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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2988

Senator RAE (Tasmania) -Of all the preposterous things that from time to time are done in this place in the pursuit of politics, this is the most preposterous matter that I think I have ever heard raised. Let me just tell the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh), through you, Mr Deputy President, that one of the telegrams- I do not know whether my copy is worded in the same way as that of the Ministerfrom the Aurakun community begins by saying:

Have held a full council meeting to consider proposed law which will destroy way of life enjoyed by Aboriginal people on this reserve.

There is the statement made clearly by the chairman of that community, that he has held a full council meeting. It is not one which is simply a repetition of what might have been suggested -

Senator Georges - All right. Read the other twenty-one.

Senator RAE - I was going to refer to them because the impression has been given by the Minister that all of the telegrams were sent from the one place. That is clearly wrong.

Senator Cavanagh - No, I said that ten were.

Senator RAE - The Minister has cut away any misunderstanding that might have arisen. He said that ten were. Presumably that means that ten of the ones that he has received were not.

Senator Cavanagh - From Thursday Island.

Senator RAE - Ten were from Thursday Island and the other ten were not. Therefore, ten telegrams have been sent by people from various parts of Queensland. On the telegrams which I have the various post offices and the varying times of the day are shown. They are from places all over Queensland and from people all over Queensland. The impression which has been sought to be given that there has been some form of action by the Premier of Queensland to have all these telegrams sent, apparently without the consent or approval of the people concerned, is so clearly wrong that it does not matter because how could he have been getting around quite as much as would have been necessary to have been able to send telegrams from Brisbane, Thursday Island, Bamaga, Hopevale, Murgon, and various other places around Queensland all within a matter of minutes of each other, according to the times on them?

It is absurd to make that allegation. It is absurd even to suggest that these people are not entitled to send telegrams if they wish to do so. Are people to be deprived of the right to make their petition known to the Parliament, to the Minister, to the Leader of the Opposition or to whoever else it may be? Are they not able to receive a suggestion as to the wording? What else happens when people send the petitions which have been presented in great numbers in this chamber in recent times? People have suggested to them a form of wording which they are prepared to go along with. They regard it as expressing their views and they sign the petition. I well recall during an education debate last year receiving 43 telegrams sent from one post office with identical wording and purporting to have come from people scattered all over New South Wales. I can well understand who it was who sent those telegrams and it was nothing to do with the people who purported to be sending them; but that is a different matter. That is history. I make the point simply that there is nothing wrong, unethical, immoral or unfortunate in any way at all about a Premier suggesting to certain people that they may like to consider taking a particular course of action. In no way does his telegram purport to impose upon them- rather it invites them- to join in sending such a telegram. These people have opted, obviously of their own free will, to send such a telegram. If the Minister's allegation is to be accepted as correct, what he has done is condemn the people who sent the telegrams as being mindless and as being unable to form an opinion of their own.

Senator Cavanagh - As being afraid to disobey.

Senator RAE - All right. The Minister has gone so far as to suggest that they have been forced in some way. It is funny that the Minister came into this House a little while ago and misstated something which he has now corrected. Apparently his Department had misinformed him about it. I refer to the visit to Weipa. The Minister came into the chamber a little while ago and told us that the people at the Weipa conference were anxious to return to Old Mapoon. Very shortly afterwards we found that ' the same people were telling the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) that they were not anxious to do so. We find that dreadful confusion is reigning supreme within the Department of Aboriginal Affairs at the moment. Apparently the Government, the Minister and his Department have been quite happy to see the affairs which have been referred to in the report of a parliamentary committee concerning the situation of children in particular at Yirrkala continue for the 2 years in which the Australian Labor Party has been in office. The Minister has come in and condemned on no basis, on no real evidence, the Premier of Queensland.

I think that it is so scurrilous that it is not deserving of any further attention from this Parliament. I do not propose to make any further comments other than to say that when the day arrives that people are not entitled to accept a suggestion made by whoever it is, so long as they exercise their own free will, and to send a telegram to a Minister, a Leader of the Opposition, or whoever else it may be, we have reached the stage where we no longer exist in a democracy. The Minister would be far better occupied in having a look at what is going wrong with his Department, finding out why it is in absolute turmoil and what is necessary to avoid the confrontation situations which he seems to want to pull on, instead of making false and absurd accusations about the Premier of Queensland.

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