of section 51 from the Constitution and to repeal section 127.

In the intervening time, a tremendous campaign has been associated with this project. In fact, 94 separate petitions have been presented to the House in the nine years since the campaign got under way in

58.   Actually, it is eight years since we launched the project in a national way. Churches, most political parties, people in all the Parliaments and the trade union movement of Australia are all convinced that this change is necessary. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has given the Parliament an opportunity to agree to it and I believe it is our bounden national duty to get on with the job.

The position is this: The Aboriginal people are still denied some of the advantages and benefits of being Australians and they will be denied those advantages while this section of the Constitution remains. While anything inhibits Commonwealth action in the field of Aboriginal advancement, the Aborigines cannot receive the full benefits of Commonwealth resources. The last arrived migrant who steps ashore in Australia can receive the benefits of Commonwealth support in education. He can go to a migrant school to learn the English language. But the Commonwealth Government has no constitutional authority to establish such a system for the Aborigines of Northern Queensland or Western Australia although I do not suppose its authority to do so would be challenged.

This is simply a question of bringing the Australian community together in a partnership. I put it to honorable members that each of them should examine his own conscience, which I presume is as clear as anybody else's in this matter; each should take a look at his own electorate and consider where he will stand when this project comes before the people. Is his electoral committee on side in this matter? Can it carry his electorate with it? If the answer is: " Yes ", the answer of the House to this Bill will certainly be " Aye ". This has been a long campaign for the Aboriginal people of Australia. The instructions given to Governor Phillip when he set out to establish a settlement in Australia were -

You are to endeavour by every possible means to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them. And if any of our subjects shall wantonly destroy them, or give them any unnecessary interruption in the exercise of their several occupations, it is our will and pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of offence.

Then this portion of the instructions is ironical because we have not yet got round to it -

You will endeavour to procure an account of the numbers inhabiting the neighbourhood of the intended settlement. . . .

The repeal of section 127 will enable us to get on with that for the whole of Australia. The first mention of this proposal that I can find before the Parliament, although I have not delved into every document, is a recommendation by Dr. Donald Thomson in a report to the present Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen), who was then Minister for the Interior, on the position in the Northern Territory. This is what he said -

Although I think that the objective should be finally to bring the whole of the administration of native affairs in Australia under one control, since it is obviously desirable that there should be a uniform policy of administration . . . lt was stated that, finally it will he only the Commonwealth which will have the necessary resources and which will be able to exercise total responsibility effectively for the Aboriginal people of Australia and for all people of Australia. So I invite honorable members to remember that the proposition that we change the Constitution in this way has, so far as I can tell, the wholehearted support of every organisation associated with the Aboriginal people in Australia and the support of the Aboriginal people themselves.

If the House will bear with me for a moment I will tell honorable members something of the organisation with which I am involved as the senior vice-president. I refer to the Federal Council for Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. I would note here that we might have to give some consideration to the definition of the position of the Torres Strait Islanders in this regard. This organisation has affiliates throughout Australia - church bodies, country women's associations, trade unions, Aboriginal fellowships and so on. But the most significant feature of this organisation is the part played in it by the Aboriginal people themselves. By that term I mean folk of Aboriginal ancestry, whether three quarters or half, or anyone who considers himself to be of that nature. The President of the Council is Mr. Joe

McGinness of Cairns. He is a waterside worker and is a very powerful and impressive man. The vice-presidents include Mr. Philip Roberts, about whom some honorable members may have read in Mr. Douglas Lockwood's book, and Mr. James Morgan who has been around the House interviewing people during the last few days. We have secretaries in the Torres Strait Islands and in each of the States, and in each case these are Aboriginal people. So we speak here this afternoon with the full support of the Aboriginal people. I think this is important to understand.

I hope that before a final decision is made the Government, through the appropriate Minister, will call in the representatives of the Aboriginal people and discuss the proposition with them so that there is complete report on this matter. It is a tradition in Australia that when we are dealing with industrial legislation the trade unions are consulted and that when considering repatriation legislation the Returned Servicemen's League and others are consulted. In this instance the only people who have to be convinced are the members of this Parliament. I am convinced that the citizens of Australia are on side, f am convinced that the electoral machinery is in existence to carry the proposition once it is put before the citizens, and I am convinced that there can be no proper approach to the Aboriginal question in Australia until the Commonwealth Government takes it up in its full and responsible way. It is quite unfair that the principal responsibility for the Aboriginal people of Australia should reside solely in Queensland and Western Australia while the Victorians and New South Welshmen, who number seven or eight million Australian people - the great majority of Australian people and taxpayers - can shed the burden by having a very small Aboriginal community. So I appeal to the House to give serious consideration to all the proposals now before it and to examine this simple political question.

Granting that the House is agreed that the Aboriginal question is one of conscience which we can clear only by Commonwealth action; that in the political field we can get the majority of people in the majority of States on side; that there are adequate resources to campaign with; that those who campaign will have the co-operation of large bodies of significant organisations; and that, therefore, the only barrier to the successful passage into the Constitution of Commonwealth responsibility for Aborigines lies in our own hearts and our own morale, I believe that this afternoon we are setting our feet upon a path which will change the whole structure and nature of the Aboriginal situation in Australia. I am pleased that on this occasion 1 speak in full support of and in full rapport with my colleague, the honorable member for Mackellar. This is a notable advance in Australian politics. I know that several other honorable members opposite wish to add their support to this motion. Therefore, in certain ways, this is an historic matter.







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