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Wednesday, 17 November 1976


Mr BRYANT (Wills) -First of all, let us examine what it is proposed to do. Aboriginal councils can be formed where 10 adult Aborigines living in a particular area desire that an Aboriginal council be formed in respect of that area. They may apply in writing, and so on. The legislation then provides that they shall be able to perform functions or services in respect of such matters as housing, health, sewerage, water supply, electricity, communications, education, relief work, roads and associated works, garbage collection and disposal, and welfare and community amenities. As a result of this legislation, that group of people will be able to administer its own affairs. Let us imagine one of the smaller communities with 5 or 6 families living on the fringe of a town in Queensland. They decide to form a council. They get their charter and they are in business. They make a by-law about the size of the garbage tins and the way the lids shall be fitted. The council having done that, the by-law comes to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner). It passes through the long tortuous path of the various echelons of the Department and eventually reaches the Minister. Bless me, it is then knighted, one might say. It is brought into the chamber, not only into this chamber but also into the Senate. I do not know why the Minister does not include in this Bill the necessity for the by-law to be approved by the Governor-General-in-Council.

This is an unnecessary intrusion into the affairs and the administration of the system. I do not think that any of the town councils which are developing in the Northern Territory are handled in this way. It may well be reasonable for such matters to be reported to the Minister and for somebody to keep an eye on the system to make sure that no civil rights are transgressed. I take it that that is the general rule for municipalities throughout Australia. In a way, this provision trespasses on the spirit upon which this legislation has been developed. This is a very important piece of legislation. It represents the efforts of both the previous Government and this Government to extract the Aboriginal people from underneath the umbrellas that have been put over them in various parts of Australia. For instance, I hope that the communities in Queensland will take the greatest possible advantage of this legislation and start to develop a life and style of their own.

In many ways it is a very adventurous piece of legislation in that it deals not only with matters of geography but also with groups of people who are social units rather than geographic units and who will be able to form themselves into councils. One of the great difficulties from which the Aboriginal people have suffered is their inability to become involved in community development in their own way. I wonder how many Aboriginal people are members of municipal councils in Australia? I think there might be one or two but I do not know that I have ever met them. They are a group of people who are naturally on the edge of things socially and in relation to community development. I hope that the Minister will have another look at this matter. When the Bill gets to the other place, we will give him a second opportunity to consider this matter by moving another amendment.

I would be with the Minister if I thought that there was any point in this provision, but I do not think that there is any point. The Aboriginal people are saying about almost everything we do: 'But you do not apply that rule to nonAboriginal communities.' One of the arguments they put in relation to land was this: 'The ordinary Australian owns his land in this way. That is the way we want to do it. The average Australian does not have to go through this sort of program. Why should we have to do it?' The situation here is that we ought not to produce in legislation, particularly adventurous legislation attempting to create a new social environment for the Aboriginal people, trappings which we do not have in other legislation.

My own belief is that we need a little more faith and a little less supervision of this nature. I do not really object to the notifications coming through to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs so that he can look at them. His staff might even do it for him. I take it he does some of the work himself. Honourable members say we had better keep an eye on this matter. I am one of the people who, in some ways, has doubts about absolute rights being vested in municipalities, particularly concerning personal, freedoms and things of that nature. For instance, there have been debates in this Parliament at various times about access to Aboriginal communities. It has been suggested that the community itself will decide whether one may or may not visit the community. I would not like that power to lie in the hands of the local council for the area in which I live. I would like it even less to be in the hands of many other local councils I have run into. They would quite often make sure that I would never come back.

I grant the necessity for people to be protected against infringement on their civil rights in situations such as this. I regard it as superfluous. I think my colleague the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) has defined this correctly. It will look like paternalism or big brotherism, whether or not that is what it is, and the best thing that can be done is to bluepencil it.

Amendment negatived.

Bill agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.







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