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
Tuesday, 15 August 1972
Page: 26

Mr ENDERBY (Australian Capital Territory) (4:53 PM) - Towards the end of the speech made by the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) we heard the true opposition or argument from the Government as to why the Aboriginal embassy was there. It had nothing to do with tents or with people camping on Commonwealth Crown Land, The real opposition from the Government, the real thing that offended it, the real thing it could not stomach, was the reminder out there by those 2 flags, the sign 'Aboriginal Embassy' in a symbolic form, and the tents, that these people claim land rights - something that was taken from them many years ago. That is a political thing, and towards the end of his speech the Minister reiterated it and came back to it; it was the point on which he wanted to finish. He said that the Aborigines were there for political reasons; that they were there not just to live in a tent but to make a political point; and that they were exercising a right to assemble. This statement came right out of the Minister's mouth. There are a number of reasons why this House should not have confidence in the Minister for the Interior. It is quite a pity that there are almost no Liberals present in the chamber.

Dr Gun - Have a look at those that are.

Mr ENDERBY - Yes, have a look at those 2 or 3 - with one notable exception. At the moment the Government benches consist almost entirely of members of the Australian Country Party. Where are the Liberals who espouse Liberal principles? Unfortunately 15 minutes is not a long enough time in which to cover all the points. The Minister said that the Aboriginal embassy came there on Australia Day. Rather he omitted to say that, but it was Australia Day. The Aborigines made it clear that they hoped to stay there until Parliament began sitting in order to make their point - the Minister says it was a political point - concerning a claim for land rights. The Government kept saying: 'We will not tolerate their presence'. Naturally, like any human being, the Aborigines said: We will not be told not to do something which we want to do, which is completely legal and which we are allowed to do'. They said that they would stay on until President Suharto from Indonesia came. Again, they were on the verge of going and again the Government came along and said: 'You will go'. It was at that time that the Press began to play it up.

Because the Minister for the Interior has made so much of the lack of opposition, as he calls it, from the Labor Party on the 11th May, let me give some examples of the opposition that was made. In March I sent a telegram to the Minister saying that I personally opposed any move to move the Aboriginal embassy and that if the Minister was going across to the embassy I would like to go with him. But I received no answer to or no acknowledgment of the telegram I sent on 6th March this year. Towards the end of March the Labor Party members on the Opposition benches produced to this Parliament 10 or 12 petitions from my constituents - people who live in the Australian Capital Territory - protesting at the reported moves that the Government was making to move the embassy.

Indeed, I remind the House that on one occasion I took the unusual step of moving that the petition be printed. The motion was debated in this House in one sense - that I gave the reasons why the petition should be printed. It contained the expression of view of the people in Canberra, that the Government was up to something horrible and that it should be criticised for being up to it. I said that the petition should be given the widest possible distribution, that it should get into the books and that the world should know what this Government was up to. No-one on the Government benches spoke against the motion and it was carried unanimously.

Opposition to what the Government was up to continued. The Minister will recall that on 11th May 1972, when he said that there was no opposition to the Government's move - 1 know he heard it because I saw his face when he read the statement out - I shouted: 'Shame! You frightened little men'. I repeat what I said: 'Shame! You frightened little men'. It was widely reported in the Canberra newspapers on the following day. If that is not opposition to the Minister's point, I do not know what it is.

The Minister said m his statement that it was the Government's intention to bring in an ordinance which would fill a need in relation to the law in regard to trespass on Commonwealth land in Canberra. I do not really see any reference to Aborigines in that statement. He said finally that adequate public notice would be given of the coming into effect of the ordinance. I ' repeat, he said that adequate public notice would be given of the coming into effect of the Ordinance. What would any Opposition member want to do when told that an ordinance dealing with trespass on land could come in? The statement did not use the words 'Aborigine', 'tent' or any relevant words. ...'.

I remind the Minister, when it comes to a question of his credibility, that on television he said that when the ordinance came in the Aborigines would be given a couple of weeks - a reasonable time--within which to get off the land. I heard him say it. We moved towards the end of the parliamentary session and the Minister- I ' suppose it could be argued that he -reads ' the Canberra newspapers as he is responsible for the administration of Canberra- ' will remember a Press statement I released which was given some publicity at 'the time. It said that this Government would not introduce any ordinance dealing'' with the removal of the embassy while Parliament remained in session; that it' would not be game to; that it would wait until the parliamentarians went back to Perth,

Brisbane, Townsville and Darwin - not that Darwin matters much in this context. The statement said that when they went back to the various parts of Australia the Government would sneak this ordinance in like a thief in the night. Is that not exactly what the Government did?

Let me take the Ministery up to 20th July 1972. Rumours ran around this city that the 'Gazette' coming out on Thursday, 20th July, would contain a gazettal about the ordinance. On Thursday morning, 20th July, 1 had the officers in the legislative research section of this Parliament - very capable people - trying to tell me for an hour whether that ordinance had been gazetted. They could not find out. Do honourable members know how I found out? I was in my city office at the time and I wanted to come across to Parliament House. I got the information from an inspector of the ACT police force. In the end he said: 'If you want to know what is going on, look out your window*. He thought that I was in my office in Parliament House. When I arrived at the Aboriginal embassy the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) was there. Do honourable members know what I found? The police had dismantled the tents and there were-

Mr Sinclair - Did you find the ordinance that was given to you?

Mr ENDERBY - That was never lost. You need not be taken away by that. Let me tell honourable members what I saw, because the Minister for the Interior had not been near the place. He talks about radical left wing elements. I saw a group of Aborigines and white people linked arm in arm around the remaining tent which carried the flag and the sign 'Aboriginal Embassy'. I recognised some of the people. I recognised the Reverend Jim Udy, a very respectable clergyman in Canberra, linked arm in arm with the Aborigines. I recognised the Reverend George Garnsey, another very respected and responsible clergyman from Canberra, linked arm in arm with the Aborigines. I recognised Bruce Kent, another responsible, recognised and well known man in Canberra, linked arm in arm with the Aborigines. I saw no-one who could be called irresponsible or within any mythical conspiratorial nonsense that the Minister goes on with. At that stage the police, under the action and directions of the Minister, were proceeding to whale in. They were sooled on by the Minister, if you like, although he was not game to be there, and were pulling them away. I saw violence.

This is why this House should have no confidence in the Minister. Until that time that demonstration had been the most successful peaceful symbol of the Aboriginal claim for land rights that one could possibly imagine. The Embassy had been there for 6 months and had attracted tourists. The children of tourists had gone to the Embassy and collected signatures and Aboriginal literature. The Embassy had been a peaceful symbol of the Aboriginals' claim for land rights. What did the Minister and the Government he represents do? He converted that peaceful symbol into a symbol of violence. The Minister has come along here and hypocritically made reference to Sharpeville. He talked about events 4 or 5 days later when there was an explosive situation. The peaceful symbol had been destroyed. I have enormous respect for the Australian Capital Territory police, although no-one has fought the police more than I have in the courts in previous days. But the police had been sooled on to these people by this Minister.

Mr Hunt - Oh, rot.

Mr ENDERBY - Put any other different word to it. There were broken limbs and skin was torn. There was violence. What else does one call it? I have spoken to some of the officers concerned. The police were deliberately disarmed. I will tell honourable members this: On the second time round when the 2,000 people assembled, the Aborigines searched each other - this is a measure of their responsibility - to ensure that there would be no arms of any sort on any of them if anything got out of control. There is a measure of responsibility for you. On that occasion we saw violence in this town that was completely unnecessary - violence that had been created and provoked by this Minister.

May I give another example? That afternoon I received a message that some of the Aborigines and some of the gentlemen to whom I have already referred had gone to the police station to lend moral support to the people who had been arrested as a result of the fracas and who were being released on bail. I went across to the police station. There I saw the real measure of what this Minister has brought about, this transformation of a peaceful symbol into a violent symbol. I saw outside of the door of the police station 20 or 30 constables - not the 300 who had been there before. They were not standing to attention but were standing at ease. Confronting them was a very angry group of people made up of demonstrators as well as the wives and supporters of the demonstrators. There was one very young Aboriginal lady who was hysterical. She claimed that her husband had had his head bashed in, or something like that, by a policeman. These policemen are my constituents as much as are the people who go there to demonstrate. The Minister has brought about this antagonism between them. This is why I get angry. The demonstrators quite naturally were taking out their anger on the police. The people who were speaking to the demonstrators had their backs to the line of police. I refused to do that because I take the view that in this situation the police should know what you have done to them. They should know the dirty, filthy job that the Minister has given them to do.

Mr Anthony - Cut it out.

Mr ENDERBY - I am not cutting it out. I am trying to tell you what the situation was. The Government nearly had a Sharpeville incident. If the moderate speakers had not poured some oil on these waters and put that fire out there would have been trouble that afternoon and this Minister could have been deliberately and directly held responsible.

Let me take the story one step further, and I appreciate that my time is limited. Let me move to what happened during the following week. The responsible editor of one of Canberra's newspapers came to me towards the end of the week - about Thursday. He was not looking for a story. He came because of the responsible reports he had heard that an explosive situation was going to arise in Canberra and that the Government was doing nothing about it - it was just washing its hands like Pontius Pilate.

The Minister will remember these events. I sent him a telegram because all of the reports said that he and his colleague - I suppose that one can call the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) a colleague - were in Darwin or somewhere doing something else probably quite irrelevant, given the situation that had arisen in Canberra. The reports had it that the Minister was trying to bribe off the demonstrators with the offer of Beauchamp House. After all, we remember that the thread running through the Minister's speeches has been that 'perhaps they do not want land rights; perhaps they want a club or something like that in Canberra'; or 'Perhaps if I offer them something they will go away and they will not trouble me with their unpleasant, embarrassing political demands'. So there was talk about Beauchamp House. I had a telegram from the Assistant Secretary, Mr Ballard, on the point. Nothing was done. As the .Minister points out, there was widespread support all over this country for the Aboriginals because of the insult that this Government had laid at the door of the Aboriginal cause. Truckloads of people did come in. There was an explosive situation.

On the Sunday when the 300-odd police were outside Parliament House every responsible and respected citizen : of Canberra, also was there. Mr Jim Pead of the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council was there doing his best to try to talk to the responsible officers in the Department and the police. There was Professor Hal Wootten down from Sydney who was doing his best. I was there, as well as many of the members of the Advisory Council, doing our best. Where was this Minister? He was nowhere to be seen. We had this explosive situation.

Mr Duthie - Perhaps it is as well he was not there.

Mr ENDERBY - That could be so. There was anger - terrible anger. But to their credit, the police kept their cool. When the demonstrators arrived marching, there was then a strong element of what I suppose loosely could be called black power people. The clenched fist salute was given and chants for land rights could be heard. This type of activity was not present before this Minister put the police in to move the Embassy away in the way he did. A peaceful demonstration had been converted to a symbol of violence which will now be associated forever with this Government and with the Aborigine's cause. The demonstrators sat down and they were addressed by their own people.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Order! The honourable member's time has expired. (Extension of time granted.)

Mr ENDERBY - I am indebted to the House, Mr Deputy Speaker. The people sat down. Perhaps there were 2,000 of them. Having marched all the way from the Australian National University they heard speeches. Not one word of violence was uttered. The Minister talks about trouble makers and the radicals. I was there and I did not hear or see any of them. The Minister was not there. I say to the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) that they played a guitar and sang songs. They talked about the cause of Aborigines and the cause of land rights. I spoke to the Commissioner of Police who was doing his best because he did not quite know what had happened. I spoke to Hal Wootten, who said - and I am sure that he will not mind me saying so in this context - that all his efforts had left him with a feeling of frustration. He said that he could get no sense out of the Government It was as though they had turned their backs, closed their eyes and said: 'We do not know what is going to happen; we have no way of controlling it; we will just walk away from the thing*. Anyone who was there on that day will confirm what I am saying.

As the Minister has said, word was conveyed to Mr Wilson, the Commissioner of Police, that the demonstrators would march back to the Australian National University. They did. He was told that a token force would remain within the tent but that there would be no trouble. He was told that the police could remove the tent. The police did. They found 5 or 6 men in the tent with their fingers raised in the Churchill V for Victory sign. Here was your violence. When the tent was taken away from around them they held up a symbolic piece of canvas, walked to where the police line was, threw it down and walked away. If that is not self-discipline, I do not know what is. What hypocrisy it was for 'the Minister to suggest in the letter which he wrote to me on 4th August that all of the credit for the absence of violence goes to the Australian Capital Territory police. Full marks to the Australian Capital Territory police. But I say full marks also to those demonstrators and no marks at all for the Minister or for this Government whom he represents. There are many reasons why this House should have no confidence in the Minister. The first is his dishonesty about the strong suggestion in the television programme when he said that he knew that the Ordinance was to be gazetted at a time when the Parliament would not be sitting. I will read the Minister's words to him if he will just listen and not wander away. He will remember that shortly after the violent removal of the tent on 20th July he was interviewed on television and it was put to him: 'Would you rather that this would have happened when the Parliament was sitting?' The Minister had been referring to how he had announced the intention to Parliament on 11th May. I already have put to the House what he said on that day - that adequate public notice would be given. Ten minutes public notice was given. When the Minister was talking to this interviewer about how on 11th May he had made an announcement to the Parliament the questioner asked: 'Would you rather that this would have happened when the Parliament was sitting?' The Minister's answer was: Well, I knew that this was not going to happen and this is why I felt obliged to inform the Parliament of the Government's decision on 11th May'.

So on 11th May he knew he was going to wait until after the politicians had dispersed before slipping this Ordinance through in the way in which he did. One might ask why he waited. I suggest that it was because he could not face up to it at that stage and he misled the Parliament when he said that adequate notice would be given.

I have told the House that I could not find out whether the Ordinance had been gazetted on that Thursday morning. The honourable member for Wills could not find out; I could not find out. I got the information from an inspector of police who was not unsympathetic to the cause of the demonstrators. In his interview the Minister said: 'it is interesting to note not one member of the Labor Party, the Opposition, at that time, from either the House of Representatives or the Senate objected to the Government's intention'. What rubbish! I have already referred to the long history of opposition, the petitions that have been presented to the Parliament, the telegrams sent to the Minister, the Press statements dealing with the subject and finally, to my shouting of: 'Shame! You frightened little men'. That is exactly what honourable members opposite are. I hurled those words across the chamber at the Minister. He heard them because he looked at me when he heard them.

There should be no confidence in the Minister because of the dishonesty, the lack of tolerance and the hypocrisy underlying the whole situation and, finally, because of sheer incompetence. On this point I should like to conclude by reading what Mr Justice Fox said in dealing with the challenge made to the legality of this Ordinance. I have a copy of the transcript of the judgment. The learned judge - one would think quite an objective, independent person - at page 24 of the transcript, referring to this way of making laws, particularly laws which affect the lives of people, but laws generally in Canberra, said:

You would not take long to convince me that section 12-

That is the section of the Seat of Government (Administration) Act under which this type of legislation is enacted - is an unsatisfactory scheme of legislation. There are plenty of other examples of the same kind of comment from the judge in his judgment. At page 96 of the transcript he said: lt seems to me on the material presently before me that the position was that the Embassy and those constituting the Embassy could lawfully have been required to leave land under the principles of the general law and without the aid of the ordinance. As I see the matter if it in fact had been necessary the responsible authorities could have applied to this court for appropriate orders to achieve their desired results.

The Minister has spoken about the legal advice he was given. But I remind the Minister that the learned judge said:

As I understand him, counsel who appears for both the Minister and the Commissioner of Police does not dispute that some such course was available under the general law.

In saying that the judge was referring to the Minister's own counsel who appeared in the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory and who said that the embassy could have been removed under the existing law without this Ordinance. I ask the Minister: 'Where is your legal advice now?' Is that not incompetence? For these reasons I support the motion.

Suggest corrections