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Friday, 10 December 1965

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- I will be brief. I do not want to start a debate now, but there are two things I should like to say. First, we regret the timing of this statement. This has been an issue that has been discussed in this Parliament for quite a time. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes) has now made a statement that deserves a debate, but, of course, the Parliament will not have time to debate it. The second thing I should like to say about the form of the statement is that I regret that the Minister spent so much time on his critics. Every member of the Parliament knows that this is a field in which there are cranks. It is a field in which there are damaging critics. It is a field in which there are insincere critics. All of this is known. However, when the Minister makes a statement we look for a clear statement of his policy and the policies of the governments with which he has been associated at ministerial conferences between the Commonwealth and the States. We regret the way to get these statements containing general objectives related to assimilation, citizenship and so forth because they honestly have no meaning for us in terms of policy.

I remember that a Western Australian Minister used to go to conferences and say: "All Aborigines are citizens within the meaning of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948-1960". But Western Australia is still putting Aborigines through a process of applying for citizenship rights.

If they are citizens already, why does this happen? These objectives have no clarity. Assimilation has no clarity. If assimilation is that Aborigines should come to share the ideals, convictions, rights and interests of the general Australian community it is an objective that does not put the Administration under discipline. Can an administrator say: "Today I have done so-and-so to help the aborigines share the rights, ideals and so forth of the Australian community "?

What we long for in the Minister's statements is a clear statement of objectives in health, education, land ownership, agricultural education and housing. We should like to know what is going to happen to the large reserves. What is to happen to those reserves next to towns where fringe dwellers live? What is being done about the fringe dwelling groups? It is very easy to change words. The new South Australian Government has a different emphasis on some of these things. We can change the forms of words very easily because they are merely formulae and do not really tell us anything about policy. Assimilation is not telling us anything about policy. The Minister has spoken of equality before the law. This is an excellent objective, but social reality is vital. It is the social realities of the conditions under which the Aboriginal people are living that matters. Equality before the law can be really oppressive to a primitive people. I remind the Minister that in the early days of the industrial revolution in England some of the more brilliant critics of the form of society then used to say that there was equality before the law in that era of great poverty because both prince and pauper were entitled to sleep on the Thames embankment. Social reality is what matters. It is the social things that are being done in the Government's Aboriginal policy that we are interested in.

I honestly think that if as much time were spent on debating the liquor rights of Aborigines as seems to be indicated in the Minister's statement, then this is an example of the pathetic level of our thinking on this subject. I realise all the problems associated with denying liquor and so forth to Aborigines, but must we be like a gramophone needle stuck in a crack on the record still on this question of liquor rights, liquor rights, liquor rights? If this happens every time we discuss Aborigines then we are not getting very far.

What the Minister said about the application of the North Australian Workers Union before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission was interesting. I do not want to appear in the role of a critic, but we on this side of the House are frustrated over one thing. We have sometimes asked questions about the Commonwealth level of wages paid to Aborigines employed by the Services, but on a number of occasions Ministers have turned the question into wages paid to Aborigines serving in the Services. I know that an Aboriginal corporal or an Aboriginal sergeant gets the same pay as a non-Aboriginal corporal or a non-Aboriginal sergeant, but the thing is that when we were in Darwin we saw the Services, which are instruments of the Commonwealth, employing Aborigines in a civil capacity as labourers at wages that were about one third or one quarter of the European rate. The North Australian Workers Union may get a different pastoral award, but what is the Commonwealth doing about the low wages it pays? This we cannot find out, and I long for the day when we will get a statement on Aboriginal matters that deals with specific social realities and not with assimilation, citizenship, liquor rights, equality before the law and generalisations.

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