Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 19 May 1960


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) . - Since the time allotted to a member introducing a matter of urgent public importance expires before he gets round to stating remedies he has in mind, let me state at the outset that there are three categories of aboriginal people in need of Commonwealth and State action. The first are the people of pure aboriginal race living in the tribal state. They need a massive medical attack on leprosy, yaws, venereal disease, trachoma and malnutrition. They need a realistic survey of the food resources of their reserves. They need the development of water and food for the game on which they live. They need some guarantee of tenure of their reserve lands.

They are not the only aborigines who need such a guarantee. There are non-tribal natives on reserves in some of the States, too. The discovery of minerals or resources useful to the European usually leads to the shrinking or abolition of the reserves, whether they be reserves for fully tribalized aborigines or for de-tribalized aborigines. Secondly, there are the people of pure aboriginal race who are de-tribalized and are part of the European economy. They need adult, technical and trade training. The women need training in domestic arts. They need, in urban and semi-urban areas, a massive attack on their problem of housing. They need the assistance which will enable them to own land and work it; not merely the theoretical and legal right to own land which never becomes socially possible.

Finally, there are the people of mixed aboriginal and European race who are part of the European society of this continent - a depressed and under-privileged part. In both the Bateman report of 1948 published in Western Australia and the report published in the Brisbane " Courier Mail ", of 3rd May, 1960- twelve years and 2,000 miles apart, the one written by a man commissioned by a State to survey the condition of aborigines and the other by a journalist - the conclusion is the same. The aborigines need protection from the exploitation of low wages and poor rations on stations, and they need a chance for training, a chance for the real education of their children in a social setting where they are accepted and where they can find work and apply their education. All these things depend on Commonwealth and State finance, and call for thought, time and planning on a much more extensive scale than ever before. That is the purpose in submitting this matter to the House.

All these things need to be done in the face of the fact that there is no real public opinion in Australia to demand them. There is practically no trade union vigilance or interest to protect the employed aboriginal. The vaunted Australian fair play always seems to stop abruptly short of the aborigines. Australians respect a Namatjira, an aboriginal who excels in football or cricket or one who can get to a university. In the United States of America, tens of thousands of negroes have been through universities. We have had one man and one woman of aboriginal race through Australian universities. They were active in our own fields of interest; but how are we to get respect for the inherent qualities of this people as a people, a people who could get a Jiving off a hard land and a people free of acquisitiveness.

That lack of acquisitiveness is part of the problem of getting an alert public opinion that will demand action; but in the absence of that public opinion, there is every reason why the governments of the Commonwealth and the States should act out of their own enlightenment. I have no doubt that European South Africans feel that in world affairs Dr. Verwoerd is their most important spokesman, but ideologically throughout Asia, the natives are the people heeded. We often believe that our Prime Minister is our most important spokesman, but in Asia this country is scrutinized for its attitude on colour and its treatment of the aborigines.

It is nearly ten years since, on 8th June, 1950, as a private member, the present Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) brought forward a motion calling for cooperation between the Federal and State Governments in measures for the social advancement as well as the protection of people of aboriginal race. In the course of his speech, he made two points of great force that I propose to quote. The first was with respect to the Commonwealth Constitution, and he said -

I shall attempt to establish as my first proposition, that the whole Australian community has a responsibility for their welfare. As the Australian Government is the only Government that can speak in the name of the whole community, it has a special obligation to ensure that the nation shall accept the responsibility. I know that the Australian Constitution leaves responsibility for aborigines with the State Governments, and that the direct legislative and administrative powers of the Commonwealth in respect of aborigines do not extend beyond Commonwealth territories. I do not propose to enter into a constitutional argument or to develop any novel thesis about the situation. Keeping to a practical political level, I merely ask the Commonwealth Parliament as the supreme voice of the Australian nation to ensure that, irrespective of where the constitutional powers lie, the practical task of the betterment of the conditions of the natives throughout the Commonwealth shall be undertaken.

Then, speaking no doubt from his experience as an Australian diplomat, the honorable member for Curtin - now the Minister for Territories - made this second point -

The Commonwealth Parliament is the custodian of the national reputation in the world at large. Our record of native administration will not stand scrutiny at the standard of our professions, publicly made in the forum of the world, of a high concern for human welfare. We should be condemned out of our own mouths if those professions were measured by the standard of native administration accepted in Australia to-day. When we enter into international discussions and raise our voice, as we should raise it, in defence of human rights and the protection of human welfare, our very words are mocked by the thousands of degraded and depressed people who crouch on rubbish heaps throughout the whole of this continent.

Those are the words of the honorable member for Curtin who became the Minister for Territories in the following year. In September, 1951, he called a native welfare conference with the object of bringing about closer State and Commonwealth co-operation. He reported to the House on this conference in October of that year. I have no intention of making any partisan statement on this matter, nor will I contend that the Minister has failed in his efforts in the Territories or in the grant of financial assistance to the States to bring about any advance in the conditions of the aborigines. There have been advances, and let me briefly pay tribute to them. I think it is still true to say that our words at international conferences are mocked by the conditions of the people of aboriginal race, but the advances of this decade, such as they have been, should be acknowledged.

It is a typical Australian vice not to make a massive root and branch attack on any problem. " She'll do " or " Near enough " are expressions which enshrine the attitude leading to defective supply and equipment in war, or to the lack of a systematic medical, educational or sociological attack on the problems of the people who are wholly or partly of aboriginal race.

In his speech of 8th June, 1950, the honorable member for Curtin mentioned that the Government of Western Australia spent £70,000 on aboriginal welfare in a budget of £20,000,000. In the last financial year, largely as a result of Commonwealth action which owes something to the Minister's own outlook, the native welfare department had an allocation of £591,020. This year the allocation will be £660,000. Even allowing for inflation, this is a marked increase in expenditure. In addition, State expenditure has been released from making payments of a social service nature to people of aboriginal race because of Commonwealth action in making available to them age and invalid pensions, child endowment, unemployment and sickness benefits and so on. The leprosarium at Derby which was established by the State Government, has effected total cures in many cases, thus providing some alleviation in the condition of those aborigines who will come in and submit themselves for treatment. But when all this is conceded, £660,000 is an inadequate annual allocation for a native welfare department which deals with 18,298 persons classified as aborigines, only 2,000 of whom are true nomads in the tribal state and 8,625 of whom are of mixed aboriginal and European race living in centres of European settlement, such as the metropolitan area of Perth, and in the Great Southern area.

I do not want to get into the great diversion which always attracts the minds of people in Western Australia - the question of citizen rights as a legal concept. Applications for citizenship and citizen rights, and the relationship of this to the right to drink alcohol seems to be one of the main centres of attention. It is insignificant, anyhow, even if you regard it as an important subject, in relation to the total number of aborigines. Over ten years, 1,308 such applications for citizen rights have been granted, 279 have been deferred, 60 have been withdrawn and 56 have been adjourned. But they affect only a small proportion of the people in Western Australia who are classified as being of aboriginal race.

There have been two recent flare-ups of publicity concerning aborigines in Western Australia. One was started by Mr. W. Grayden, M.L.A., of the State Parliament who was formerly the honorable member for Swan in this House. He alleged starvation of aborigines in the Warburton Range area, and reiterated his allegations in his book " Adam and Atoms ". As a result of this State parliamentary uproar, a medical party led by Dr. W. S. Davidson, Deputy Commissioner of Public Health, went to the area. I shall read from his report because it shows, in spite of all the sincerity of the great work which he has done in relation to the aborigines, the double standard that we unconsciously have of what is adequate for Europeans and what is adequate for aborigines. The second flare-up of publicity related to the eviction of natives from Allahwah Grove, in Western Australia. It is a poor thing that allegations of starvation and the fact of evictions were the kind of episodes which brought this subject before public opinion.

The Davidson survey was designed as a follow-up of a previous trachoma survey which was made in 1954 by Professor Mann, an evaluation of the nutritional state of the natives, and to ascertain the prevalence of the disease among them. The area surveyed was restricted and no one can say how the natives in the region of Lake Disappointment, the Canning stock route and the Balgo area were faring because their needs were not surveyed. A number of surveys of this kind has been carried out. One such survey was conducted by Dr. J. I. Elphinstone. I want to make one comment. The people who conducted these surveys travelled in trucks and had certain kinds of equipment for testing for disease. When the trucks broke down the party could not travel further. However, if we really wanted to know what was going on we would use helicopters and similar means to reach the natives so that we could make a complete survey of their conditions. In his report Dr. Davidson said -

Yaws was shown to be present in 25 per cent, of cases in bloods so far examined for this disease . . . Trachoma was the only eye disease of importance. It was widespread throughout the area, some 77 per cent, of persons examined being infected. The seriousness of trachoma lies mainly in that it can result in blindness. This, however, isdue not so much to the trachoma but to the secondary infection that takes plaice on top of it. Thissecondary infection and blindness accounts for theserious view taken of trachoma in other countries. It also accounts for most of the blindness in our own Kimberleys. In the Warburtons, however. secondary infection is almost non-existent and trachoma is a relatively mild disease.







Suggest corrections