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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 574

Mr BLANCHARD —I direct a question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Is there any evidence that Aboriginal voters in the Northern Territory are being discriminated against in relation to basic democratic rights-in particular, the right to vote in the forthcoming election?

Mr HOLDING —I thank the honourable member for his question. Unfortunately the short answer to his question is yes. The electoral rolls in the Northern Territory closed on Monday, 16 February, the day the election was announced. Of course, they closed at a time when the wet season was at its height.

Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. If the Minister is addressing himself, as he appears to be, to a question concerning the administration of the electoral rolls in the Northern Territory, that cannot be any part of his portfolio duties.

Madam SPEAKER —I take that point but the Minister has been asked whether the Aboriginals are being discriminated against. The Aboriginals of the Northern Territory are his direct responsibility. I call the Minister.

Mr HOLDING —Let me point out to the honourable gentleman opposite that unfortunately there is clear evidence of what could only be described as discriminatory practices in the provision of mobile polling booths. For example, at Pine Creek, a predominantly white community of 139 voters, polling facilities are available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the day of the election; but in a much larger, predominantly Aboriginal community the polling times are restricted. For example, at Nguiu on Melville Island, with 600 enrolled voters, the polling booth is open from only 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Other larger Aboriginal communities are similarly treated. One blatant example of discrimination would appear to be at Auvergne which has six white voters. It receives a polling booth. Ten kilometres away at Bulla, 40 Aborigines will have no access to a mobile polling booth. I can understand that it is part of the pre-conditioning of some members of the National Party that they believe in discrimination against voters, particularly of people likely to vote against the National Party. Members of the National Party do not have any problem about saying: `That is fair', because as far as they are concerned the electoral system can be adjusted or manipulated to try to produce a narrow political advantage. I just make the point--

Mr Spender —That should be ruled out of order.

Mr HOLDING —Why does the honourable member not take a point of order?

Mr Spender —Now that you have invited me to do so, I take a point of order. In answering the question the Minister went on to make direct comments and to say that this constituted pre-ferential treatment. He was talking about the National Party and how this was organised by the National Party. It does not matter how it is organised or what it is there for, he is not talking about discrimination within his portfolio. He is talking about the way an election is to be run-what is effectively a State-type election. If somebody is to answer a question on that subject, it should not be him.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Minister is quite in order. He is describing the discrimination against the Aboriginals directly under his control-within his portfolio.

Mr Scholes —Madam Speaker, on the point of order which has been taken: All Northern Territory law is made under delegated authority by legislation of this Parliament and is the res-ponsibility of the Ministers in this Parliament.

Madam SPEAKER —That is not a point of order either. I call the Minister.

Mr HOLDING —Before I start, I wonder whether the honourable member for North Sydney has any more fatuous points of order.

Madam SPEAKER —The Minister will get on with answering the question.

Mr HOLDING —I would have thought that in this Parliament there should be some level of consensus whereby it is agreed that if our political system is to operate effectively and democratically, whatever administration is in power, governments and Ministers ought to see that all citizens-black or white-have equal opportunity for voting. That should not be a matter about which there is any serious disagreement in this Parliament. But such is the state of mental confusion and disorientation opposite that the Opposition is prepared, as it throws all sorts of policies overboard, to jettison basic democratic principles-even if honourable members opposite have to use bodgie points of order to try to establish them. Let me say this for the satisfaction of the overfed Queen's Counsel from North Sydney--

Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. I do not care what the Minister says about me, but I do care that as a general rule parliamentary decency should be observed. That applies whether it concerns me or anyone else. Incidentally, I am perfectly willing to contrast my waistline with the Minister's waistline.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Minister said something offensive; he will withdraw.

Mr HOLDING —If the honourable member is offended, I certainly withdraw the word `overfed' and say that, on the basis of his points of order, the word `overpaid' would be more appropriate. The question raises a matter of concern for this reason: With such a level of malapportionment, representations are being made within the Northern Territory to see that some balance is maintained in this matter. I will be making representations directly, because it has to be understood that the lack of provision of these sorts of facilities can affect the vote and, where that occurs, certainly, as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, I would be prepared to provide the necessary legal and other support mechanisms to see that Aboriginal people are not discriminated against in the forthcoming election.