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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) is rejecting the amendment on two grounds. The first is that this would be embarrassing to the Commonwealth in its relations with the two States that deny aborigines-

Mr Freeth - I did not say that at all. I said it would be an improvement if we had co-operation from the States.

Mr WHITLAM - Very well. His first objection concerns relations with the two States which deny aborigines the vote. The second ground for refusing the amendment is the fact that a select committee has been unanimously appointed to inquire into the difficulties, if any, of aborigines voting.

The Minister went so far as to allege that the Opposition had reached the height of political hypocrisy in this matter. I point out that we had resolved to oppose the reenactment of the ban on aborigines voting - that is, we had decided to vote against this proposed new sub-section - before the Government decided to seek the appointment of the select committee. We had made that decision and had announced it at least a week before. The Government knew that a decision had been made and what decision had been made. Speaking for myself, I resent the suggestion that any political capital has been sought in this matter. Before this bill was re-introduced this session, I suggested to one Cabinet Minister that, if the bill forecast in the Administrator's Speech opening the Parliament was the same as the one introduced last year, this clause should be omitted from the bill or a better clause substituted for it. Furthermore, when the first reading of this bill was given, I said to another Cabinet Minister that he should, in the interests of the country as a whole, have a second look at this provision. I had in other places taken it on myself to forecast what our party's attitude would be towards this clause. Our party was faced with this position by the Government: It either had to approve a continuance of the ban on aborigines voting in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory or oppose it, and in those circumstances we had no difficulty or hesitation whatever in deciding to oppose a continuance of the ban.

The Minister has mentioned the matter of the relations between the two States and the Commonwealth. In other circumstances, Government supporters often allege that the Parliaments of the States are sovereign bodies. It is true that the Parliaments of the States can themselves decide the conditions of the suffrage and the conditions of membership for their parliaments, but our Parliament does not have to wait until the States have determined this matter. We have the right ourselves to decide who shall have the vote for both Houses of this Parliament and who shall be eligible to be a member of both Houses of this Parliament. It may be improper for us as a Parliament to say that the parliaments of

Western Australia and Queensland should give a vote to aborigines, it would be just as improper for the Parliaments of those States to say that we should deny aborigines the vote for our Parliament. We are entitled to do as we want to do for our Parliament.

It is invidious for the Government to refer to the position in Queensland and Western Australia. There is also the position of the Northern Territory. Every aboriginal born in the Northern Territory at some time in his minority is declared in the Government Gazette to be a ward and accordingly ineligible for the vote. Nobody but an aboriginal has ever been declared a ward and only twenty of the aborigines in the Northern Territory have never been declared wards. We can do what we like in the Northern Territory and we do not have to wait for Queensland and Western Australia to move in this matter before we can give votes for the Legislative Council of the Territory and for both Houses of the Parliament to aborigines in the Northern Territory. As the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) said, aborigines have a vote for the two Houses of the Parliament only in those States where they have a vote for the lower House of the State Parliament. We give them the vote in those States not because our act permits it but because the Constitution requires it.

The Minister alleged that the Labour Minister for the Interior in the Chifley Government, the Honorable Victor Johnson, then M.P. for Kalgoorlie, had brought in the ban on aborigines. In fact, the ban on aborigines was put into the 1918 act when Labour was not in power in either House of the Parliament. The section imposing the ban in the 1918 act reads as follows: -

No aboriginal native of Australia, Asia, Africa, or the Islands of the Pacific (except New Zealand) shall be entitled to have his name placed on or retained on any roll or to vote at any Senate election or House of Representatives election

The section has remained in the act since 1918. What the Honorable Victor Johnson sponsored by his amendment was a vote for aborigines if they were or had been members of the Defence Forces.

The appointment of a select committee would not have precluded a decision on this bill; the introduction of this bill a couple of weeks before the select committee was sought does not preclude the committee from making a recommendation. They are independent. We are entitled in this Parliament to decide what bill we will pass, and we had the bill before we were asked to set up a select committee. How long do we have to wait for the select committee to report? The Government members have not yet been appointed or elected to it. There is no committee in operation yet, but we are being asked to determine this bill now.

There are, of course, difficulties in aborigines voting. I am glad that the Minister did not refer to any of the grounds that are commonly alleged as disentitling or disqualifying aborigines from voting. He merely referred to difficulties. The difficulties in aborigines voting are exactly the same as the difficulties attending all outback voting. They are the difficulties which attend small polling places presided over by a station owner or a station manager. It is true that mustering and other outback activities - " agricultural operations " as the academic from Adelaide University referred to them - do not cease on polling day. However, the people who are detained by these operations have a vote cast in their name. The whole position of outback voting at isolated polling places and on private stations ought to be looked at. It is not a disability to which aborigines alone are subject; it is a disability to which all jackeroos and other itinerant workers are subject.

I will give a few figures to show the extraordinary unanimity of the anti-Labour vote in the outback. The Commonwealth does not publish these figures, but candidates can get them from their returning officers. I shall quote the figures for the last general election in the Division of Calare. There were several polling booths in which not one vote was cast for the Australian Labour Party; not one vote was cast for the Labour Party in polling booths where 41, 32, 26, 28, 19, 18, 40 and 22 votes were cast. There was one vote cast for the Labour Party in polling booths where 62 and 42 votes were cast. There were two votes cast for the Labour Party in two polling booths in each of which 36 votes were cast. There were three votes cast for the Labour Party in polling booths where 27, 43 and again 43 votes were cast.

There must be skulduggery and dishonesty going on in these small outback polling places. The station manager perpetrates it. There is no such striking antiLabour feeling amongst these electors, but there is amongst the presiding officers. They are crooked and honorable members opposite know it and connive at it. The difficulties of aborigines voting attend all voting at these small, remote polling places on station properties, and that is the problem that this select committee will look into once the Government bestirs itself and appoints its members to it

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