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Friday, 10 December 1965

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- I want to speak on much the same theme as did my friend, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley). I speak first in defence of those people who one way or another have given a great deal of dedicated service to arousing the public conscience on Aboriginal welfare. I am one of them. I have spoken often in this House on this subject. I lay no claim to moral virtue. I learned of the real problem of our Aboriginal population only after I entered the Parliament. For six or seven years I have been President of the Aboriginal Advancement League of Victoria. I have attended every conference of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement - conferences to which we have often invited every member of the Parliament, including the Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn), who seems to find some humour in the situation; yet they have not attended. As I have seen them, these conferences were attended initially by handfuls of people but in recent days by hundreds of people. There is no doubt that people generally are concerned with this subject, but none of those intimately concerned have attended these conferences.

We want action. It is disappointing to me that the statement before us does not indicate fields of action. In effect the Minister has indicated that the Commonwealth, to a large extent, remains neutral. No Minister was able to attend the conference held in Adelaide. Surely there was someone who could be found to attend the conference in Adelaide - and conferences no matter where they were held - under ministerial auspices, particularly when the Aboriginal population of the Northern Territory is so large. Ministers can find time to attend conferences in Teheran, Washington and New York, and I have no doubt they could find time to attend conferences in Moscow if called upon to do so. What was disappointing to me was that the Commonwealth - the authority with all the resources, including powerful administrative and financial resources - was not represented at ministerial level. 1 do not blame the Minister as a person, but this is an important national and international subject.

What is the text of the present statement? As the honorable member for Fremantle has pointed out, this is a field not for doctrine but for specific action. I want to know what is going to be done in the housing field. Recent research has shown that at least 7,000 houses are needed for the Aboriginal people in Australia. I should say that that figure is conservative. What is to be done about educating our Aboriginal population? At present we have five or six Aboriginal students in our universities - about one to every 20,000 of our university population. What is to be done about health matters? What is being done about providing health facilities? I think of the measles epidemic in Arnhem Land recently. What is to be done about providing the Aborigines with the community services that other Australians enjoy? What is to be done about the employment of Aborigines?

The honorable member for Fremantle has pointed out effectively that the Commonwealth itself is not giving Aborigines equality. I do not care what factors are mentioned. It is nonsense for anyone to come to this House and say that the Com monwealth has abolished discrimination in its Acts and ordinances. The fact remains that some discriminatory ordinances are still operative. I understand that this is the position. As soon as this ministerial statement was introduced I sent to the papers room of the Parliamentary Library for information and I have received documents indicating that there are differentiation and discrimination in Aboriginal employment. I presented a petition on this specific subject only yesterday. While the Social Services Act includes discriminatory clauses, while the National Service Act remains unaltered, and while section 51 (xxvi.) of the Constitution precludes the Commonwealth from taking effective action, the Commonwealth cannot remain neutral. I hope that the Minister will accept the challenge that this problem presents to him and will recognise that, with all the resources of the Commonwealth at his disposal and paying regard to the goodwill and arousing conscience of the people of Australia, this is not a case for politics in this Parliament. No government and no party has a clear conscience in this field. I only hope that in the New Year there will be new attitudes: First, that the Government will not bring important national statements to this Parliament at this late stage when honorable members are restricted in debate by conscience to a few minutes; and, secondly, that the Commonwealth will accept responsibility in the matter and recognise that while it remains neutral the Aboriginal people will remain deprived.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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