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Wednesday, 25 February 1959


Mr BRYANT (Wills) . - The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) took me by storm, Mr. Speaker. If it were not that I think honorable members opposite might hold it against you, I also would congratulate you on your elevation again to your office.

The honorable member for Barker has prepared a very fine paper on the problems of government, but I am afraid that a committee considering it on this side would give: him only a fair pass. Some of the principles of which he spoke are not carried out io the way that they should be by the party he speaks for, and, I think, some of the matters of which he spoke are not as he has set them out. He spoke, for instance, of the British parliamentary system. He mentioned it in terms of association with the federal system. I presume that the British parliamentary system has descended and developed from the House of Commons and its sovereign powers, and there is no suggestion in that system that you will get efficient government by breaking up your sovereign powers into parts and stratifying them in such a way that no one can arrive at a decision. That is where irresponsibility lies. The fault is not the failure of the federal system to go backwards, but the failure of the people who sponsor federal systems to realize that without the power itself you can have neither responsibility nor government. There is, therefore, only one thing to do. We have to develop a system which puts the responsibility and the power of decision into the hands of one legislature which is, from our point of view, this one. There is plenty of development that you can do along the line, to make sure that the system solves the problems of Australian government - of which there are many. But in these days of space and outer space, distances and lines of communication are no real' difficulty, and therefore I suggest that honorable members opposite should be turning their minds towards continuous development, along what are logical lines - that is, towards unitary government of some sort, which solves the regional problems also.

It is interesting, I think, in studying federal systems to note that historically under those systems which have been developed latest more powers have been reposed in the central body. If one studies these systems, such as the original one introduced in the United States of America over 150 years ago, Australia's system which was introduced nearly 60 years ago, and the one designed for Austria some time after the first world war, it becomes obvious that the logical development is towards a unitary system in which a responsible government makes its decisions-. Unfortunately, there is not such a system in Australia, and there is no State government more irresponsible politically than that in your own home State. Mr. Speaker, and the home State of the honorable member for Barker. Consider the position in South Australia. Consider the position- with regard to electorates there. Consider the existence of a Legislative Council with a restricted property franchise in a Liberal State in what is supposed to be a democratic country. The Government there fights to preserve that system. Over the years I have heard in this House many violent accusations levelled against the trade union movement. If a trade union leader decided, in order to preserve his position, that het would burn some ballot-papers instead of sending them out to his opponent, then' that would be considered a bad thing. The matter would go to the Arbitration Court and he would be punished. But if you are a Liberal - traditionally, and almost by inheritance, in charge of a State - then you can draw electoral boundaries so that your opponents cannot win, and you. will be. knighted for it. I see no difference between the type of gerrymandering which for 100 years has been going on under Liberal governments from one end of Australia to another, and the kind of tampering with ballot boxes to which I have referred. Therefore, the Liberal party stands in de;fault. It stands, condemned despite all the fluent pretensions of the back-benchers opposite us, none of which are given legislative effect in this Parliament or in State parliaments where the Liberal party is in office. Therefore, we take very little notice of the causes that they pretend to sponsor.

I do not feel there is much need for me to defend the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron). When he returns to- the House, having taken his part in the attempt, not to restore, but to produce for the first time, democracy in South Australia. I have no doubt that he will be able to deal with the honorable member for Barker in his usual: competent fashion.

There are a few other points in the speech of the honorable member for Barker to which it might be worth while to refer. He seems to be in terrible trouble between the atomistic sheep-farmers and the monolithic industrial concerns. He regretted that too much was left to chance. I thought it was Liberal philosophy to leave things to chance; that it was chance that developed the free flow of markets; that the unfettered right of a person to do what he thinks best in his own interests would finally resolve the problems of the nation and produce a better and happier life for all of us. But this does not seem to work. I suggest that if the honorable member for Barker would come into conference with us over here we might consider his theory and examine the philosophy of chance and its effect on human nature. Perhaps we could convince him that planning, co-ordination, getting together, and co-operation are the things that will produce a decent society. They are the kind of things that are sponsored by a socialist society, and they are the answer to his problem.

These are the continual contradictions that one finds in examining speeches of honorable members opposite. They seem to stay on the back benches if they have put any research into their subjects. As 1 have said, the speeches from the opposite side of the House have no relation to the actions of Liberal parties all over Australia and, I suppose, of conservative parties generally.

So I turn to the Speech made by His Excellency the Governor-General only one week past. It is an interesting document. I do not suppose it is any more dull than the other two or three to which I have listened since I was elected to this place. I think it provided, perhaps, a little more in the abstract and placed less emphasis on practical problems. I looked in vain for human questions that one could study. But the very atmosphere of the thing has nothing whatsoever to do with reality. We find that we are going to have committees. Committees will look into matters. The Tariff Board has a committee looking into one matter. The dairying problem is to be considered by a committee. There is a committee on decimal coinage which is to solve some sort of problem. These problems are not to be tackled by this Government, by the Parliament, or even by parliamentary committees. Somebody outside is going to wave the wand and produce the answers, and His Excellency's Government is going ito try, hopefully, to translate them into action.

The Governor-General expressed the hope of his advisers that the present Parliament would have an opportunity to do certain things. The Government hopes! It has the numbers, and so will be able to go on hoping. We were told, too, that, " if the economy permits " the Government will look into social services, and that " consideration has also been given to possible alternative uses of coal." So the Government is going to consider things! It is going to hope. As a matter of fact, the only hope that I finally see is in the last phrase - " It is the earnest hope that Divine providence may guide our deliberations."

The new members of this House are a credit to this institution, but I shall not examine too closely the relationship between the utterances of honorable members opposite and the actions of their parties. However, they stood up, and very competently and fluently made their points and I hope that they will keep it up.

I examined the Governor-General's Speech very carefully in the light of the problems of the people whom I represent in a Melbourne metropolitan constituency. In the division of Wills, about 40,000 voters and their families are concentrated in some 8 or 9 square miles. They have not much room to manoeuvre in this game of chance against the monolithic structures that support the Liberal party and the atomistic sheep-farmers who are trying to continue to purchase Cadillacs in the face of falling markets.

The people whom I represent are interested in housing. The Government hopes it may be able to do something about that. It recognizes in not one way the fact that housing is lagging seriously. Only a fortnight back I heard the news that in Australia there are some 2,800 marriages a week whereas only 1,300 houses are being built each week. These figures take no regard whatsoever of the fact that thousands and thousands of people who occupy existing houses would like either to extend them, to pull them down and rebuild, or to move to better ones. This is a part of the social problem that seems to me never to have been considered at all.

In view of the fact that the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) on one occasion described this country as being lush with money, the social service payments are a disgrace. It is impossible for a person to live on them whether they be the unemployment benefit, a widow's pension, the age pensions or any other pensions. Something has to be done about it. Surely the conscience of the Government, in complete control of the country as it is at the moment, should be stirred to do something about this problem and not keep putting off the evil day. Something must be done about it. But nothing constructive has been said in the Governor-General's Speech about pensions.

In my electorate, there are probably 3,000 or 4,000 people on the age pension and I am continually in touch with widow pensioners. The civilian widow who is left with young children - the woman between 30 and 50 years of age who has one, two, or three young children and is unable to go out to work - is in a dreadful position. She is entitled to the same sort of consideration that we give to widows who lost their husbands in the war. The Government has ignored this problem.

Education is vital to the nation. In my electorate are two fairly large high schools with 700 and 600 children respectively. I have mentioned before that at one of them, when the mothers' club bought seats for the children to put in the yard, there was no room to put them in the yard. The other day I measured out the yard with the headmaster and found that each child had less than two square yards of space. Space is being sought to put up a new building - perhaps it will have to go further up into the sky. At one of these schools 70 children may want to do the matriculation examination next year and there is no hope of accommodating them within miles of the school - possibly not within the Victorian education system.

We have had the Murray report on our universities. Secondary education is vital to the country. This crisis has been coming for 12 years. A logical expectation following the end of the war was an increase in the birth rate. It was only necessary to consult the year book of 12 years ago to realize the great wave of children that was going to hit the schools in 12 years' time.

Any one charged with the responsibility of governing the country did not need to be very bright to be able to add 12 to 1947 and arrive at 1959 and so to see that this was going to be a year of crisis in the secondary education system of Australia. But nothing at all has been done about it. The condition is ignored.

The Federal Government does all kinds of things. The Murray committee examined the position of the universities, but teachers' colleges have been ignored. Just established in my electorate is a new teachers' college which of course is part of the tertiary education system. There are 120 trainee teachers in a church hall. These are the people who are to be trained for the next two or three years to go out as teachers. There has been no consideration of making grants to the States to assist teachers' colleges and incorporate them under the university system. So we look in vain for any approach by the Government to one of the fundamental problems - one of the most human and personal problems - the development of the educational system throughout Australia. This is a system of false values.

There is one subject in which I have taken a good deal of interest in the past few years. That is the welfare of aboriginals in Australia. I want to support the point of view which was put here last night by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) so fluently.


Mr Peters - Brilliantly.


Mr BRYANT - Yes- brilliantly. Each honorable member should read the speech. Each honorable member, too, should start to consider the question from the point of view of the human problem involved. It is not a matter of whether they are aborigines or natives or black; it is a matter of treating them as people. What is the position in this country at the moment? We make great play of special agreements with the United Nations and we talk about human rights and values, but one simple indication of our attitude to the aborigines is shown in the Commonwealth Year-Book for 1958, copies of which have just reached us. In the population statistics the Australian aborigines have not been counted. The last time any mention of their numbers was made was at 30th June, 1947. That was in a census taken when the Labour government was in office. But in the 1954 census, taken when the present Government was in office, no mention is made of Them. I read a news item some weeks ago \hat the aborigines would not be taken into account in the census of 1961 unless there was some special reason to do so.

In the Year-Book for 1958 there is no difficulty in finding how many head of cattle there are in Australia. On page 922, figures are shown as at the end of 1957 giving those details. The section dealing with sheep is even more specific. Details are given of the numbers, age, sex and breed of all Australian sheep as at 31st March, 1957.

The inattention to aborigines is a very serious reflection on the whole nation and upon each one of us. Twelve months or more ago I asked the then Treasurer, Sir Arthur Fadden, to do -something about statistics relating to aborigines. I understood that the Bureau of Census and Statistics was under his control. He said that he would look into the matter, but still the latest figures "that are available from the Commonwealth Statistician concerning aborigines are twelve years old. This is a simple demonstration of the fact that when the plain question of purely human values is considered, this Government has no sympathy at all for the aborigines.

At the moment we are confronted with the serious question of general citizenship for the Australian aborigines. There are some 50,000 of them who can be classed as ;pure .aborigines and another 20,000 who are of part aboriginal descent. An interestingfact is that in Victoria aborigines have full . citizenship. With the present shortage -of -housing in that State this right does not give them much practical benefit, but nevertheless .the Liberal Government in Victoria is proud of the fact that the aborigines have full citizenship rights. The responsible Liberal party Minister in the Victorian Government has made numerous speeches about this. But when a proposition was made -to the Liberal Country League Government in Western Australia to grant the aborigines in that State full citizenship rights, it was rejected by the Legislative Council - one

This is a challenge to us. It is not a question of whether we can hold up our heads in Asia or anywhere else in the world but one for our own conscience. Citizenship is :not simply the right to vote. As the honorable member for Fremantle said last night, we do not expect to go chasing nomads around the desert with a ballot-box but we do expect that the legal restrictions, obstacles and hurdles to the attainment of their rights of citizenship in this country, which was originally their own, should be removed. It is the responsibility of this Parliament to remove them. There are restrictions in the social service legislation and practised in the various social service systems. In most States, unless an aboriginal can produce some sort .of evidence that he is a fit and .proper person he is not allowed to receive such social service benefits as unemployment relief, age pension, or sickness benefits. The same sort of restriction applies to .aboriginal women with regard to the maternity allowance. These prohibitions do mot apply to other classes of persons. An alien who 'has just landed from an immigrant -ship is entitled to these benefits at once. It is not a :case of having 2,000 years of civilization behind us; it is a matter of adopting an adult, mature, tolerant, .civilized .attitude to .people who are fundamentally the same as we are. These are the considerations we -have to face.

In the Northern Territory, out of 16.000 or 17,000 aborigines, only seventeen have been granted citizenship. I pay tribute to the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), who, in spite of his conservatism, has done probably one of the best jobs for these people 'that anybody in Australia has done in accordance with his 'duties. But this intolerant, doubtful, cautious, conservative attitude which breeds a fear that something dreadful will happen if restrictions over the aborigines are removed, must be changed. I know that some people in the Northern Territory are convinced that something dreadful will happen if the aborigines are given equal freedom with white people. They fear that they will take to drink. Already there seems to be a huge consumption of alcohol throughout Australia and it would probably be better if all of us - perhaps myself excepted - used less of the stuff: Because there has been one known case of a famous Australian who indulged himself a little too much it seems that we are going to restrict the freedom of all the others. These things are a challenge to all Australians.

Although the Minister, in all good faith and sincerity, says that it is his objective to remove temptation from primitive people, the Government has allowed two breweries to be established in Darwin. This is a city with a population about a quarter of that of Canberra. In Papua and New Guinea there are only two well-established secondary industries, one a brewery and the other a tobacco factory. The Government must realize that it cannot proceed along one line and neglect another. Honorable members heard the shocked amazement in the voice of the new honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Browne) when he heard the suggestion that the " natives ", as he called them, should be granted citizenship. The honorable member is one of the youngest members of his party. At his age he ought to be a democrat and even a revolutionary still.

I agree with the honorable member for Fremantle that all men should be treated as equal, and we have a right as Australians to show the rest of the people on this planet that after 6,000 years of persecution, intolerance and oppression of people on racial, religious or political grounds we have achieved something worth while. The problem is quite small. There are only 60,000 aborigines and I suppose that half of them will make out quite well, given reasonable opportunities. The cost of bringing the others up to standard would be minute. If they cannot make the grade, we must treat them as social invalids. We give the invalid pension to a person who cannot make the grade because of ill health or mental ill- ness. We have to make the same allowance for the aborigines who cannot make the grade socially.

This is a challenge that faces us all. It is a kind of human challenge which I have chosen to bring into this debate on this occasion. It is a smallish problem but an important and vital one. It is the opposite approach to that of the Governor-General's Speech, which has been presented to us and which devotes itself to matters of decimal coinage, various hopes and fears and the prospect of travel in outer space.







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