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Thursday, 9 May 1957

Mr HASLUCK (CURTIN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Territories) - The honorable gentleman has asked a wide series of questions. The point to be emphasized in answering them is that the conditions of people in the aboriginal race vary very considerably from place to place and group to group throughout Australia. Very happily, some persons of the aboriginal race are living either in the European community or very close to it and are enjoying conditions comparable with those of Europeans.

At the other extreme, out in what might be called the desert areas of Australia, there are a number of aborigines who have only recently been attracted towards the settlements, and who are still living in an extremely primitive condition. Their general problems are quite different from those of other members of their race.

In referring to cases of hardship, I assume that the honorable member had in mind principally some of the rather sensational reports that have emanated recently from Western Australia. Those reports had their commencement in the work of a select committee of the Western Australian Parliament, which is generally known as the Grayden Committee. That committee's work has been followed by an inquiry of a much more thorough, and certainly a much more expert, kind - first, by a party of anthropologists from the University of Western Australia and, secondly, by a medical expedition led by the Deputy Director of Health for Western Australia, and comprising persons who are very eminent in the medical profession. I have read all those papers, and say quite emphatically and clearly that beyond doubt the least trustworthy and acceptable is the Grayden report. To the person who is just reading to gain information, the reports of the anthropologists and the medical experts have, on the face of it, the marks of a much more thorough, expert and trustworthy inquiry. They do not reveal the same sort of alarming conditions to which the Grayden report drew attention. That, of course, is a matter which honorable members can judge for themselves.

Social service benefits - pensions, child endowment, maternity benefit and unemployment benefit - are paid to aborigines. The qualification for the receipt of social service benefits is usually fixed by the State governments. If the laws of the State regard a person as what might broadly be termed a normal member of the community he will receive, although he is of aboriginal race, ordinary social service benefits.

Dr Evatt - What does " normal member of the community " mean?

Mr HASLUCK - Broadly, a person living after the manner of Europeans; one who is regarded under the laws of the State as not being an aborigine. I think that the principle that is being observed there applies also to sections of the white community.

The principle is that a person is not assisted in two different categories. Honorable members will be aware that if a person receiving a pension is committed to the care of a mental institution, he is no longer cared for as a pensioner once he enters the institution. The pension ceases and different arrangements for his care are made. Similarly, if an aborigine is being cared for as an aborigine, under the special provisions made for aborigines, he is not cared for as a social service beneficiary. That is the sort of consideration that applies.

Dr Evatt - Does that include aborigines in mission stations?

Mr HASLUCK - This matter, of course, comes within the administration of my colleague, the Minister for Social Services, but as I understand it, if an aborigine is being cared for in a settlement by a mission, and is regarded under the laws of the State as an aborigine, he does not receive the age pension although he may, and often does, receive other social service benefits, such as child endowment. I think that the complete answer to this question of social service benefits for aborigines is to quote a figure which was calculated as a result of a survey made in 1955 by my colleague, the Minister for Social Services. That is that, in 1955, £660,000 was actually paid out in social service benefits to persons of the aboriginal race. So social service benefits are being paid to persons of the aboriginal race.

Dr Evatt - To some extent.

Mr HASLUCK - To some extent. The only persons disqualified are those who are being cared for as aborigines. I trust that that answer, perhaps a little prolonged, covers the points that the honorable member for Flinders had in mind.

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