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Thursday, 10 March 1966


Mr ROBINSON (Cowper) - I rise to support this proposal. I believe that there is a very great need for us to overhaul completely our national approach to the Aboriginal problem. This is a matter that deserves even more consideration than the scope of this debate permits. The Aboriginal problem in Australia was described by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) as something that was of both national and international concern. I am one who feels very strongly on the issue of the international implications of the problem. During a visit overseas last year I suppose the question most often raised with me was about Australia's policy in respect of the Aboriginal people of the Commonwealth. I was proud to be able to say that we did not, in a practical way, discriminate, that we were doing things to advance these people and that we regarded them as citizens of the Commonwealth. But one must go further if one is to be quite serious in a matter of this kind, and to take it further one must have regard to the constitutional factors and to the ways and means of looking to the interests of the advancement of our Aboriginal people.

It has been argued that the Constitution, as it stands, does not permit Parliament to discriminate and that the proposed alteration could introduce a situation in which Parliament could discriminate. I have no doubt that the Government will take this view fully into consideration when, as must happen, this matter comes again before the Executive for consideration. The view of the honorable member for Mackellar that we cannot proceed with this motion hastily because there cannot be a determination that would run longer than six months ahead of a referendum date is a vital consideration. But let us make sure that in the long run we are able to remove any doubt in this matter. The Commonwealth would be the poorer if the eventual outcome of this matter leaves any doubt about discrimination. We cannot permit a situation that would infer discriminataion. Having said that, I want very briefly to express some views in respect of what we should be doing in Australia from the standpoint of the practical approach that is necessary. First, we are spending insufficient money in the interests of the advancement of the Aboriginal people. In my own electorate I have many instances of the need for greater expenditure. There is scope not only for housing and education but there is also vast scope for the provision of an adequate approach to the problem of social work and welfare work. There are insufficient officers and an insufficient provision for welfare officers to do a worthwhile job in lifting the standard of the lives of the Aboriginal people. I find that there is an increased Aboriginal population in my electorate. This indicates very clearly the need for more work to be done.

In New South Wales a parliamentary select committee is currently investigating the Aboriginal problem. This will be a useful move, so far as the State is concerned. However, there is no national policy so that whatever is the determination of the parliamentary committee and whatever is its recommendation, there is still a situation of doubt and difficulty not conducive to an atmosphere in which we can successfully resolve the needs of the day of the Aborigines.

One of the principal requirements is to ensure that in respect of employment and well being the Aboriginal people are properly cared for. We are not approaching this problem as we might do. I believe that a great deal more could be done to raise their status by ensuring that we discover the things that will give them gainful employment and a useful way of life. Finance and a national policy are therefore necessary.

I support the motion because I believe it is the only way in which we can bring the overall problem effectively under notice. The Government must ensure that no doubt exists as to where the Commonwealth stands and that there is no room for doubt on the score of discrimination. Let us support this proposal so that the Government will again have the responsibility of examining the problem effectively with a view to ensuring that in the long run we do something worthwhile in the interests of the Commonwealth and, in particular, of the Aboriginal people.







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