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Thursday, 9 May 1957

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- There can be no disagreement on the point that this is a matter of great urgency. Therefore, the attitude of the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) is astonishing. No one would question the fact that the Minister takes an academic interest in the aborigines, but whenever this question is raised in the Parliament, the Minister, without any feeling at all for the people involved, quotes at length from reports, and talks about tax reimbursements. He passes the buck to the States, saying it is a State responsibility, and refuses to face the actual issue involved in the matter which has been quite properly raised by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant).

What did the Minister say? He said that this was a State responsibility. But the States have argued, every one of them, that they are being financially starved, and that they lack the money to do the things that should be done for the Australian aborigines. In certain parts of Australia, these people are actually dying from starvation. They lack food and, in places, they lack water. Yet the Minister says, " Let the States apply to the Commonwealth Grants Commission for the consideration of this matter as a special case ". What would happen then? The Commonwealth Grants Commission would wander on with its deliberations, taking months and months before it reported to the Government. Then, for months and months, the Government would pigeonhole the report and go on delaying action, although the aborigines are a dying race.

If there is one thing to the discredit of Australia it is the treatment of the aborigines over the years that we have had possession of their country. The Minister has, in the past, complained that these things ought not be said because they would be misunderstood overseas. What is the record of Australia's treatment of aborigines? One does not have to go very far back in the history of this country, because we have only a short history, to learn that it was quite common practice among members of the squattocracy, because there were few foxes in this country, to go nigger-hunting at the week-ends. There was once a considerable number of aborigines in Tasmania, but they have now completely disappeared. There is not one of them now living in Tasmania. While the white population continues to increase, 1 understand that it has been estimated that there are no more than 50,000 or 60,000 aborigines in the whole of Australia to-day. If Australian governments have been caring for them as adequately as the Minister for Territories suggested, I should like to know what has happened to the members of the aboriginal race who previously existed in this country. They are a disappearing race.

It is interesting that mention has been made of the Grayden report. Does anybody question the accuracy, the authenticity or the honesty of the report which was made by the parliamentary delegation from Western Australia? The man who led the delegation, and whose name has been given to the report, was an anti-Labour member of this Parliament for a period, and is now an anti-Labour member of the Western Australian Parliament. What did the Western Australian delegation do? They went into the interior of Australia to find out something about the present living conditions of natives. They took films so that the members of this Parliament could see the conditions that existed. When the film was brought to Canberra there were two screenings of it. I understand that three Ministers had sufficient interest in the aborigines to view the film, and the Minister for Territories, who is supposed to be responsible for the welfare of the aborigines, was not one of them. He talks of the aborigines as if they were fourthclass citizens, an inferior race, instead of seeing that they are properly treated by the Government

There may be some difficulties in the handling of this problem, but the Commonwealth refuses to do anything about it and the States declare their inability to do anything because of the financial restrictions imposed on them. Let us look at how the aborigines have been treated when they tried to do something to help themselves. Have they been assisted by the Government? Quite the reverse. It is not a fact that all of these aborigines are so backward in their educational standards that they cannot be regarded as equal to any other Australian citizen. They have singers, painters, theatrical performers and qualified doctors among them. Those of them who have obtained the benefits of the Australian educational system want to improve conditions for their people. What has happened to them? Everybody knows the case of Donald McLeod, who was denounced roundly by members of the Government because of his activities.

Honorable members will remember the case of Waters in the Northern Territory who, in recent times, committed the great offence of complaining against the standard of food provided for the natives in the Northern Territory. What did this antiLabour Government do? It immediately said, " This is a Communist plot ". If honorable members examine the newspapers of that time they will find that the Government said that Waters had been under Communist influence because he had complained about the standard of food provided for his people. What did this allegedly sympathetic Government do to Waters? Without giving him a fair and proper trial it deported him to an inland mission, where he was compelled, at the risk of his personal safety, to associate with a tribe with which he was unacquainted. He was taken away from his own family without being given a proper trial, merely because the Government regarded him as an agitator who was causing trouble. What a lot of rubbish!

What about the exploitation of aboriginal labour? The Commonwealth Arbitration Commission has actually excluded aborigines from certain provisions of awards, so that when they work for members of the squattocracy they do not work under the same conditions, and for the same rates of pay, as do white men. It is the same old story of the exploitation of coloured labour.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And the pastoral industry is the only one in which they can secure employment.

Mr WARD - Yes. They are an exploited race. Does the Minister for Territories suggest that the value of their labour is less than that of the white worker who is employed in a similar occupation? These natives are beginning to understand the degree to which they are exploited, and this is one of the reasons why they refuse to stay in their employment and are continually going walk-about. Why would not they leave their employment when they are working under different conditions from those of white men?

In the short time that I have left to me. let me turn to the question of social services. The Minister has tried to make out that, because the Government is expending approximately £600,000 a year on social services benefits for aborigines, it is doing its best to give them the benefits of Australian legislation. He again attempted to put the blame on two State governments by saying that the State governments determined which aborigines would obtain social services benefits. Nothing of the kind! The State governments have nothing to do with the administration of Commonwealth social services payments. It is true that the Australian Government does not pay Commonwealth social services benefits to aborigines who are obliged to reside in mission stations? Why does it refuse to do so? Why does it discriminate? Is it not a fact that the best conditions that a native can obtain, generally, are obtained in a mission station? They prefer to go there to get the benefits that can be conferred upon them by those in control of the mission station. But the moment they go into the mission station they cannot get the age pension, the invalid pension or any of the other payments provided under Commonwealth social services legislation. What this Government, which talks about what it is doing for the aboriginal race, does about social services is this-

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