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Thursday, 2 December 1971
Page: 4040

Debate resumed from 30 September (vide page 1749), on motion by Mr Howson:

That the Bill be now read a second lim*.

Mr BEAZLEY(Fremantle) (5.321-1 move:

That ali words after 'that' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: the House, while not refusing a second reading to the Bill, regrets the failure of the Government to assume the responsibilities accorded to it by the Referendum of May 1967, and in particular deplores the evasion of full Commonwealth responsibility for Aboriginal housing. Aboriginal employment and training for employment, for Aboriginal education at all levels, for the reduction of Aboriginal neo-natal, infant and child mortality, and for Aboriginal health generally, especially for the elimination of leprosy and tuberculosis from the Aboriginal people.

In May 1967 the Australian electorate did not run true to form. The Australian electorate is highly resistant to referendum proposals and highly resistant to changes in the Constitution. But there was one change in the Constitution which the Australian people supported in quite an amazing fashion. It was a referendum which in some States was carried by over 90 per cent of the vote and it was a referendum in which the affirmative vote swept into practically every polling booth in the country. It eliminated the prohibition on legislation for

Aborigines which existed in the Commonwealth Constitution where at section 51 (xxvi.) it formerly said:

The people of any race other than the Aboriginal race in any State for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.

There was struck from the Constitution the words 'other than the Aboriginal race in any State' so that the Commonwealth had power to legislate for Aborigines.

However, the willingness of the Commonwealth Government to propose this referendum had been in doubt. Sir Robert Menzies made perfectly clear in the House that he was opposed to any constitutional change in relation to Aborigines excepting the change in section 128 of the Constitution which provided that they were not counted in the census. He was willing that they be counted in the census. That of course is hardly an amendment of substance although it is a necessary amendment. In the earlier stages of his prime ministership Mr Holt took the same view, but at a later stage he changed his view and felt that the Commonwealth should assume responsibility and agreed to the referendum. Acceptance of the proposal was unanimous in this House and it was, I think, unanimous in the Senate. The proposal was put to the people by a unanimous Parliament and it was a proposal which gained that great affirmative vote. Unhappily, with Mr Holt's death, the referendum may just as well never have been carried and never have been proposed because Commonwealth action, as the very title of the Bill that we are debating today suggests, proceeds on precisely the same assumptions as before the constitutional amendment, namely that the Commonwealth is a grant-making body with no direct responsibility except in its own Territories and, therefore, it makes grants to the States for Aboriginal purposes. But even if one accepts that viewpoint, one would expect the Commonwealth to use its powers more extensively than it does.

We on the Labor side of the House, long to see a new approach adopted towards Aborigines. There have been too many easy formulae in connection with Aborigines. I am glad to say that the great pseudo-objective of assimilation is no longer declared to be our target. T am perfectly well aware that this word assimilation' was given a thoroughly creditable meaning by Mr Hasluck, as he then was, when he had responsibility for the Northern Territory, and that meaning was that Aborigines should live at the same standards as Europeans. But those of us who were on the Select Committee on Aboriginal Voting Rights very soon found that in its popular usage the word did not have that meaning at all. It was a conveniently vague objective. I have said in this House previously that if one asked an administrator: 'What have you done to assimilate Aborigines to date?' he could not give an intelligible answer because assimilation as an objective does not put the Administration under the discipline of practical achievement.If, on the other hand, the Commonwealth assumes responsibility for Aboriginal housing, for training Aborigines for employment for Aboriginal education - and the Commonwealth has begun to work a transformation in Aboriginal education by providing allowances to teenage Aborigines - and for reducing Aboriginal neo-natal infant and child mortality, then we would have measurable objectives for the Administration. It has either attained those objectives or it has not. We either reduce Aboriginal infant mortality or we do not. Mortality is measurable. So a discipline to achieve is put upon the Administration.

I believe that so long as there is a division of responsibility between the Commonwealth and the States, or so long as the Commonwealth is reluctant to grasp certain nettles like housing firmly, then we can bemuse the Australian public. Any dispute between the Commonwealth and the States over finances leaves the Australian people bemused. It has been so often a matter of crying wolf. Everybody expects the State Premiers to ask for more than they will get. Everybody expects the State Premiers to go away critical, except in an election year when those State Premiers who belong to the same party as that comprising the Federal Government will profess to be more satisfied than usually. This gavotte has been going on for years.If a State government seriously says that it needs a large sum of money for housing and gets about one-tenth of what it needs from the Commonwealth all of this is dismissed if there is any complaint as the usual argy-bargy. If the Commonwealth organisation assumed responsibility for the housing of Aborigines in various places, one would soon see a much larger allocation made, if the Commonwealth were acting on the advice of its own officers instead of upon the requests of the States.

We say the same thing, of course, in respect of education, and we are told that this is not a Commonwealth matter. But one cannot argue that Aborigines are not a Commonwealth matter. If they are not. why did the Government sponsor the referendum of May 1967 to give itself a complete legislative status? It achieved the power of this Parliament to legislate for the Aboriginal people. So our amendment states that we regret the failure of the Government to assume the responsibilities accorded to it by the referendum of May 1967. I suppose what one key target to concentrate upon is Aboriginal child mortality, because the answer to Aboriginal child mortality lies in the income and training of the parents and in seeing that the family of the child is properly housed.

We have a tragedy in Western Australia. The Princess Margaret Hospital, which is a hospital for children, is constantly tending Aboriginal infants and young children. They come down from the north, or from country areas, with gastro-enteritis and all sens of other diseases and afflictions. They are nursed back into a state of full health by the care that they receive in the hospital, and then they return to conditions where there has not been a basic attempt made, or where there is not the staff to make an adequate attempt to educate the parents. There is no plan for housing the parents. There is not adequate money for the State welfare departments. People may have good plans but they cannot carry them out. The child simply returns to unsatisfactory conditions. The focus of our minds is so little on this problem that very great achievements can go unnoticed.

Aboriginal children some years ago suffered from trachoma, a disease which can cause blindness. There is a former member of the staff of the Medical School of the University of Western Australia, a woman, Professor Ida Mann. She has written an entertaining book titled The Cockney and the Crocodile'. She came to Australia from England to take up an appointment at the University. She investigated this whole question of trachoma. By her medical discoveries and the action which she organised, she virtually eliminated trachoma from the Aboriginal population, and from other people who were suffering from the disease, in Western Australia. Had that achievement been made in the European community, Professor Ida Mann without any question at all would have been made a Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire. She had as good a claim to such a title for such an achievement - and her achievement was recognised all over the world and her discoveries were used all over the world - as have, shall we say, various lady senators who have been given that title. She has retired into private life from her university career, and there has been no acknowledgment of this great achievement. I do not campaign for a title for the lady. I merely say that the omission demonstrates that we so rarely value any achievement in service of the Aboriginal community.

When Sir Earle Page was Minister for Health, this Government set out to eliminate tuberculosis, and it succeeded in almost totally eliminating it from the European community. To do that the Government had to think of many things besides medical attention. It had to think of paying a man a living wage not to work so that he could leave the industry for total attention. It had to think of the environment that he went home to. A complete tuberculosis plan went into operation, and tuberculosis was almost totally eliminated from the European community. I want to see the same passion behind a Commonwealth offensive to eliminate tuberculosis from the Aboriginal community. The only sufferers from tuberculosis in Australia today are Aborigines. I want to see the same passion behind a Commonwealth offensive to eliminate leprosy, yaws and hookworm. I want to see the same passion and plan to reduce Aboriginal child and infant and neo-natal mortalities to the European levels. In the areas where the rate is measured at the moment it is found that Aboriginal infant mortality rates are as great as 10 times the mortality rates among European infants.

Of course, to do this the Commonwealth will have to think, as it had to think in connection with eliminating tuberculosis from the European community, beyond the mere question of medical treatment to the economic status of a man and his family. A man with tuberculosis was paid a living wage while he was in hospital so that he would not be worrying about the desperate condition of his family, which would have been one factor in preventing his recovery. So his family was supported while he was being treated. I feel that the same repressive logic and perception have to be mobilised for the benefit of the Australian Aboriginal community. The Commonwealth Government can do it. There are mcn in the Government - and 1- would like to give all credit to the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) - who have the passion and the interest to do it. The Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth), who formerly administered the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, had the passion and interest to do it. But there needs to bc a wider recognition in this House, especially on the Government benches, that there is a total Commonwealth responsibility for this subject as a result of the referendum of May 1967. The amendment that has been moved says:

The House, while not refusing u second reading to the Bill, regrets the failure of the Government to assume the responsibilities accorded lo it by the Referendum of May I9S7. and in particular deplores the evasion of full Commonwealth responsibility for . Aboriginal housing. Aboriginal employment and training for employment, for Aboriginal education at all levels . . .

I want to conclude on that las! note. 1 know there will always be many disappointments in the area of Aboriginal policy. lt is noi very easy to legislate for another race, and it has been a very difficult task lo persuade any statistical authorities in Australia to abstract the statistics concerning the Aboriginal community from those for the general community. The policy has been to keep the statistics for Aborigines lost in the statistics for the general community. For instance, after the former Government in Western Australia began keeping separate statistics for Aborigines, whereas before that the Aboriginal child and infant mortality rale and so on had never been extracted and identified separately, the Slate Government began to take steps to reduce the appalling death rates that were revealed. We have only begun to look at this problem; we have only begun to look at the Aborigines as a distinctive people. We have been very smug. We are not apartheid-minded we claimed and therefore we did not look at the Aborigines separately from the European community. But, unfortunately, when there is a distinctive community so underprivileged as are Aborigines and so much the prey of ill health as they are, with so much suffering through inadequate social conditions, then the statistics for that community have lo be abstracted and the Aboriginal community has to be treated as confronting special problems because the problems of the Aborigines are separate and distinct from those of the general Australian community.

As the Minister for Social Services used to say when he was Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs, the Aborigines need to be discriminated for. There is too much nonsense about this word 'discrimination'. We have to discriminate for ex-servicemen who arc wounded. We have to discriminate for all sorts of categories of people in the community who need special assistance, and the Aborigines in general need discrimination. Of course, it is the aim of all policy on Aborigines that they should move from the position where they need such discrimination.

Mr Howson - Hear, hear!

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