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Tuesday, 13 March 1973
Page: 514

Mr BRYANT (Wills) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) - It is exhilarating to see what 3 months in opposition can do to people who for 23 years in government did nothing. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) is to be congratulated for starting to remove the last relic of discriminatory legislation from Commonwealth laws. I am very pleased to have heard tonight the new found sentiments of liberality and conscience from the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch). I think the record shows that prior to his election to this House the honourable member did take a strong stand against racial discrimination. The fact is that in its initial actions this new Government has been able to introduce legislation to remove provisions that have been in Commonwealth legislation for a long time. We hope that we will have the full support of the Aboriginal people for the programs that we are developing at the present time for them.

I will refer to one or two matters which the honourable member raised in his speech. I will deal first with the Aboriginal Consultative Council which has been convened in Canberra to discuss future consultative operations of the Aboriginal people. The honourable member raised the question of the actual structure of this Council. Seventy-seven people from around Australia were invited to take part in a conference held in Canberra. They are designing the electoral representative system which is the real charter of the conference. In the near future they will design a structure to establish a really representative institution to advise the Minister. It is hoped that they will have some executive authority and perhaps ultimately, when we have established the system and the principle, they will have some statutory authority as well.

The provisions of this piece of legislation are brief. We are here this evening to record our pleasure at the fact that this problem is being dealt with. When I say that it deals with the last relic of discrimination in Commonwealth legislation, I remind honourable members of the long haul it has been to remove all the discriminatory legislation in Australia. When the campaign was begun 16 years or 17 years ago to give the Aboriginal people of Australia in the eyes of the law a free and equal place in society a whole pattern of discriminatory legislation existed. As my colleague, the honourable member for Flinders, pointed out, a great proportion of this discriminatory legislation was not based upon discrimination on racial grounds originally, but was part of the protective mantle which it was believed necessary to place around the Aboriginal people. Fortunately we have shed that paternalistic attitude.

The Social Services Act of 12 or 13 years ago discriminated against the Aboriginal people. We had a long campaign before free and equal voting rights were obtained for Aboriginal people, and the Queensland Government was the last to surrender on that account. The ordinances of the Australian Capital Territory which discriminated against Aboriginal people lingered until a few years ago. Discriminatory clauses were contained in health Acts of the various States and in the Post and Telegraph Act of this Parliament. The Constitution itself restricted the role of this Parliament concerning Aborigines; we have now removed that discrimination. However, there are still lingering areas of what I call administrative discrimination. I refer to the way in which the law is applied. It is true, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition pointed out, that it is not much good passing laws unless the application of the law is free and equal.

It is my concern - and, I believe, the concern of all people who have studied this matter - that in fact the Aboriginal people may well be equal before the law but not necessar ily equal before the law courts. Wherever one turns in Australia, one will find that Aborigines are more likely to be punished for the sins to which all humanity seems to be heir. I tabled a report earlier today concerning the Aboriginal people on the south coast of New South Wales. It showed that between 1st April 1964 and 31st March 1969. at Jervis Bay 16 Aboriginal people had been charged with drunkenness and found guilty, but no non-Aboriginal people were convicted of similar offences. I would like to think that the non-Aboriginal community of Australia was totally dedicated to sobriety. But I doubt that. This state of affairs can only occur because some form of discrimination, not necessarily conscious in the administration of the law in the courts but in the way the police operate and in the way the community accepts its duties in these matters, affects Aboriginal people more than it affects nonAboriginal people. This situation must be challenged.

It is true that the legal system, established initially by the previous Government and now to be developed further by the present Government, is aimed at removing that kind of discrimination. I think the honourable member for Flinders is a little astray in assuming that the last discriminatory legislation has been removed from the statute books. I only hope that he sends an autographed copy of his speech to my friend, the Premier of Queensland. The recent legislation in Queensland retains discriminatory clauses to which the Aboriginal and the island people of Queensland fall victim. The old Queensland Act was very restrictive and controlled people, property, movement, marriage and things of that nature. The new Act which was passed in 1971, but gazetted recently, transferred the control over the funds and property of Aboriginals and island people to the existing legislation. That measure is still retained.

Last weekend I had contact with people whose finances were being handled by the Queensland Government. Child endowment was being paid through official channels rather than directly to the mother. Of course, the situation on Aboriginal reserves removes a great deal of freedom from the Aboriginal people. There is still this challenge to be removed before we can say that the Aboriginal people are free and equal in the same sense as the non-Aboriginal people are. I congratulate my friend, the Minister for Immigration, for this action. He is a very good Minister for Immigration. Politically and administratively - I do not say personally because I do not use that sort of criterion in this place - he is a big improvement on his predecessor.

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