Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 20 September 1972
Page: 1018


Senator KEEFFE (Queensland) - I support what Senator Cavanagh said in his submission for the disallowance of the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance. I regret some of the statements which were made by the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton).- I think it is equally regrettable that he has joined 2 other Ministers who avail, themselves of every opportunity to adopt a sneering, ridiculing attitude. This is most unbecoming of Senator Cotton because there was a time when he behaved in this chamber with very great dignity. Obviously , he feels that his 2 colleagues, Senator Wright and Senator Greenwood, in their attempts to belittle the Opposition are the people whom he should copy. I suggest that he might mend his ways if he Wants to retain some of his friends.


Senator Cotton - I rise to order. I do not think those remarks are really fair, but really I rose to the point of order because I do not think it is the honourable senator's privilege or responsibility to instruct me on my behaviour.


The PRESIDENT - The Presiding officer is the officer of the Senate appointed to instruct honourable senators on their behaviour.


Senator KEEFFE - I was merely being paternalistic to the Minister; I had no intention of being offensive to him.


The PRESIDENT - I am the paterfamilias here.


Senator KEEFFE - I propose to mention some of the points mentioned by the Minister. These are deserving of very severe criticism. He completely missed the point in his prepared speech which he read out word by word, full stop by full stop, until he came to the end of it, at which time he added about 10 words of his own. The reason for the Opposition moving for the disallowance of the Ordinance is to retain a freedom for the Aborigines. The Minister referred to the judgment by the Full Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory. We debated this matter in the Senate several days ago and at that time wc stated our view very clearly. We said what we felt about the manner in which the Ordinance had been introduced in the first place. When we found a weakness in this particular Ordinance wc found also that there were many other laws which probably would not have stood up to the light of day in any court of law. So there was a great panic measure by the Government with the Attorney-General (Senator Grenwood) running around in his usual circles trying to plug the loopholes.

The Australian Labor Party says that, the Aborigines had a right to demonstrate and my colleague Senator Cavanagh pointed out in great detail that they did this with dignity and with honour, not only to the group who were demonstrating but also to their race in general. With the introduction of this Ordinance the first people who will suffer as a result of it will be the people who have suffered already, the representatives of the Aboriginal people in this country. Those are points that the Minister attempted to evade right through his speech. He said that the reconstruction of the embassy one evening recently was deliberate and provocative. Again he was quoting the remarks of the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt). Let us be factual about this. If any provocation was practised by anybody, it was practised by the representatives of this Government, starting with the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and working down - or, to put it in reverse, if that is preferred, starting with the Minister for the Interior and working up.

The Minister for Civil Aviation endeavoured to draw red herrings across the trail by referring to the Western Australian legislation. Let me remind him that there was no violence and no bashing of Aborigines when an embassy was removed from the Western Australian area. So there is no parallel there. In fact the removal of that embassy was virtually by agreement.


Senator Webster - Why did a Labor government remove it?


Senator KEEFFE - If the honourable senator wants to make a speech he will have an opportunity later to do so. 1 am not going to explain for his benefit.


Senator Webster - You would not want to, seeing that a Labor government removed it.


Senator KEEFFE - The honourable senator would be completely familiar with the reasons for its removal and would know the background of that situation. So I ask him not to draw red herrings across the trail to kill my time in this debate. The Minister was unfair also when he referred to what the Advisory Council had said. I mentioned this only a few days ago. It is true that this Ordinance was considered by the Advisory Council of the Australian Capital Territory, but it is equally true to say that the Advisory Council rejected it. Anyway, it is not very often that the Minister takes notice of the Advisory Council, and on this occasion he followed his usual fashion. If the Minister for Civil Aviation wants to be terribly truthful this statement should be incorporated in any speeches that are drafted for him when he represents the Minister for the Interior in this place.

Let us examine some of the reasons for the situation. The Minister said: 'Do not let us use this as a vehicle to bring in all sorts of Aboriginal problems.' That was the very basis of the establishment of the embassy on the lawns in front of Parliament House, lt was established there to draw attention to the lack of social rights, to the lack of legal rights and to the lack of the ordinarily accepted human rights which are suffered by the Aborigines and Islanders of Australia. I point out that one of the first reasons for setting up the embassy on 26th January 1972 was to draw public attention to their lack of rights to their tribal lands. Yesterday the Melbourne Age' carried a story under a Canberra byline. It stated:

The Federal Government expects to announce soon the granting of a lease to a company of Gurindji Aborigines for a cattle mustering enterprise at Wattie Creek.

The lease will be Hie first granted under the decision, announced in June, to make available about 25 square miles for leasing by Aborigines at Wattie Creek - the final amount could be up to 35 square miles.

The last paragraph in that news item stated:

The proposed lease area of 10 square miles will be used for horses and yards.

This is a prime example and I quote it because it has received wide publicity throughout Australia and wide and unfavourable publicity in other countries. The people who comprise the majority of the group at Wattie Creek belong to the Gurindji tribe. I am sure that Government supporters will recall with some shame, probably at least with some political embarrassment, a recent television programme in which Professor Colin Tatz discussed land rights so far as the Wattie Creek area was concerned. Honourable senators will recall that on that occasion he produced a telegram that had been forwarded by the Vestey brothers to the Prime Minister of this country. There was a newspaper story the next day saying that the Government was very embarrassed. It had hoped to be able to keep this 25 square miles - or is it 35 square miles, or only 10 square miles - as one of its big juicy plums for the election policy announcement, but it was all blown up before it could be used for some sort of political advantage. I have a copy of that telegram which was sent on 26th January 1972, the day on which the protest group of Aborigines set up their embassy outside Parliament House. That telegram reads:

Have read with interest your statement regarding Aboriginal policies especially question of special purpose leases of land not in the reserve. Please advise if there is any, way that we can help. We feel could release suitable area outside the main cattle run as a free gift to help the worthy objective of advancement arid satisfaction Aboriginals. Signed Edmund and Sam Vestey.

That is the telegram that was sent to the Prime Minister on that date.

We have heard continually from the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Interior and other so-called responsible Ministers of this Government that no such offer was ever made. The copy of that telegram that I have just quoted gives the lie to those ministerial protestations. The story in the 'Age*, which I take to be an authentic report, despite the criticism by the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Greenwood) of the

Age' this morning, indicates that the piece of land is very small indeed. I am given to understand that approximately 500 square miles to 1,000 square miles was envisaged by the Vestey Brothers when they made that offer to the Prime Minister. That land was to be passed on to the Gurindji tribe.

Let us be practical about this matter. Professor Colin Tatz was the first man to raise this matter. He is one of the best spokesmen in this country on behalf of the, downtrodden Aborigines. He cannot be classified as a person of no moment with respect to Aborigines. The telegram which I have quoted and which I consider to be completely authentic was forwarded to the Prime Minister and has been hidden for months. That shows up the Prime Minister for the political shyster - no, I withdraw that word, Mr President-


The PRESIDENT - Order! Yes, withdraw it. The honourable senator is just one jump ahead of me.


Senator KEEFFE - That shows up the Prime Minister for the political weakling that he is. Land rights was one of the reasons why the Aboriginal people set up their embassy to protest. They listed also a number of other points. Let us look at housing. This Government continually skites mostly in Hansard, because it does not get a great number of large headlines elsewhere on this issue, about what it has done in the way of providing tremendous assistance in the field of housing. I take as an example my own State of Queensland which has an Aboriginal population greater than that in any State or Territory of the Commonwealth. In the last 5 years, Queensland has managed to provide for its Aboriginal population 140.2 houses per year. That rate does not even keep up with the natural growth in the community. How ever we are to overcome Aboriginal housing problems in Queensland under the Commonwealth Government and the State Country Party-Liberal Party Government I would not know. In the Northern Territory, the housing rate is not much better. When the Government of Western Australia asked for a large sum of money to try to overcome the problem, the Commonwealth Government replied: 'No. We do not know where to obtain the money'.

It is possible to look briefly only at each of the problems about which the Aboriginal people protested. But each of these problems is of tremendous importance. Another area of protest concerns the health of Aborigines throughout Australia, particularly the health of Aboriginal children. Infant mortality among Aborigines in some areas of Australia is 5 times to 10 times and even 12 times that of Australian children of European descent. Vitamin deficiency is widespread. I know of an able doctor who carried out experiments in this field in the north-western part of New South Wales. The Commonwealth Department of Health many months ago said that it would investigate his system of providing vitamin C for young Aboriginal children to see whether this would overcome some of their health deficiencies. But we are still awaiting that report, Perhaps it will be treated in the same way as reports from some other notable doctors who have sought to make worthwhile contributions in the health field. If their recommendations or their methods of treatment are considered to be a little unorthodox, the tendency on the part of successive Ministers for Health in this Government has been to ignore any reports made along those lines.

One has only to visit Aboriginal reserves in New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory or Western Australia to see the deficiencies in the health of little Aboriginal children under 5 years of age. In Queensland a number of doctors of national fame, including a couple of doctors of international fame, has said that, if a child is deprived in its first 5 years of life, it is likely to be mentally retarded, a slow learner and not able to cope with all the problems of adult life. One weeps for the future of these children when one sees the chronic ear, nose and throat infections that these youngsters suffer. This is another matter about which the Aboriginal embassy protested. This was a field in which the Aborigines asked for help. This Government repaid them by bringing in 200 police at a time to chase them off the lawns in front of Parliament House and to stop their public protest because it was embarrassing to the Government. The actions of the Government became a talking point around the world generally and particularly in the Asian area. The Government could not cop it. It did not like it.

If we move among adult Aborigines, we find that in some areas of this country

Hansen's disease is still quite a problem. In Queensland Aborigines with Hansen's disease are isolated. They are black so we put them on an island well out to sea. It has been said by the Queensland Minister that at some stage they will be brought closer to the coast. If those people were white they would be in a general hospital on the mainland. The island which is occupied by Aborigines with Hansen's disease is Fantome Island which is well off the Queensland coast.

There has been no real survey of the scourge of VD in Aboriginal settlements. This matter was raised in this chamber 5 or 6 years ago by a member of the Government and by myself in relation to the non-control of VD in the Torres Strait Islands. Nothing was done to overcome this problem. In a recent news item on a television show, even the local doctor had some rather pithy comments to make about this matter. In my own city of Townsville, which is virtually a Services base these days and is visited by many young people coming back from overseas, a very great problem exists. There are 8 or 10 houses - I will use this word because of the youth of some of those present - of ill fame operating in Townsville. What is the Minister for the Army (Mr Katter) doing about it? Why are these houses staffed, in the main, by young Aboriginal girls? I will tell honourable senators why - there is no employment for young Aboriginal girls. They live in a depressed society. Young Aboriginal girls are fighting on two fronts because they are black. First, if they are not skilled in any particular line of work they cannot get a job, but if they are skilled or semi-trained they are faced with the disadvantage of their colour of skin. The other point is that unfortunately many white people in this country still look on someone with a non-white skin as being somewhat inferior.

In pastoral areas there are still many people who do not earn the award wage. There are no awards to cover most Aboriginal girls working on pastoral and cattle stations. Therefore, an employer may choose to pay his employees any wage he likes. Who will protest at this? It is of no use asking the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Queensland to police this matter because it will nol. lt is equally foolish to say that the Welfare Branch of the Northern Territory Administration will police this matter, because it will not either. Even if the principles under which it operated allowed this to be policed there would not be sufficient stac to do the work.

Another matter about which the Aborigines protested very loudly was the restrictive discriminatory anti-black laws. Queensland is now the last State in which these laws exist. Under current legislation these laws will continue for a long time to come. Some 25,000 people are still suffering under the Act. But the Premier of Queensland and his spokesmen introduced amendments to the Queensland legislation. They said that they would remove many of the restrictions. In fact, this has not been done. The legislation is now divided into 2 Acts, one for the Torres Strait Islanders and the other for Aborigines. It now serves a double purpose. The previous legislation divided blacks from whites but now black people are being divided too. That is one way in which the Premier hopes to keep the black people of Queensland in complete subjection.

Bad grog is still getting on to the reserves. Our friends who were across the road when they were allowed to protest told us about this too. They told us about the adulterated grog which was made available to black people mostly by bad white men. Honourable senators know that some time ago in this chamber I produced a bottle of wine which had been mixed with methylated spirits. I give full credit to officers of the Department of Customs and Excise for the search they made to catch the publican who was selling that grog. Probably I made the mistake. I should not have publicised the matter before referring it to the Department. Another case is under investigation now and I do not propose to report it in this chamber. But the mistake was made because by the time the officers got there the grog apparently had been disposed of. But it has not been disposed of when it is made in half gallon jars, bottles and small quantities and sold in an accumulation of small quantities on reserves at 3 or 4 times the price which ought to be paid for it. This has led to a lot of problems in Queensland. But 2 or more years ago people on several reserves asked for canteens which they could control themselves and where they could sell beer and perhaps other light alcoholic liquors. But to date the procrastinating Department in Queensland has not allowed the establishment of one canteen. We arc now told that the Department is waiting for the regulations which will come down under the 2 new amended Acts. We were told that the regulations were to be brought in last April. But they are like Santa Claus. They will probably come with Christmas; we are not sure which Christmas.

We are told that the councils on the reserves have complete freedom of action. This is a deliberate lie. If that word is too harsh I say that it is a deliberate untruth because they do not have freedom of action at all. In my possession I have a document which was issued on a reserve. 1 will make it available at the first opportunity if there are any doubting Thomases on the Government side. It is a transit document which is signed by a member of the council but contersigned by a white man. In this particular area the council is supposed to meet only once a week. If the great grandmother of a resident of a reserve has died or is ill and he wants to shift from one spot to another, either to enter or leave a reserve, he may have to wait a week before the council meets. Many Queensland Aborigines protested at the embassy. We are told that in Queensland there is complete freedom to come and go as you like and that the councils are elected at regular intervals. I have not been able to find a council which has gone through the process of democratic balloting in the last 2 years. I hope thai nobody will tell me that this has been done on Palm Island, Bamaga or any one of these places because it has not been done. On one reserve I asked about this - I am not going to give the name of the person who told me because he is an employee of the Department - and I was told: The boss just appointed them last year and away we went'.


Senator Webster - Who is the honourable senator blaming for no election?


Senator KEEFFE - I am blaming the Minister in Charge of Aboriginal and

Island Affairs in Queensland and his Director. Both of them are propping up a rotten system. I do not blame any employee of the Department. They are the victims of the dirty, filthy system which has been perpetuated by that Government, the Director, the Minister and, on many occasions, publicly by the Premier too. I believe that 1 have a right to make this protest. The Government will not allow the people themselves to do it in the normal way in which they wanted in front of this House. They were not causing a nuisance. They had become a tourist attraction. Very few tourists who came through Canberra did noi call in to chat to them, hear about their problems, sign their petition or give them a donation to help their cause.


Senator Webster - Who ended up with the money?


Senator KEEFFE - If the honourable senator wants to throw red herrings across the trail let him get up and make his own speech and make accusations if he has any evidence on which to base them. But I ask him not to try to cut down my time. This group of people had the support of most people in the Australian Capital Territory. I did not receive any complaints from any local residents. .1 certainly did not receive any complaints from any tourists. Members of the embassy told me that apart from one or two occasions everybody was friendly to them. If they were not causing a nuisance why was there this great need, brought on in the dark of the political night when Parliament was away from this city, to assault them twice? One cannot blame the police just because they are police. They have a job to do. It is unfortunate that a minority of them did not do the job the way they should have. There was no provocation on behalf of the black people but there was on behalf of a number of the policemen. This is where the first problem started. When the tent was re-erected and removed the second time we had the same problems. Our treatment of black people has brought this country into disgrace not only within our own boundaries but also around the world.

The other night when the tent was again erected it was done in a spirit of happiness. The loophole had been found in the law and it could not be implemented. The wise thing to do would have been to wait until the next day before shifting those people. But by the light of matches and torches people redrafted the ordinance. The second time they made mistakes which probably could have been challenged had there been the time and opportunity to do so. Then these people were removed by the light of torches at 1 o'clock in the morning. lt was not even humane to do that. It took about 50 police to remove 7 or 8 peaceful, non-violent Aborigines at 1 a.m. on a cold morning with rain falling and wind blowing. But the Government was careful to make sure that both Houses of Parliament had risen before it took this action. A number of my colleagues and I discussed what was likely to happen earlier in the night. We said: 'They are not such big brutes that they will come and shift the Aborigines before tomorrow morning.' So we went respectfully back to our various places of residence.


Senator Webster - ls this an excuse as to why 30 Australian Labor Party men did not help? These people signed a great document that they were going to help, but they went home.


Senator KEEFFE - ls the honourable senator making a speech? It is not a very satisfactory one. There was never any excuse needed. The Labor Party said right from the start that it would assist in every way. We are still assisting. When the election is held in November of this year there will be a different attitude to the whole Aboriginal problem. Aborigines will be treated with humanity. There will be a different attitude to the problems of health, unemployment, freedom and right of expression.


Senator Wilkinson - Then there will be justice.


Senator KEEFFE - As my colleague Senator Wilkinson interjects, that will be the time when there will be justice.


The PRESIDENT - Order! There is too much conversation on the cross benches.


Senator KEEFFE - I am sorry that the Australian Democratic Labor Party and the Australian Country Party are having their own private war about whether Aborigines should be disposed of. I have stated that as far as I am concerned-


Senator Gair - We did not open our mouths. The DLP is not in it.


Senator KEEFFE - Senator G air's mouth looks like a mine shaft anyway so I naturally thought his mouth was open. We have said that we will do everything possible to help these people while this Government survives. But in the short life left to it I suggest that it make available a little justice for them. It will be just a little because the Government is incapable of making available large quantities of justice. Also I suggest that there will be much more debate on this matter when the estimates for the Office of Aboriginal Affairs are discussed. The Government ought to take another look at this whole question. If this Ordinance is disallowed today it will not create a permanent problem. Right from the start the Aborigines said they did not want to set up there a permanent embassy. They said, however, they did want to set up there a form of protest that would be visible to the whole of Australia so that they could get their story over. I hope that when the vote is taken the Ordinance will be disallowed.







Suggest corrections