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Thursday, 19 September 1974
Page: 1271


The PRESIDENT - In giving a decision on the point made by Senator Cavanagh I am influenced by reference to a submission made to the First Conference of Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers held at Ottawa. At that conference the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sir William Aston, presented a paper on the subject of sub judice. He made some significant points of which I think I should remind the Senate in order to guide the Senate in this matter. It is a fundamental right of the House to legislate on any matter. It is a fundamental right and duty of the House to consider and discuss any matter if it is thought to be in the public interest. If it is not inconsistent with fundamental rights and duties, the House should avoid setting itself up as an alternative forum or body of inquiry or permitting its proceedings to interfere in the course of justice. Apart from particular matters, such as criminal cases, courts martial, civil cases and matters referred by a legislature to a judicial body, the rule has application to other hearings, inquiries and investigations in which the rights of individuals, or a community group, or the achievement of justice may be prejudiced, and it is the obligation of the Chair to hold the balance between the rights and duties of the House on the one hand and the rights and interests of the citizens on the other. I am not altogether satisfied that this matter is not sub judice. However, I will allow the debate to continue and will bear very closely in mind the points made by Senator Cavanagh in his submission. I now call on Senator Bonner to proceed.


Senator BONNER -Thank you, Mr President, for your ruling. I thank the Senate for the debate that has taken place prior to my speaking. Before going into the debate, let me make a few brief remarks. During my lifetime I have always tried to follow the rule of law and I have counselled many of my young Aboriginal fellows that it is within the walls of this Parliament that the laws are made that govern the people of this nation. So I am very proud today to realise that there are people here who are prepared to allow me to speak to this motion today. Surely now my young Aboriginal fellows will understand what I have been saying for so long: It is within the walls of this Parliament that we can bring to the notice of the nation the problems with which we are faced. Perhaps between us all we can find a solution.

When I gave notice of this motion on 1 1 July 1974 1 felt that it was quite appropriate as it was National Aborigines Week- a week supposedly set aside for the recognition of Aborigines, a week during which Aborigines were to celebrate. I ask you, Mr President and honourable senators, to give us, the original owners of this land, something to celebrate by accepting this motion today. I do not decry the vast sums of money that have been spent by previous governments- and, I might add, increased by the present Governmenton indigenous affairs. I do not deny that the present Government, in many areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, has instigated superbly beneficial schemes to improve my fellow Aborigines' and Torres Strait Islanders' way of life within our broader Australian community. But it is truly to no avail, dig.nitywise, when it is but an allocating of money for a disadvantaged people because it is but a form of charity. We, the indigenous people, for far too long have been the recipients of charitythe charity of the government of the day; charity, with its modern day connotations implying a handout mentality.

What I am seeking is true and due entitlement for dispossession. Surely no one can deny that the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were dispossessed of what was theirs by right of inheritance. Does any honourable senator in this chamber dispute the findings of eminent anthropologists that the indigenous people, now known as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, were in possession of this entire nation for thousands of years prior to 1788? I suggest that there are among honourable senators here those who will cry out in dismay and disbelief at the wording of this motion because just who among us but me, one of the remnants of the noble tribes who once walked with pride in the fact that this glorious and wonderful land was theirs, will be able to look at this through the eyes of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders?

On 24 May 1971 the Liberal Party of Australia, Queensland Division, selected me to fill a casual vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin. On 1 1 June 1971 the Queensland State Parliament accepted the judgment of my Party by appointing me to fill that casual vacancy. On 2 December 1972 the people of Queensland endorsed the action of both my Party and the State Parliament by electing me to complete the unexpired term of Dame Annabelle Rankin. On 18 May 1974 1 was again elected by the people of Queensland including- I emphasise the word 'including'- a special vote of confidence by some 20,000 citizens of my State. This was despite the fact, Mr President, that my contributions in this august chamber have been, in the main, on issues concerning the indigenous people.

I submit, humbly, that I have the reputation of being one of the most widely travelled senators in my State. I tour constantly within my State to meet constituents of all colours and from all walks of life. I have travelled vastly also interstate and wherever I go people come up to me and say: 'Good on you, senator. It is about time an Aborigine made it. ' I suggest that these same people, these same good citizens, are really saying: 'We trust you Nev. Bonner, and we expect you to act for your people'. There are some giggles, I notice, coming from honourable senators on the other side. Mr President, I am acting for my people, and responsibly, I hope. Am I asking Aborigines to throw off their chains and unite? Am I saying: 'Aborigines, pack a gun and go out on the streets'? Am I saying: 'Aborigines, down with the whiteys'? No, Mr President and honourable senators, I am attempting to put the horse back into the shafts, for it appears to me that in Aboriginal affairs to date the cart is very much before the horse.

It has been said so many times by so many wise men that it takes a big man to admit a mistake. I ask: Are you then, Australia, composed of big men? Are you willing now to admit a mistake? Are you prepared to admit that your forefathers took this land? This shame, Australia, I say, is your inheritance. There were no treaties. There were no compensations as such. Perhaps it is relevant that I repeat here today what was said to me by a profound old Aborigine. Let me quote his words. He said: 'Boy, white man, he say America buy cheap country. Boy! That was no more cheap country! White man, he buy Australia for red handkerchief and stick of 'nigger twist'.' Mr President and honourable senators, I ask you: Is this true compensation for this vast and glorious land? No. I must stand by this motion. This to me is a matter of deep personal conscience.

I am reminded of Martin Luther when he stood before the Emperor of Europe and the Church's Legate at the Parliament of Vorms. He said: 'Here, here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. ' I am reminded of the words of yet another 'Martin Luther'- Martin Luther King- when he said: 'I have a vision.' Mr President, I also have a vision- a vision in which I see all Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders walking tall in the knowledge that their dignity has been restored by their learning that what was once ours has been recognised as ours but forcibly taken and now compensated for. And all this through Government legislation. I know that there are those among you, perhaps on both sides of the chamber, who are feverishly asking themselves: 'What is he talking about? What does he mean by compensation? What kind of compensation should be given?'

Mr President,I am not asking for a set amount of money to be paid by the people of Australia for this entire nation, because how do you evaluate it? What was the value of Australia in 1788? That of course would be the argument that many would use. Does one expect to pay the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders for Australia at the going rate at the time of the First Fleet landing? Of course not. Many of you on both sides of this chamber would instance that your forefathers settled shortly after 1788 and you, the descendants, built this nation to what it is today. You built the cities, the towns and the roads. You erected the wonderful buildings we see today. I admit that you did this. But for whom? How were you able to do it? You could do it because of the richness of the land which was taken from my forefathers. You took the wealth of the grazing land for your sheep and cattle, for farming, for the growing of grain, for the exploration for minerals and mineral wealth. So today, Mr President and honourable senators, this land is certainly of greater value than it was at the time of the First Fleet landing. But even in 1974 how does one set a just price? What of the indigenous people? What of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders? How do you value human suffering, the loss of human dignity, the loss of culture, the loss of a traditional way of life and the destruction of the Aboriginal society? Mr President and honourable senators, how do you value this in monetary terms? You can put no monetary value on enforced disintegration. I am asking for compensation for this loss of landearth our entire being. I do not ask you to understand this term. I am asking for compensation for our enforced disintegration.

I am asking for an amount of money to be set aside from the annual national Budget which will become the true entitlement of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders so that we may recapture our dignity and our pride as human beings. As it is at the moment, Mr President, money is set aside. As I said earlier, I do not decry the amounts that have been set aside but, again as I have already stated, this charity from one government sets one amount aside and the next government tries to better or perhaps to lessen the amount, depending entirely on the feelings of the people sitting within this chamber and the other place. When this is done, what is the cry? What in fact is the cry throughout Australia today? I suggest that it is the wail of the so-called white backlash. Why is this? It is because charity is being given to the Aborigines or to the Islanders or, as some people term it, to the boongs, the Abos or the blacks; but my God, forgetting that these very same boongs, Abos and blacks inherited this vast nation. Our forefathers indeed owned it.

Mr Presidentand honourable senators, I say that the day is fast approaching when this compensation for dispossession of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders must- I say 'must'- be channelled to an all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander statutory body empowered to administer such a compensation for dispossession fund, for the survival of fellow Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. The statutory body must be empowered to call upon such non-Aboriginal expertise as is considered necessary by the body. I propose that the all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander statutory body should be answerable only to the Parliament. I repeat, Mr President, that we should put the horse back into the shafts. I urge the Senate to accept the fact that the indigenous people of Australia who are now known as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were in possession of this entire nation prior to the 1788 First Fleet landing at Botany Bay, and I urge the Australian Government to admit prior ownership by the said indigenous people and to introduce legislation to compensate annually the people who are now known as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders for dispossession of their land- rather than conquerors ' charity.

In the final analysis, Mr President and honourable senators, should I be deserted and sit here alone on one side of the chamber, one lone senator, one lone Aborigine, I will mind not at all, I will understand. But honourable senators, where, I ask, stand you in history? Mr President and honourable senators, today you will judge me. Australia, and particularly my State of Queensland, may judge me tomorrow. But history, I assure you, will judge us all. I pray that history will not render a verdict of guilty.







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