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Thursday, 19 May 1960

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- As unfortunately always happens, when we raise a subject such as this, the Government regards it as an attack and proceeds to concentrate its attention on answering such an attack. I cannot, in the few minutes at my disposal, deal with all the statements of the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) about developments in the Northern Territory, but I can say one or two things. In the first instance, I admit that the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), has made a contribution to this matter. I do not suppose that any one in a government position has done as much as he has, but that applies only to some sections of the work that must be done in the Northern Territory. However, in raising this matter, we ask the Government to accept national leadership. If this is a national parliament and a national government, we should accept national leadership in this matter just as we accept such a position in making grants to the States for universities and other matters.

I shall answer briefly some of the points that have been raised about the Northern Territory. The legislation applied to aborigines in the Northern Territory is race legislation. Although the words " aboriginal " and " native " have been removed from the books, all full-blood aborigines were declared to be wards. Some twelve or fifteen of them achieved citizenship, but an appeal tribunal was supposed to be set up so that aborigines could appeal to the Government.

Mr Osborne - You are wrong In your facts.

Mr BRYANT - I am right. I have looked into this matter and I have asked questions on notice. In this instance, I think 1 know what I am talking about. The facts are that the administrative organization has not been set up so that the aborigines can exercise their right of appeal. No effort has been made to do so. The aborigines were not regarded as citizens and the merits of each case were not judged individually. The aborigines were declared to be wards because they were full-blood aborigines. I admit that one great advance has been made in the Northern Territory, by the granting of full citizenship to every one with European blood in his veins, and this is a lesson to those States which still insist on exemption certificates. However, the administration in the Northern Territory is based upon a racial attitude and not upon an individual attitude. Here, this nation of 10,000,000, with all its resources and administrative knowledge, is faced with the simple problem of dealing with some 75,000 individuals who are of aboriginal descent. Of them, some 16,000 are in the Northern Territory. What we ask is that every one of those 16,000 be regarded as individual human beings - as people and not as aborigines. That is why we ask that this matter be looked at on the administrative level.

That is only one of the points raised by the Minister. I understand, of course, that he is putting a brief for a Minister who is not here to do the job himself. But look at the employment ordinance. Aborigines do not get the full wages paid to other employees. Look at the housing ordinance. I could take honorable members to a station that has entertained the Governor-General. At this station, the aborigines live out of sight around the corner, on the banks of the river, in humpies. This, of course, is the status of the aborigine all over Australia. His home is the bark hut, the hessian humpy, the corrugated iron lean-to. They are the marks of the aboriginal people in the community from one end of the continent to the other. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) raised this subject so that the status of aborigines could be raised by a national attack, and a national attack that started forthwith. It is all very well for us to wring our hands about the people of South Africa; but we should see to it that we do not neglect the hundreds of aboriginal children who will shiver on the banks of rivers this winter because they have no adequate shelter.

The honorable member for Fremantle put the case in a very fine and persuasive manner. It is perhaps unfortunate that more honorable members are not present to listen to us. The Commonwealth Government should take the initiative; it has the resources to do so. On several occasions it seemed that it intended to do so. When the Minister for Territories took over the portfolio some nine years ago, he convened two conferences. One was in 1951, I think, and the other in 1952. This was in the first flush of his enthusiasm, when he tried to establish some national policy. But no conferences have since been held, and they must be held and held forthwith. A recommendation was made some years ago that a national committee be set up to inquire into the health of aborigines, but nothing has been done. The answers to questions asked by my colleague, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam), show that that is so.

Only the Commonwealth Government has the resources to deal with this matter. Those who move around the Commonwealth can see what is happening. A visit to the leprosarium at Derby, followed by a visit to the leprosarium at Darwin, will show how inadequate are the resources that the Western Australian Government can place at the disposal of these people when compared with the resources made available by the Commonwealth at Darwin. The structure of the building, the equipment and the medical services provided by the Commonwealth at Darwin are much better than those at Derby. The Commonwealth Government has the resources to do the job and it has the initiative. It is, of course, the only authority in Australia in a position to do so, and it must commence action immediately.

The Minister said that this is a slow process. I remind him that we have been here for 172 years. How much longer will it take before we do something? I could take honorable members to girls who come from the fringes of towns, as mentioned in the book " Fringe Dwellers ". I could take them to a hostel in Melbourne where these girls are living under conditions similar to our own. They go to work, earn money, pay their board and grow up as decent citizens. I know, personally, of examples in various parts of Australia where aborigines, either by good fortune, or as the result of good planning, have been brought into the circle of our way of life. One generation ago their parents were depressed or primitive. Now they have been housed, side by side with white people all over the country.

There is no point in the argument that this question cannot be attacked forthwith, and the Commonwealth can do it. The most desperate emergency is in the field of housing, and surely this is one field in which the Commonwealth can take steps without prejudice to its constitutional position or anything else. Already the Commonwealth has played an active part with regard to housing. In Victoria, the wealthiest State, and one which ought to have the most resources at its disposal, the aboriginal question is of smaller proportions than anywhere else because the number of aborigines there is the lowest in any State. In the last report of the Aborigines Welfare Board of Victoria for the year ended 30th June, 1959, this statement appears with regard to housing -

The most urgent task facing the Board was improvement of shack housing of many aboriginal families throughout the State which has been adequately described in the Board's last report.

Unfortunately, the double standard of which my friend, the honorable member for Fremantle, has spoken is in evidence in Victoria. The 22 houses built for the aborigines are not of the same standard as those for white people. Amounts of only £1,200 and £1,500 capital have been invested in each of these homes whereas for white people the sum is often £3,000 or £4,000. Some people might say that the aborigines are not trained to appreciate the better type of housing and might knock them about, but the time has come for us to recognize that it is better to mend broken windows than attempt to salvage broken lives and broken hearts.

But this sort of differentiation is seen in many parts of Australia. Finance is always the reason given for inability to provide housing. I point out that £1,000,000 spent in Victoria would almost solve the housing question for the Victorian Government. We say that this is a Commonwealth matter, and after all, £1,000,000 represents only two-fifths of the cost of a Boeing 707. Surely in this country there should not be any racial or social discrimination against the Australian aboriginal. One has only to consider the question in Queensland where the aborigines have no rights, or if any are conferred upon them they are of a tentative and tenuous nature. One thing we should guard against is that the beneficiaries of native welfare legislation should not have to surrender any rights. People who are beneficiaries under the Repatriation Act do not have to surrender any rights to become and continue to be beneficiaries. If an aboriginal moves on to a station and becomes a beneficiary under a welfare ordinance or regulation, surely he should not have to surrender his rights, as happens in Queensland, including the right to vote. Aborigines should not be deprived of the rights of ordinary citizens.

All over Australia, except in Victoria and Tasmania, the aboriginal is expected to carry exemption certificates. I know that citizenship is an abstract question, but we have reached a state of affairs where we are citizens of Australia under the Nationality and Citizenship Act but they are not citizens of the States in which they live.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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