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Tuesday, 14 May 1968

Mr COLLARD (Kalgoorlie) - On 2nd May I asked the MinisterinCharge of Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Wentworth) a question in these terms: . . does the Minister, having described Aboriginals as being children in many respects, intend to take any action to ensure their protection, as far as possible, against any undue influence or offers of bribes at future elections?

The Minister replied:

The law in respect of Commonwealth elections is substantially the same for Aboriginals and for other Australians. Aboriginals are subject to the law which covers the acceptance of a bribe, just as anybody who attempts to bribe an Aboriginal is subject to the law. I am not aware of any particular circumstances which the honourable member may have in mind, but if there is any specific matter which he would like to bring to my notice, either publicly in this House or privately, I shall be most pleased to look into it, because I want to ensure that there is no abuse of the freedom of Aboriginals to exercise a vote in the proper manner and in accordance with the law, just as any other Australian citizen is free to do.

I applaud the Minister for that attitude. I take this opportunity to bring to the notice of the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs and also the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon), who is charged with the administration of the Electoral Act, a few accusations which leave no doubt that, for the protection of those Aboriginals and to obtain this purity of election to which the Act refers, a thorough investigation of what has taken place and can continue to take place should be undertaken. First, however, I want to refer to the relevant parts of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Under Part XVII, Electoral Offences, section 154 provides:

To secure the due execution of this Act and the purity of elections the following acts are hereby prohibited and penalised:

(i)   Breach or neglect of official duty;

I am not concerned about that -

(ii)   Illegal practices, including-

(a)   bribery;

(b)   undue influence;

(iii)   Electoral offences.

Section 156 provides:

Any person who-

(a)   promises, or offers, or suggests any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward, or benefit for or on account of or to induce any candidature, or withdrawal of candidature, or any vote or omission to vote, or any support of, or opposition to any candidate, or any promise of any such vote, omission, support, or opposition; (aa) promises, offers or suggests any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward or benefit for or on account of, or to induce -

CO any enrolment, or refraining from enrolment, as an elector by an aboriginal native of Australia; or

(ii)   any promise of any such enrolment or refraining from any such enrolment;

(b)   gives or takes any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward, or benefit for, or on account of any such candidature, withdrawal, vote, omission, support, opposition, enrolment or refraining from enrolment referred to in either of the last two preceding paragraphs; or

(c)   promises, offers, or suggests any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward, or benefit for bribery, or gives or takes any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward, or benefit for bribery, shall be guilty of bribery.

Section 157 reads:

Without limiting the effect of the general words in the preceding section, 'bribery' particularly includes the supply of meat, drink, or entertainment after the nominations have been officially declared, or horse or carriage hire for any voter whilst going to or returning from the poll, with a view to influence the vote of an elector or the supply of meat, drink, entertainment or transport with a view to influencing enrolment, or refraining from enrolment, as an elector by an Aboriginal native of Australia.

Section 162 states:

Any illegal practice shall be punishable as follows:

(a)   Bribery or undue influence, by a penalty not exceeding Two hundred pounds, or by imprisonment not exceeding one year;

(b)   any other illegal practice, by a penalty not exceeding One hundred pounds, or by imprisonment not exceeding 6 months.

As honourable members can see, it is an offence for anyone, including an Aboriginal, as the Minister correctly pointed out, to accept any sort of bribe which could influence his vote one way or another. My main concern is that these offences can occur without the voter - in this case an Aboriginal - being aware of the real situation. As the Minister has said, many Aboriginals are like children in many respects and they could quite innocently accept a bribe without knowing that it was an offence that could subject them to a fine or imprisonment as laid down in the Act. It is all right for the Minister to suggest that he will be given specific instances either publicly or privately so that he may take whatever action is necessary to bring the offenders to book but if that specific information were given it could mean only that not only the offeror but also the acceptor - in this case the Aboriginal - would be guilty of an offence and liable for punishment. I should not imagine that any honourable member would wish deliberately to be the cause of bringing to book a poor, innocent Aboriginal who knew no better and who was being exploited by some dishonourable person, perhaps a person who did not care one iota for the Aboriginal and was concerned only with achieving his own particular ends. I should have thought that since the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended to give voting rights to Aboriginals the results of the Federal elections in all those areas where a large number of Aboriginals are enrolled would have been sufficient to cause the Minister for the Interior and his officers to become rather disturbed at what could, and certainly would, appear to be happening. I should have thought that certain evidence given in those areas to the Select Committee on Voting Rights of Aboriginals would have caused the Minister for the Interior and his Department to watch the situation closely to ensure as far as they possibly could that what witnesses said could occur did not actually occur. I suggest that what the witnesses said could occur has, in fact, occurred and will continue to occur unless the Minister for the Interior and the Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs are prepared to take some positive action.

I want now to quote what some witnesses who appeared before the Select Committee said, because this should have alerted the Ministers as to what could happen. At page 257 of the report of that Select Committee appears the evidence of Mr Edward Herron McLarty, of Lulugui Station in the Kimberleys in Western Australia. I think he is a brother of a former Liberal Premier of Western Australia, Mr Ross McLarty. The following report of the evidence appears:

Do you have a polling booth on your property? -No.

Do you vote by postal vote?- Yes, generally.

Would your natives be able to fill in postal vote forms? - No.

Are your natives subject to the leadership or domination of one or more white persons? - Very much so.

The answer to the next question is important. The report continues:

If, on a large property, the right to vote was given to them, would it be possible for one person to influence them? - I have voted one ticket all my life and I think I could get sixty votes for that party without the slightest worry.

That is interesting, and it is indicative of the sort of thing that can happen. The honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) then questioned him about education and the following appears in the report:

You have expressed the view that the Aboriginals should be educated before they get the vote. Are you happy with the progress being made in that regard on your own property or that which you manage? - There is no progress being made there.

In other words no progress was being made in educating the Aboriginals to enable them to vote in the way they would wish to vote. At page 263 of the report, in the evidence of the superintendent of a mission who was being questioned about the threat of duress being exercised over Aboriginals, the following appears:

What about the threat of duress being held over them or one man having an opportunity to use duress in order to get a number of votes? - Do you mean if I brought pressure to bear upon them?

Not you, but anyone outside the mission? - They would certainly not take any notice of anyone outside the mission employees.

If a person apart from yourself, as superintendent of the mission, had strong political beliefs himself, could he influence the natives his way? - I doubt it, because, as I have said, our method is to offer suggestions to these people.

At page 275 of the report, in the evidence of a police constable the following appears:

Have you ever thought about voting rights for Aboriginals? - Yes, I have given a bit of thought to it. My opinion is that among the present class of native here there is not a great number who understand voting. I have never actually struck one who has approached me with regard to voting. The majority of them would not even know what they were voting for. They would have to be shown how to vote and told who to vote for. They could not vote on any party line. Half of them would not be able to read it.

Have you in your area many stations which employ natives? - Yes, quite a few of them employ natives.

One point has been raised and it rather concerns us. As you know, every voter should be able to vote without duress and without intimidation. In your area around here, or in your general experience, could the natives be subjected to intimidation or direction by a station manager, for example? - It would be the only way they could vote, I think.

They would vote as he tells them to vote?Yes. They would have to be directed how to vote. It would be an absolute minority who would know how to vote themselves or know which party to vote for.

I suggest that those replies of witnesses at the inquiry show clearly what could happen with Aboriginal electors. I want now to give figures of voting results prior to and subsequent to Aboriginals being given voting rights. I ask honourable members to bear in mind what the witnesses said and also to appreciate that a large number of Aboriginals can neither read nor write. They cannot read the newspapers or dodgers to learn the policy of the various parties, nor can they read how to vote cards. In many instances they would not know who the candidates were or what they stood for; yet the results of the voting in the areas I will refer to where a substantial number of Aboriginals live show a remarkable performance. They show in most cases that the number of informal votes was no more than the average in other electorates. The results are worth studying and I will give figures upon which honourable members can ponder. I am sure that honourable members will agree with my views about them. Let us look first at the 1961 election results. This was before all Aboriginals bad the right to enrol. Some were eligible - those with citizen rights - and some, but by no means all, of them exercised their rights. But others who were on the roll apparently were not interested.

The figures I am about to give refer to the subdivision of Kimberley. In 1961, which was before Aboriginals had the right to vote, a total of 1,005 votes were cast, of which 40 were informal. By the time of the 1963 election Aboriginals had the right to enrol and a large number had enrolled. In the 1963 election a total of 1,613 votes were cast, that is, 608 more than in 1961. A very large majority of the increase in the number of votes consisted of Aboriginal votes. The informal vote rose from 40 in 1961 to 46 in 1963. There were the same number of candidates - four. Of the increase of 600 votes we can say that a very large number consisted of Aboriginal votes. But there were only 6 informal votes among the increase of 600 votes. At one particular booth where by far the majority of voters would have been Aboriginals, 174 votes were cast and not one was informal. At another place where, I would think, at least 100 of the 127 votes cast were cast by Aboriginals, there were only 7 informal votes. At that particular place, I should think, a large number of the Aboriginals would not be able to read or write. I suggest that' these results alone should have been sufficient for the Minister and the Government, if they were really interested in Aboriginal affairs, to institute an inquiry aimed particularly at protecting Aboriginal rights. It seems pretty idle to give Aboriginals a vote if they are prevented from exercising that vote as they see fit by intimidation or by some other action which makes them vote along the lines that somebody else wants.

A further reason why some inquiry should have been made - and this may be the reason why it was not made - is that of the total Kimberley vote that year I, as a candidate, received 670 votes and the Liberal candidate received 739 votes. That is not a big difference over the whole subdivision, but in those places where the Aboriginal votes were so numerous I received 28 votes to the Liberal candidate's 199 votes. In fact, in one place I received four votes to the Liberal candidate's 114 votes. There again, if any interest were taken in this matter by the Government it would be obvious to it that it was not a dinkum vote. Surely, on the first occasion on which Aboriginals exercised the right to vote, we could expect much the same number to vote each way.

In 1966 the Labor Party decided to put a scrutineer at the place where in 1963 there were only seven informal votes. A scrutiny of the rolls showed that practically all of the names which appeared in 1963 also appeared in 1966. But whereas in 1963, when there was no scrutineer, there were only seven informal votes out of the 127 votes, in 1966, when a scrutineer was on the job, the number of informal votes rose to 57 out of 138 votes. As I said previously, almost the same people voted on that occasion as voted a couple of years previously. But that is not all. At the Senate election of 1967 - that is, the year after - at the place where fifty-seven informal votes were cast at the previous election when we deliberately refrained from having a scrutineer, out of a count of 207 votes, which included votes at a couple of other places where Aboriginals were in the majority, only ten were informal when we did have a scrutiwere informal. Surely this shows that there is something going on in these areas and that the Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs, who is supposed to be protecting Aboriginals, to some extent, should be taking an inteerst in these matters.

Recently there was a State election in Western Australia. From information I have gathered there is reason for me to believe that advantages were taken of Aboriginals which, I would imagine, would certainly be an offence under the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Whilst I know that the State Electoral Act is of no concern to the Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs, I would think that any exploitation of the Aboriginal, whether it takes place in the Federal field or in the State field, should cause him to do something to try to ensure protection of the Aboriginal. The Federal Act makes it an offence to suggest any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward or benefit. Also, it is an offence to take any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward or benefit. So it seems to me that if an Aboriginal allowed his vote to be influenced by a promise or even a suggestion that by so doing he would receive a licence for his motor car which otherwise would not be available to him or would receive a taxi licence which would not come his way otherwise, surely the person who offered the bribe and the Aboriginal himself would be guilty of an offence. Of course, that would apply, as the Minister has stated, not only to Aboriginals but also to anybody else. But I suggest that the Aboriginal would be more susceptible to a bribe of that nature than would other people.

I would also imagine that under the Commonwealth Electoral Act it would also be an offence to suggest, unless it was public or party policy, that the support of one candidate or the rejection of another candidate would mean an immediate increase in wages, much more food and in fact that little, if any, work would have to be done to gain these things. Above all, it would be an offence to suggest - and this would be very important to the Aboriginal - that a good motor car would be given to all the leaders of the Aboriginal community. There can be no doubt that the supply of drink to the Aboriginal for the purpose of influencing his vote would be an offence against the Commonwealth Electoral Act, because the Act is quite specific in that regard. Certainly the giving of money to an Aboriginal would also be an offence. Prom what I can gather, either drink or money or both were supplied in one particular area during the recent State elections. I also have reason to believe, as I said previously, that all those things that I have mentioned have happened. 1 hope that the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon) and the Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs, who is sitting at the table, will take necessary action, in the interests of Aboriginals and also to prevent further mockery of that section of the Electoral Act which refers to the purity of elections, to ensure that the Electoral Act is observed.

Another matter I wish to draw attention to in this regard is that it would seem that some presiding officers at polling places may not be properly aware of what their duties actually are in relation to taking a vote. This could easily happen in the Federal field as it has happened in the State field. I am informed - and quite authoritatively - that at one place on the day of the Western Australian State election Aboriginals were entering a booth with voting cards on the back of each of which a name had been written, and this was being accepted by the presiding officer as being that particular person's name, and he was allowed to vote. This happened on several occasions. At last a scrutineer asked the presiding officer whether he was quite certain that the man who had the card in each case was actually the man whose name appeared on the roll and on the back of the card. A question asked of an Aboriginal brought to light the fact that he was a different person to the one whose name appeared on the roll and on the back of the card, and that he was not even on the roll. Obviously someone had done this deliberately; someone had given the Aboriginal a card with a name on it and told him to go and exercise his right to vote. The Aboriginal himself or herself would not be aware that he or she would be committing an offence against the Act by voting under these circumstances. I would think, by the same token, that the presiding officer would not be expecting such low tactics to be used. Here again we find that it is perhaps necessary to be more alert with regard to Aboriginal voters than in respect to other voters.

In conclusion I want to point out again that giving the Minister or anyone else specific names and specific instances - even though I have both - would not appeal to me, for two reasons: First, I abhor informers; and secondly, I would not be the cause of booking a poor unfortunate Aboriginal. This must almost certainly happen if specific names and cases are brought out. But if some action is not taken by the Ministers to wipe out these cases of bribery and corruption someone may be forced to name people. In that event 1 hope that the Aboriginal concerned will receive some sympathetic consideration from the magistrate or whoever happens to hear the case. I certainly would not be a party to naming anyone but I know that feeling is growing in the areas where these Aboriginals live. There is injurious feeling. If something is not done to try to correct this situation then someone undoubtedly will take some action. I ask the Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs to give this matter some consideration in the interests of the Aboriginals. He should try to ensure their protection from exploitation in this regard. I ask the Minister for the Interior also to look at this situation so as to prevent any further mockery of that section which refers to duress.

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