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Tuesday, 9 September 1958


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- I should like to support the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) in what he had to say concerning social service payments to aborigines. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) has spoken about the constitutional responsibility of the States in this matter, but it seems to be regrettable that a Commonwealth law should be made dependent upon State classifications of aborigines. The honorable member spoke about the constitutional provision that the Commonwealth Parliament has not the power to make laws for aborigines as though it were something which ought to be defended.

The way in which it came about was very simple and, in many respects, is indefensible. The honorable member for Moreton, who takes an interest in the subject of Communist propaganda, will be interested to know that in India, not long before I went there, an immense amount of damage was done to Australia by Australian women Communists who quoted the constitutional provision that the Commonwealth Parliament had power to make laws for the people of any race other than aborigines as meaning that constitutionally we regarded aborigines as being less than human.

The .reason why that absurd provision - it is an absurd provision - was put into the Constitution appears in the Constitution conventions before the framing of the Constitution. It was simply this: The Commonwealth has power to acquire land for any purpose for which it has power to make laws. If it has power over post offices, it may buy land on which to erect post offices. If it has power over defence, it may take land from the States for that purpose. It was feared by many of the delegates at the Constitution conventions that, if the Commonwealth Parliament had power to make laws for aborigines, it would acquire vast tracts of territory from the States for reserves for aborigines. There was no rational, human consideration of the needs of aborigines at all. There was no thought about people. There was no logical reason why one race should not be subject to this Parliament while all other races should be. It was simply a determination to defend land against a possible intention on the part of the Commonwealth to acquire land for aboriginal reserves. It is in the Constitution, and I think that it is an indefensible provision. The honorable member for Wills has done a service in expressing regret about it.

I think that we ought to re-educate the Australian people about this matter by giving them more information on it. It is tragic thai in some States aborigines are eligible for Commonwealth social services whilst aborigines in exactly the same position in other States are, because of State law, not eligible for Commonwealth social services. I know of no Commonwealth laws other than those covering the provision of social services that are made contingent on State laws. Such a position does not apply to the laws .governing elections to this Parliament or, so far as I know, to laws in respect of any other matter except those which concern specific grants to the States. But no grant to a State is connected with this matter.

There are people of very great qualities among the aboriginal race who are being denied opportunities because of the provision I have mentioned, which exists for a minor reason only. The existence of that provision is affecting the status of this country abroad. Australian aborigines who go abroad are received in Asia in a way in which no Australian of European descent is received there. I have in mind an aboriginal lady from Victoria who went to the Philippines. The Filipinos immensely value their own aboriginal race, and this Australian aboriginal lady was received as a queen. Anybody who has visited Asian countries with Australian delegations knows that Asian leaders are interested in our people of the aboriginal race. The damage that is done to this country, ideologically, by anything which appears in Asian quarters as a discrimination against aborigines, is immense, and the honorable member for Wills, in directing attention to the anomaly in our social services legislation, has done the Parliament a service.







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