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Tuesday, 9 May 1972
Page: 1475

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) - I wish to take up only a few minutes of the time of the Senate to report a grave injustice which I think has been done to an honourable senator. I preface my remarks by offering some sympathy to Senator Webster in respect of the injustice which he disclosed in his address on the motion for the adjournment tonight and which he has suffered from the publication of an article in a newspaper. One must feel sympathy for the victim who suffers an injustice or a libel in a publication, especially when that publication is inaccurate, and the more so when it holds the individual up to riducules and contempt by a group which it was his whole motive and interest to protect.

We heard from Senator Webster that he has done some most valuable work in trying to assist the young indigenous people of Papua New Guinea. The publication of what Senator Webster claims to be a very untruthful statement which holds him up to ridicule may prevent a continuation of the effective work which he has done over a period. I do not know what redress at law there is on this question. I do not know whether members of Parliament desire to be involved in such questions at law. But, when such a situation arises, the aggrieved senator deserves the sympathy of the Senate, which should be cognisant of the fact that these things do happen. We might well consider the question whether the Privileges Committee should consider whether it can assist and prevent such happenings in future.

My concern is for a group of people, including Aborigines and supporters of Aborigines in Adelaide, who come to me on occasions for assitance in their fight for equality and better conditions. As a result of discussions with these people, I have asked and placed on the notice paper many questions. This group came to see me last week, concerned at the attempt by certain Ministers of the Crown to hold Aborigines in contempt, as second class citizens with whom no-one likes to be associated, in relation to using them to stop special assistance being given to Aborigines. Grave suspicion was thrown on the actions of one person in particular whom they had always accepted as a champion of their cause. Grave suspicion was thrown on whether in championing their cause over a period the senator concerned was sincere and loyal.

I was surprised at and asked for proof of the allegations made. These people returned with extracts from the minutes of the Conference of Housing Ministers held in Hobart on 7th April 1972. Present at that conference, I believe, were State Housing Ministers and the Commonwealth Minister for Housing, Mr Kevin Cairns, together with departmental officials from the departments responsible for housing. It was quite a large gathering. At page 66 of the report of the proceedings, Hon. A. M. Hodges of Queensland, who is a Minister of the Crown and, I assume, the Queensland Minister responsible for housing, made this statement when the conference was discussing the housing of Aborigines:

And, if I may digress, the ability to buy homes In any part of the State has a very retarding effect on these 'do-gooders' who desire to promote in their own minds the aboriginal attitude at the present time. When we find there is somebody who is very vociferous in promoting the aboriginal cause, we immediately buy a home alongside him and he changes his attitude at once. We never hear much more from him. Although J am aware the position is very serious, at the same time it has been, promoted out of all proportion. As soon as one takes the action I have mentioned, these people go back into their shell and don't promote it any further.

So an attempt is made to use Aborigines for the purpose of discrediting those who would support the Aborigines' cause. We see the basis for the propaganda that the Aborigines are inferior people and that noone likes living next to them. This is similar to what Senator Webster spoke of tonight. It was suggested of Senator Webster that, although he may be a commonplace individual, he will not sit next to an indigenous person from Papua New Guinea in an aeroplane.

These statements which I have quoted as being made by Mr Hodges come from such a responsible source that what he says would appear to be the policy of the Queensland Government, that is, not to house Aborigines for the sake of providing housing for them but to house them for the purpose of the destruction of those who are out to promote their interests. The Commonwealth Minister for Housing made a statement about the Commonwealth's attitude to Aboriginal housing at the Ministers conference. We find that Mr Hodges went on to say:

May I add, there is one senator who has been promoting the Aboriginal housing problem with his tongue in his cheek. We are building a house alongside him in north Queensland for an Aboriginal family, and he is now racing around trying to sell his own home.

No-one has suggested to whom this statement by Mr Hodges refers. I know of only one honourable senator who has been championing the cause of Aborigines and who lives in northern Queensland among the Aboriginal people and among supporters of the Aboriginal cause. Senator Keeffe would be recognised as one of the greatest supporters that the Aborigines have. What hypocrisy appears now if this honourable senator, who has been championing the cause of Aborigines, is trying to sell 'lis house because Mr Hodges is deliberately placing an Aboriginal family next door. Was the honourable senator not true in his advocacy of this cause? Believing this statement referred to Senator Keeffe I took the extract from the Housing Minister's Conference to him and asked him about it. He said: 'Yes, the reference is plain enough. This refers to me.' I asked him whether the allegation was true. He said that the vacant block of land next to him had been bought by the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs. He said he inquired about the matter and would welcome whom they might put there. The honourable senator said: 'Furthermore J am negotiating to put additions on my home. That is strong evidence that I am prepared to continue to reside there. As the block will take 4 dwellings I only hope that they put 4 Aboriginal families next to me.'

I think we all know there is a type of individual whom no-one likes as a nextdoor neighbour, whether he is an Aboriginal or anyone else. But is someone to have the worst type of Aboriginal community dwelling placed next to him because he is prepared to champion a cause? Worse than that, we come to this deliberate lie told at a conference of Ministers, where there are representatives from all States, for the purpose of libelling someone who is championing the Aboriginal cause. If the lie were accepted and believed one could not condemn those supporting the Aboriginal cause for holding Senator Keeffe up to ridicule and contempt. As I have received the document, I bring the matter up. I do not think that it is a question on which Senator Keeffe can speak. There may be some excuse for the 'Bulletin' and the Packer newspapers looking for sensationalism and scandal, but 1 do not think there is any excuse for a lie. There is no excuse for a responsible Minister to go along to a responsible conference and make untrue allegations for the purpose of damaging a political opponent. I record my protest with the Minister of the Crown from Queensland.

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