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Tuesday, 9 September 1958
Page: 968

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,I disagree with some of the remarks made by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull).

Mr Peters - With all of them!

Mr BRYANT - No; where he put in full stops, some of them were all right. The honorable member talked about the needs of the pensioners and the capacity of the country to pay pensions, and he indicated that he thinks it is fair enough to pay pensions according to the capacity of the country. In regard to the country's capacity to pay, it is interesting to note the utterances made by Government supporters. The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), I think, said that the country was lush with money. If the country is lush with money and fairly bursting at the seams with prosperity - if we are so well off and our affairs are so well run - we can afford to do better for the pensioners. The honorable member for Mallee said that he tells the pensioners in his electorate that they are well off, and that the Government has done a good job for them. I invite him to come and tell that to the pensioners in my electorate, particularly when fares in Victoria are increased in a week or two and the pensioners find that it costs them half as much again to travel anywhere.

Mr Peters - Electricity charges also are to be increased.

Mr BRYANT - Yes. The price of practically everything will go up as a result of these increases. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) quoted statistics. That is symbolic of the Government's whole approach to these human problems. It has no consideration whatever for the human beings who experience the end result of anything that is done here. The effect upon them is the important thing. The consultation of figures, the studying of statistics, and the quoting of trends, have no significance if the human being behind it all is no better off. The difference of approach towards the effect of our actions on human beings is, I suppose, one of the philosophical differences between the Government parties and the Opposition.

This afternoon I wish to indulge in what may be called an exercise in the abstract. I want to appeal to the social conscience of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I refer particularly to Australia's forgotten race - the aborigines - and to the fact that they are specifically excluded from many social service benefits. This is indefensible. We have been harassing the Minister for some time now trying to- get him to consider sympathetically the 45,000 or 50,000 full-blood aborigines and the 20,000 or 30,000 people who have part aboriginal blood, and to acknowledge their right to social service benefits. Whenever the Minister is taxed on this matter, he either gives a facetious answer or quotes the Australian Constitution. What is the situation of the aboriginal population? The aborigines are human beings, and they are as much entitled to consideration as is every member of this Parliament. But the Minister continually claims that the Commonwealth has no constitutional power, and gives us the usual Father Christmas act. He says that the Commonwealth Government has no constitutional power to make taws with respect to aboriginal natives, except those in its own territories. This is where the rather Christmas act comes in. He claims that, notwithstanding this, the Commonwealth does not exclude aboriginal natives from social service benefits, provided they conform to certain standards. Then the Government just makes certain by prescribing standards such as to exclude a great number of aborigines, particularly those who are in want and need. After 150 years of neglect - in many places, persecution, and complete disregard most of the time - the aborigines mostly are in no position to battle their way up in society.

Child endowment is paid to aborigines except where the mother is nomadic or the children are wholly or mainly maintained by the Commonwealth or a State. Child endowment is the benefit that is most universally paid. As Opposition members have pointed out repeatedly, it is the social service benefit that has fallen furthest behind in the decline of real values due to the depreciation of the value of money.

What about the maternity allowance? lt is paid only to an aboriginal mother who has been granted exemption from the provisions of the law of a State or Territory in which she resides. In other words, an unfortunate aboriginal mother is discriminated against if she does not reside in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia or Western Australia, where there is provision for the granting of certificates of exemption. What right has the Commonwealth Government to differentiate between people living under the Australian flag? Tn Victoria, where there is no such provision, an aboriginal mother may receive a maternity allowance if the Director-General of Social Services is satisfied that, by reason of her character, standard of intelligence and social development it is desirable that a maternity allowance should be granted to her.

What right have we to exercise that sort of judgment and evaluation towards one section of the community only? It is a disregard of the demands of humanity when these people are treated in this way. The provision in which I am interested is that relating to age, invalid and widows' pensions. The conditions of eligibility for these pensions are much the same as those for maternity allowances. Pensions are not, however, granted to half-castes or lesser castes who live on aboriginal reserves or settlements. In his reply to a question on this point, the Minister stated! -

This is in accordance with the policy followed by successive governments for many years past.

The fact that that policy has been followed by successive governments is no excuse for neglect of duty now. In the last few days, a case has been brought to my notice of a woman on an aboriginal settlement in New South Wales who has been partially maintained by the State Government. She is excluded from obtaining a widow's pension. She has children to keep, and because she cannot get the pension they cannot live decently. If they leave the settlement, they are not in a position to get a house or to make their way in society. I appeal to honorable members to take steps to have these anomalies removed from the statute. What I have said applies also to the unemployment benefit.

I make this appeal on behalf of people who form one of the world's most neglected races. Some of them, whom I have known personally, are capable of making their way in the community and living on a basis of equality with the rest of us. They are capable of living in the same street, in similar houses and using similar motor cars. If some individuals can achieve those standards others are capable of doing so. It is the duty of the Commonwealth Government, whether this matter falls within its powers or not, to do something about it. I challenge the general interpretation that is put on the provision in the Constitution relating to the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to -

The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.

If we cannot make special laws for the aborigines, what right have we to exclude them from the laws that we do make. I ask honorable members who are associated with the legal profession to explain why we have no power to include aborigines but have the power to exclude them specifically from our laws. These are some of the points which should be considered by honorable members in a debate on social services. The Constitution has been interpreted in such a manner that we avoid our responsibilities instead of accepting them.

Much should be done for the social and economic equality of the aborigines. The Western Australian Government is in the process of removing legal disabilities under which the aborigines suffer. Something has been done in Victoria, but there are not many aborigines living there. In the Northern Territory, the aborigines are living under some disabilities but I admit that the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) has made some conscientious effort to do something for them.

When it is a matter of national pride, there is a very different approach to this problem by supporters of the Government. A fine stamp has been produced by the Postmaster-General's Department showing the head of an Australian aborigine. This 2s. 6d. stamp bears a fine reproduction of an aborigine's head. If this man was good enough to have his portrait included on a postage stamp which goes all over the world, he is good enough to be regarded as an Australian citizen with all the rights and privileges of Australian citizenship.

Mr Beazley - Is there any .differentiation between the aborigines living in different States because of different State laws?

Mr BRYANT - Yes, there is. Because the aborigines live under certain disabilities in some States, they are not entitled to social service benefits. That is the case in all States except Victoria at present. If the aborigines are good enough to use in publicity for Australia, they should be good enough to have the rights of Australian citizenship. I refer honorable members to a picture of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in happy mood, and two very unhappy aboriginal children which was published in the Melbourne " Sun NewsPictorial " on 1 3th June last. It is a pity we could not include it in " Hansard ".

Mr Turnbull - The children are not unhappy.

Mr BRYANT - I point out to the honorable member for Mallee that there is very good cause why these children should look unhappy. Their country has been taken from them. Their lands have been taken over by an industrial concern under the auspices of the Queensland Government without compensation.

Mr Timson - That is entirely incorrect.

Mr BRYANT - It is not. I know a fair amount about this matter. In this particular instance, application was made for grazing rights over some of the land, and those rights were denied to them. Their lands have been compressed into the smallest possible compass. The Prime Minister was happy to have his photograph taken with these children. He sang them a song -

Hey, hey, clear the way, here comes the galloping major.

Mr Cope - What is the tune?

Mr BRYANT - I do not think there was any tune associated with this song. It would be a tuneless ditty coming from honorable members on the Government side.


Order! The honorable member must relate his remarks to the Budget.

Mr BRYANT - I was under the impression that the Prime Minister had something to do with the Budget, Mr. Temporary Chairman, and I was referring to the inconsistency of supporters of the Government. They are responsible for producing the Budget, including that part of it which applies to the aborigines, but their attitude in providing social service benefits for the aborigines is not in line with their approach to the aborigines when they want some personal publicity. I speak as one who has taken great interest in the welfare of the aborigines, and particularly those in Victoria over the last fifteen months. A great many people all over Australia believe that something should be done to remove the disabilities under which the aborigines suffer. This Parliament could assist by removing the anomalies under social service legislation.

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