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Thursday, 27 March 1980
Page: 1079

Senator RYAN (ACT) - My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Given the current allegations of police harassment of Western Australian Aboriginals who applied for postal votes in the last Western Australian State election, and in the absence of any clear statement from the Minister on this issue, what special steps is the Minister prepared to take to ensure that Western Australian Aboriginals are not prevented, by any kind of intimidation, from voting in the next Federal elections?

Senator CHANEY - I would have thought that the Senate would be aware of the steps which have been taken by this Government in respect of assisting Kimberley Aboriginals to vote. There has been some discussion of this matter before. In fact there was an electoral education campaign which commenced, I think, early or about the middle of last year, and which was funded by this Government and conducted by the State Education Department in collaboration with both electoral offices. With respect to the problems which have arisen, both with the previous election and with this election, I think that the best solution is to ensure that Aboriginal people are able to vote of their own accord and without need of assistance, thereby removing the possibility of interference with their freedom to vote.

There is absolutely no doubt that this Government is committed to the Aboriginal people having the right to vote. It has encouraged this electoral education campaign. I believe that the Australian Electoral Office has done a very good job in previous elections, and I think I have referred in the Senate before to the note of congratulations that was included in the Maningrida community's publication with respect to the work of the Australian Electoral Office for Aboriginals. As far as the activities of the State police of Western Australia are concerned, by statute those activities are under the direction and control of the Commissioner of Police. The matters to which the honourable senator has referred have given rise to a series of charges which, no doubt, will be heard by the courts in Western Australia. My understanding is that the defendants will be represented by solicitors. The defendants are not Aboriginals, but the Aboriginal people have access to the Aboriginal Legal Service in Western Australia, which is funded by my Department and which, to my personal knowledge, is watching the situation closely.

Senator RYAN - I ask a supplementary question. The Minister did not really address himself to that part of my question which concerned the taking of positive steps by him, as the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, to prevent intimidation of Aboriginals to stop them from voting. I stress this point because it seems to many people that the experiences currently being undergone by Aboriginals who did have a postal vote may be such that they will be too frightened to vote in the next Federal elections. I would like to hear that some positive steps will be taken to counteract these specific traumatic experiences.

Senator CHANEY - I think that all honourable senators would be aware by now that a number of individuals have been charged with offences under the Electoral Act and that the allegations are concerned with possible misconduct in relation to postal voting. I have no wish to make any comment on those matters until they are dealt with by the courts. I can assure the Senate that I will be watching the results of those prosecutions closely. I suggest to the Senate that until those cases are dealt with it is a little early to be discussing this matter in detail in this place. I can do no more than assure the Senate that I will keep the matter under close review. At this stage I would suggest that the Opposition is making allegations with respect to police behaviour. There are charges before the courts which effectively make allegations about the behaviour of certain community advisers. I have no intention of making public statements on that matter, and prejudging the matter, until the courts have heard the charges.

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