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Wednesday, 10 October 1973
Page: 1837


Mr ENDERBY (Australian Capital Territory) (Minister for Secondary Industry, Minister for Supply and Minister for the Northern Territory) - I would like to say a few words in this debate. I have some regret about speaking before the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt). I was hoping that I would be able to follow him in the debate in order to have the benefit of his comments. I say that not in any hostile way. Firstly, I wish to take up some of the remarks of the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), who spoke about the subject of Aboriginal affairs in general and about how in many areas and in many ways one would hope - this is as I understood him - that Aboriginal welfare, Aboriginal advancement and Aboriginal affairs will be treated as non-party issues. I share that view.

Social conscience is not a monopoly of any political party. In the Liberal Party of Australia there are people who have it and there are others who do not. The same goes for the Australian Country Party and the Australian Labor Party. Racism is a nasty, dirty word. Racism is to be found in all political parties. People who are racists often are not aware that they are and in some cases stoutly deny that they are. Fortunately, there are some people who give serious thought to the solution of the problem. I think the short address of the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) was extremely impressive in this regard. He obviously has given a lot of thought to the subject. He is not a political ally of mine. He belongs to one of the Opposition parties - the Liberal Party. Obviously, he has thought in great depth about this problem. I am not saying that I agree with everything he says.

By contrast let me single out - I know that it will be put against me that I do - the comments of the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder). There was nothing constructive in his remarks. Everything he said added up to saying that nothing should be done about the Aborigines, that they should be left as they are, that they have been happy in the past and we should let the old way continue, that we should not think about giving them cattle stations to run, that we should not think of spending money on them and that we should treat them as simple, innocent people who occasionally get drunk. That is a patronising attitude which harks back to the past; a past which produced the terrible system which we have inherited and which was so strongly described - in extreme language, it is true, but proper language - by the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James). I do not think it does very much good to describe the features of the system. We all know them.

Much of the talk so far has been devoted to the more remote parts of Australia such as northern Australia and the Northern Territory where large concentrations of Aboriginal people live. There are people living on the outskirts of Alice Springs, Darwin and Katherine and at Gove, Yirrkala, south of Mount Isa, Boulia, Dajarra and places such as that, who are experiencing not only malnutrition but also poverty and a lack of all the things that we take for granted. They also would like to take those things for granted; let there be no mistake about that. They are not happy about having to live in the conditions in which they live. It is a wicked, nasty lie to suggest that they are. The principal thing they lack in most of the areas I have described is dignity. They are conscious and aware of that. One has only to see them in parts of the Northern Territory to know that they do not enjoy the sense of dignity that we regard as a basic right of human beings. They do not walk tall, as we would like to think all human beings should be able to walk.

I think it is a tribute to the Labor Government that at least it has recognised the magnitude of the problem. The amount set aside in the Budget for expenditure on tackling the problem is well over double the amount ever spent before. Throwing in the expenditure on education and health, in addition to the amounts that were being disbursed by my good friend the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant) when he was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the expenditure provided for in this Budget will be well over double whatever was spent before. The former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, with his very deepfelt sense of what is right and what is wrong in this world and with his deepfelt sense of the injustice that these people are suffering, was bringing to that job a zeal and energy that was a shining example to all of us.

I want to single out just one aspect of this deep problem that came to my notice - in a particular form, anyway - not too long ago, when I first became Minister for the Northern Territory. I was aware of the bad conditions at the Fannie Bay gaol in Darwin and the gaol in Alice Springs, although I was not as familiar with the conditions at the gaol in Alice Springs as I was with the conditions of the one at Fannie Bay. I arranged for Professor Gordon Hawkins to go and inspect the conditions. He took with him an American expert, Dr Misner. Professor Hawkins is a well known authority on criminology. His description of the criminal justice system of the Northern Territory should be made widely known. I quote from the opening paragraph of his report, which was in these terms:

In the entire criminal justice system in the Northern Territory the Aboriginal has only one role- he is the prisoner. He is not the judge. He is not the policeman. He is not the lawyer. He is not the gaoler. He is not the warder. But he is the prisoner.

That is how society - our society in his land - confronts him. He is picked up in the street by the police because he is obviously drunk. He drinks to try to drown his loss of dignity, and so makes the situation worse. If I lived under the conditions under which he lives, I would drink too. He is branded by our society as a prisoner. Something like 75 per cent of all the prisoners in Northern Territory gaols are in prison for public drunkenness. That is an incredible situation. Most of them are Aborigines. Last year when I was a member of the Opposition I put questions on the notice paper in an attempt to obtain some comparison of the crime rates in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. The Australian Capital Territory has approximately double the population of the Northern Territory. One would think therefore that the Australian Capital Territory would have double the number of criminals because crime is only a feature of society. But that is not the case. With half the population of the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory has IS times the number of people in gaol for what are called crimes. But the crimes are drunkenness and vagrancy - vagrancy being not having any money; in other words, being an Aboriginal. Those figures and facts speak for themselves.

The honourable member for Herbert, in his thoughtful contribution to this debate, said that sometimes he has misgivings and he does not quite understand which way the present Government's policy is going. Let me suggest that at least it has a policy and a determination to do something about a situation that Australians cannot tolerate or put up with any longer. The previous Government - at least those members of it who had a conscience, such as the honourable member for Mackellar - was at least beginning to move in the last months or perhaps years of its term of office, but it did very little. The present Government, on coming to office, recognised the urgency of the situation and more than doubled the amount of expenditure in this field. It, of course, recognises that one cannot solve everything by money but it recognises also that one cannot solve this problem without money because it goes much too deep. At least the present Government has made a start. Those are the contributions I would like to make to the debate. I will listen with interest to the remarks of the honourable member for Gwydir.







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