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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 2023


Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - As the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the one who will be responsible for the operations of the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee I think I should make some remarks about it. Honourable senators will realise that the proposal for the NACC was considered before I became the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I had to decide whether to proceed with the proposal for the ballot or reject it. At that stage it had not reached a vote and had not received Cabinet approval. After discussion with Aboriginals I was of the opinion that the ballot should go ahead so that we could have the best possible representative council of Aboriginals. I think the first thing we have to realise- I have some difficulty about your ruling, Mr President- is that while we and you in your highest office may want recognition of all as Australians, the Aboriginals are a proud race. The word 'proud' convinces them that they are above Australians. They are a proud race. (Honourable senators interjecting).


Senator CAVANAGH -Now that that has finished I say that they do believe this, that they are proud of the fact they are Aboriginals, that they are proud of the fact that they are black. There is nothing discreditable in saying that. They believe that they have not been understood because they have not had any support in the past. They believe that the white man has achieved nothing for the black people of Australia because of the fact that they are not understood and that we do not recognise them as a proud race who need special handling. A campaign is now under way urging that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs should be controlled purely by Aboriginals, that no white man should be in the Department because white men do not understand Aborigines.


The PRESIDENT - Can you not use the term European ' or 'Aboriginals '. Why do you have to use these racist terms? The world is bedevilled by racism based on colour and I wish to avoid this in this place.


Senator Poyser - I take a point of order. I would like to know, Mr President, what is your definition of the word 'Aboriginal'? Does it apply to colour at all?


The PRESIDENT - No. Senator Poyser, I am not going to be cross-examined by you on this. But I shall give you the definition. The definition of 'Aboriginals' is that they are the people who were the original inhabitants of this country. I now go on to say that over a period of 70 years rulings have been given by the Chair on words that are offensive to the Senate and to the Presiding Officer. This constant repetition of racist terms- the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) is constantly objecting to them- is something that I can no longer tolerate inside this chamber and I would be grateful if people would not use those terms.


Senator CAVANAGH - I shall try not to offend against your wishes Mr President. But I remind you that every morning you ask me to answer the questions asked of me as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Perhaps I should take exception to that. My Department is the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Its letterhead shows it to be the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.


Senator Rae - Who is objecting to the use of the word 'Aboriginal'? You are so blinded with racism that you cannot understand the point that has been made.


The PRESIDENT - I have no objection to the term* Aboriginal'.


Senator CAVANAGH -I point out that it is a proud name for a proud people. There has been recognition of the fact that they have been understood. They want their own committee for the purpose of liaising between the Aboriginal people and the Department. The only opposition we have had to this proposal, as Senator Keeffe said, has been from Mr Davidson and Senator Bonner. They have been supported by some ridicule in a Brisbane newspaper. A letter was received in my office from Mr Davidson on, I think, 17 September. I was then Minister for Works. It is the same as the letter he wrote to Senator Bonner. It is a typewritten letter signed in perfect handwriting. Obviously it had a good circulation. It had been stated that a further letter was written to me 2 days after I was appointed Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. At the same time extracts from the letter appeared in the 'Australian' newspaper. It is obvious that an inspired campaign has been conducted by a man, who is said to be an Aboriginal, against the holding of this ballot. But who is in support if it? Senator Bonner said that it was the brainchild of the Government of which he was a supporter- the previous Government. Obviously there will be no opposition to it from the previous Government it we are only following the brainchild of the previous Government. Throughout the whole of his speech tonight Senator Bonner referred to the great support for it as though it were a condemnation of his own people.


Senator Bonner - How do you work that out?


Senator CAVANAGH - Because, firstly, it was said that they are people who are in varying stages of development. Obviously some are inferior. I do not know to whom the reference 'in varying stages of development' referred. It has been said that they should have a parliament like ours and also that they are not up to our standards. It is derogatory to these people to refer to varying standards. The Government has been asked: 'What do you want to do- give them power and money?' Is that a crime? Should we refuse to give these people power and money? That is the purpose of die whole exercise. We make no apology for that. Are we to be condemned for giving Senator Bonner's race power and money? Should we give them revolvers, as the early white settlers of Australia did, to shoot down their fellow men? That is the implication to be derived from the slanderous attack which has been made tonight on the decision to give them a say in their own affairs. It is not a question of putting them in big plush offices. Senator Bonner thinks that they are going to sit in big plush offices in Canberra. They are to be the representatives of their people, the same as we are the representatives of our electors. Their job will be among the people they represent. They will liaise between their people and the Department. The purpose of this mission will be to voice the needs and aspirations of people who have not been heard before. I do not know whether it will be a success. It must be remembered that of the 120,000 Aborigines in Australia 36,700 have enrolled in the ballot and 193 nominations to contest the ballot have been received. That means more than a single isolated letter from Mr Davidson. There are 56 people in the State of Queensland who do not agree with Senator Bonner who has nominated for this election. At the present time a roving ballot is being conducted by an officer of the Electoral Office which will be finalised next Saturday. The purpose of this ballot is to give the Aboriginal people a voice in Australian government. It is true that it will not give increased power to the Aboriginal people. The people elected will not be the government of the Aboriginal people. They will act more in a consultative capacity. But never before has a government attempted to hear the voice of the Aboriginal people as has this Government on this occasion.

It may well be true that we will not get a proper representation of the people. This is the commencement of a scheme. It is the commencement of the education of these people. They will know all about elections. The people elected will have the opportunity to present their case to the Government. They will learn of their duties of representation. What is achieved as a result of this scheme will determine whether it is a success and whether it will be continued. It is a novelty. It is comparatively new and it allows Aborigines to follow new lines of thinking because it promises a recognition of the Aboriginal people and a chance that they will be listened to. I think we all agree that the failure or success of this venture will depend upon the support given to it. Rather than wreck the scheme when it is about to be put into operation, those people who have any consideration for this race of people should join with us in ensuring that the scheme does work.

We are not desirous of having an election for which the Labor Party takes all the credit. It is an opportunity for the Parliament and the Department to obtain the views of these people. We should all be behind it to ensure that it does succeed. I am ashamed that Senator Bonner, in my opinion, has deserted his people for the political party with which he is associated. Perhaps he has done so in order to obtain an advantage over an opposing political party. I say that the Government has nothing to hide and nothing to apologise for in relation to the election which is about to take place.

Question resolved in the affirmative.







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