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Thursday, 14 September 1972
Page: 853

Senator KEEFFE (Queensland) - I rise to support the amendment which will be moved by my colleague Senator James McClelland. I am rather amazed at some of the statements which were made by Senator Durack in his long, waffling address to the Senate and in the somewhat hysterical, historical address which was delivered by Senator Byrne. Senator Durack went to great pains to point out that some of these ordinances had been apparently out of order - I use layman's terms - for some years. He went on to blame the Labor Government for allowing this to happen. This is very much like the small boy who whistles in the dark: He wants to make a noise to cover his own mistakes and fears. Senator Durack also said that, in his memory, this was the third occasion on which this chamber had been called upon to pass validating legislation, lt occurs to me that, if it were not for their parliamentary salaries, most lawyers on the Government side of the chamber would have difficulty in earning a living. I do not agree with Senator Byrne's description of Senator Durack's address to this chamber as a scholarly analysis.

The points that have been raised, very validly, by my colleague - the availability of the Gazette and whether it could be comprehended by people - I think were covered by one of the Government's supporters in another place when he spoke yesterday, and I believe that his words deserve quoting in this context. I refer to Mr Killen, the Minister for the Navy prior to the accession to power of the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon). This is what he said:

I come to the Ordinance itself which has led to the distress - I use that term with some feeling - in which this Parliament and the country find themselves. The Ordinance has a frugality of expression that almost borders on the incomprehensible. For example, it states that copies of it may be obtained from a Government publishing officer, P.O. Box 84, Canberra. I can understand that. It goes on to state that a copy, can be obtained 'over the counter from the AGPS book centres'. This is all very fine for those who are moving daily in the area where this jargon is used. May I ask those responsible this question - and the ultimate responsibility of course must be taken by the Government, because this is where there is a repository of responsibility in these matters - what on earth could the AGPS be to a person who had no connection with it?

Another Liberal member interjected and said that it could mean greater public schools. It is obvious that whilst some Government supporters may apologise for the actions of the Government and state these things in fairly clear terms, other Government supporters are equally as misled as are we on this side of the chamber who complain about the Government's actions. The Aboriginals themselves also have complained. The final appeal made by Mr Killen in the other place was:

The last thing I want to say is this: I make an appeal, a simple appeal, to the Government and to all the Ministers responsible in this matter. I hope that we will have the sense of grace to say that we do not propose to persist with any prosecutions in this matter. It was an inoperative ordinance, not an invalid one. Nevertheless I do not think that we do credit to ourselves or do credit to the traditions of the parliamentary system if we say: 'Well, so what? All sorts of thing flowed from it, therefore we propose to get our pound of flesh.' What is to be gained by this? Is the stature of anyone among us to be raised? Is the Government to be vindicated by pursuing such a course. Would the Government be chastised if it said: 'Well, we concede that there is a difficulty here.' My view is that the Government's, and more particularly, I believe, the Parliament's status and prestige would be enhanced if we could in a corporate fashion say: 'With good will, a mistake was made. We are determined to try to make amends and the only sensible way, in which we believe we can do that is to hold out a hand to you and to say that we do not propose to proceed further with these prosecutions.'

There is a former Minister of the Crown, a Government supporter, who adopts that enlightened attitude which is consistent with the attitude being adopted by the Opposition.

Let us go back and trace some of the history of this matter. Government speakers and others who speak in support of the Government remind me of the colonials of old. The people involved are black and you are out to get them. You do not care whether you have to pursue them to the gaol doors and close the locks yourselves. The history of the 'embassy' in front of Parliament House began on 26th January of this year, the day on which the Prime Minister said that he would bring down so-called enlightened legislation on the land rights of Aborigines. In fact, the legislation did nothing at all. It was not what the Aborigines wanted, and it was not what every fair thinking Australian wanted. But the Prime Minister was able to throw up a smoke screen and confuse some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.

In order to get this matter in its proper sequence, I cannot do better than to quote what my colleague in another place, Mr Beazley, said. He said:

I return to the' present Minister for the Interior and the extraordinary statement that the situation in front of Parliament House involved 'left wing unions and radicals'. Heavens above, the 'Embassy' had been there for about 7 months. I do not know what figures from left wing unions and radicals appeared there, but I would not have thought it would have mattered very much if people from left wing unions and radicals, or for that matter right wing unions, had appeared there. The ^Embassy' was a tolerated demonstration oyer a period of 7 months. Subsequently a pretence was made to the public in a series of utterances that what had been discovered . . .

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Withers) - Senator, I do not wish to interrupt, but would you relate your remarks to the Bill before the Senate?

Senator KEEFFE - I am. Mr Acting Deputy President, with ail due respect, I join issue with you there because I believe that the reason for the rush to get this Ordinance tidied up is merely to catch the Aboriginals, as well as some other people. There are 27 Aboriginals involved. Atn I right in suggesting that? Am I right in relating that to the Bill, Mr Acting Deputy President?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTI did not think that the debate was about that. But carry on. I will keep an ear open. I do not see any relevance so far.

Senator KEEFFE - 'Perhaps it might assist if I ask for leave to incorporate in Hansard that part of Mr Beazley's speech, reported in the House of Representatives Hansard of 15th August, 1972, from the top of page 20 down to the end of the first paragraph in the second column on page 20. Then my continuity will be kept up.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - ils leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) - . . was that the Commonwealth Government lacked legal power to cope with squatters on public parks. When the case was before Mr Justice Fox," he pointed out that the Commonwealth had at all times had power on an application to the court to remove the tent and that the Commissioner of Police and the Minister admitted that the Commonwealth had this power. The Minister did not seek that court procedure to remove the tent - as he wanted to - because there would have been a court case in which public arguments would have been put and reported. He wanted to avoid 2 things. He wanted to avoid a debate in the Parliament and he wanted to avoid any sort of discussion in the courts of civil rights.

The reaction of the Minister, apart from the completely unnecessary clashes which took place, has been to bring down a new ordinance - one which is unnecessary, as Mr Justice Fox pointed out, because of the already existing powers of the Commonwealth, but one in which significant changes in the law were made and made in a particlar direction to which all parties represented on the Senate committee which examines regulations and ordinances have always taken exception, namely, the procedure set out in section 8c (1.) which reads: 8c. - (1.) An officer of the Department of the Interior authorised in writing by the Minister may, by instrument in writing under his hand. certify that land described' in the instrument or by reference to a plan on or annexed to the instrument is unleased land that -

(a)   belongs to the Commonwealth;

(b)   is within the City Area; and

(c)   is not within an area for the time being declared by the Minister, by notice published in the "Gazette", to be, for the purposes of this Ordinance, a camping area.'

The old ordinance defined the city limits of Canberra quite clearly. We now have a situation in which the Minister may empower an officer and that officer by instrument in writing can declare that an area comes within the scope of the regulations. No process of publicity is necessary. It is just this exchange of defined power to one exercised from an instrument in writing which gives force and possible objectionable character to the regulations about which people may not know. The situation will be worse when this procedure is in force than what existed before the regulations were gazetted. The regulations were gazetted and they transformed the state of the law. Erroneous statements were given out from the Government to justify the promulgation of this ordinance to the effect that the Commonwealth lacked the power to prevent trespass. Therefore, the people occupying the land might have assumed that they had a legal right to be there - Since the Government itself suggested there was no law. In 40 minutes after a change in the law people outside were expected to know the law, and then the proceedings of ejection took place. This is what led to the clash.

Senator KEEFFE - Now I return to the question of the availability of the Gazette. The first occasion on which this matter arose was in July, and the attitude adopted then was unparliamentary and undemocratic. It had been forecast beforehand that the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt), who merely takes his orders from the Prime Minister, anyway, would wait until the Parliament was no longer in session before making any move to implement an ordinance to shift the Aborigines from the embassy' in front of Parliament House. The Labor Party, by a series of petitions presented in both Houses of the Parliament prior to the end of the last sessional period, indicated very clearly what its thoughts on the matter were at that time, as did many residents of this city.

We believe that the people living across the road had a real and genuine reason for demonstrating. The basic things for which they were looking were land rights in accordance with their requirements, better health, education, employment and housing facilities for themselves and for their people. The Aborigines were causing problems to no-one. In fact, the only vocal member on the Government side in this House who objected and tried to have the Aborigines removed was the gentleman who was sitting in the chair before you occupied it, Mr Acting Deputy President. I refer to Senator Wood.

It was significant that other members of the Government Parties did not make very much noise about the 'embassy'. However, that was not to be; the Aborigines were not to be left to make a peaceful demonstration. At the first opportunity, when members of the Opposition were scattered far and wide around Australia, on 2 occasions large numbers of police were brought in to remove the Aborigines. It is equally significant that when it was found in the courts a few days ago that the Ordinance was inoperative, some rush drafting of legislation was done to ensure that the Ordinance was made to operate for this specific purpose. At 1 a.m. on a very cold, wet and windy winter's morning 50 policemen moved in to move 7 people. Again on this occasion it was done in the dark of night after both Houses of Parliament had risen, and the Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood), together with the Minister for the Interior and the Prime Minister, must take full responsibility for such a stealthy act.

The other important point I want to make at this time arises from a letter that was forwarded to my colleague, Senator McLaren, by the Minister for the Interior on 13th September 1972, in reply to a telegram dated 20th July 1972. You will know, Mr Acting Deputy President, that these days Ministers, if they answer questions or correspondence at all, take a very lengthy period of time to do so. The Minister said:

The amendments to the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance are designed to prevent anyone camping on unleased land in the city area of Canberra unless that land has been approved for camping. These amendments were considered necessary because the laws of the Australian Capital Territory, unlike the laws of most Australian municipalities, did not previously proscribe camping.

That is a wrong interpretation, in any case. People who read Hansard will know that my colleague in another place, Mr Beazley, has pointed out very clearly that there are in existence laws under which certain action could have been taken, and that statement is backed by none other than a distinguished judge. The Minister went on to say:

Although the situation was highlighted by the campers outside Parliament House, it was the general situation which was of concern and it was necessary to protect Commonwealth lands from a situation in which minority groups can effectively take over land and thereby prevent its use by the community as a whole. It should be borne in mind that the campers had been in residence for almost six months, and could be regarded as having had a 'fair go' in publicising their cause, and that there had been considerable notice of the Government's proposed amendment to the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance. The Ordinance was discussed by A.C.T. Advisory Council on 13th June 1972 at which time it became public.

Incidentally, the Minister might have been broadminded enough to have seen fit to say that the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council rejected the proposed ordinance. He went on to say:

Indeed I saw representatives of the campers and had several discussions in which I made it clear that the Government was firm in its decision to remove the campers. I also made this quite clear on radio and television and in the Press. On Monday, 17th July 1972, the Monday before the Ordinance was gazetted, a senior officer of the A.C.T. Police visited the campers and informed them that the Government had approved the law. He advised them as to the effect of the law and offered any further assistance that they might require.

Out they were not given copies of the proposed ordinance at that time. It is significant that a member of this chamber - I refer to the Independent senator from Western Australia - said that it would not be of much use to give the Aborigines a copy of the 'Gazette' because they would not be able to read it. I remind him that almost all of the youngsters who camped across the road in front of Parliament House had at least a secondary education; many of them had reached matriculation standard; and several of them had commenced university courses.

Senator Webster - How many of them were Aborigines?

Senator KEEFFE - 'Under the definition of 'Aboriginal' which is accepted in the Australian community, anybody who has some Aboriginal blood and claims to be an Aboriginal is an Aboriginal. So, if Senator Webster wants to go into shades of colour he will find that he is mistaken in respect of any person with Aboriginal blood who claims to be an Aboriginal. I suggest that, if he has not anything more sensible than that to say, he refrain from interjecting.

Senator Webster - There was only one Aboriginal over there who erected a tent, and he arrived in a Jaguar.

Senator KEEFFE - Did you lend yours to him?

Senator Willesee - Senator Webster does not like Aborigines having cars.

Senator KEEFFE - No, they are not supposed to have cars; they are supposed to walk, ride pushbikes or hitch-hike, in the view of Senator Webster. But I happen to be talking to the intelligent senators on the Government side at the moment, so I will eliminate him from this discussion.

If this Government had any compassion at all it would pay compensation to the people who were injured in the confrontations between police and occupants of the embassy on the first 2 occasions. On the third occasion there was no violence; but there was damage to clothing, to tents and to persons in the first 2 confrontations. However, the matter goes even further than that, because as a result of the fact that the Ordinance is inoperative a lass named Barbara Russell today languishes in gaol. I understand from the discussion that occurred in another place that she will be required to obtain senior legal advice at her own cost before she has any chance of getting out of gaol, even though she may be there incorrectly.

Senator Rae - Of what was she convicted?

Senator KEEFFE - I presume that Senator Rae has read it all in the newspapers. I do not intend to waste my debating time giving him the details of the case. I refer now to the question I asked in this chamber this morning about how much public money had been involved in paying overtime to policemen and meeting all the other subsidiary costs. I thought that the Minister concerned, knowing that this debate was coming on today, would have made a real effort to obtain the information. I am led to believe that some thousands of dollars is involved. I do not know why this cover-up should go on. Either the Minister is completely irresponsible and does not want the information to be exposed to the public, or the amount of taxpayers' money expended is so great that he does not want it known before election day. One would think that anyone with responsibility and in a ministerial position these days, with the political situation as delicate as it is at the moment, would be inclined to obtain as soon as possible information such as that I have legitimately requested.

The whole history of this matter is wrapped up in a number of other things. It goes way beyond the lawns in front of Parliament House. The land rights issue is a very major one for the Aborigines. We had a kick-back in the Palm Island area last weekend, with a tragic happening there. In several States and in the Territories controlled by the Commonwealth things are screaming out loud to be done; but the Government adopts the ostrich-like attitude of burying its head in the sand and hoping that these things will not be found out. It has even reduced the debate on this measure today because lengthy debate would expose many other things and speakers from our side of the chamber would have more time to elaborate on them.

I wish to make a quick reference to Palm Island. I realise that Senator Bonner had published in the local Press in north Queensland yesterday a statement denying some of the things I said. I do not blame him for that because the wording of the statement was not his own and obviously had been-

Senator Rae - Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise to order. I draw your attention to the relevance rule. I forget the number of the standing order, but I will look it up if you wish.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Withers) - Order! I have already drawn Senator Keeffe's attention to the matter of relevance, and I assure Senator Rae that I am keeping an eye on Senator Keeffe.

Senator KEEFFE - I will finish the sentence on which I had started when the point of order was taken. I regret that Senator Bonner saw fit to make that statement which, quite obviously, was drafted for him and published on his behalf by either the Minister for Aboriginal and

Island Affairs in Queensland or the State Director of Aboriginal and Island Affairs. It certainly was not in Senator Bonner's language. I am not being funny when I say that.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! I ask the honourable senator to come back to the Bill.

Senator Bonner - I rise to order. I claim to have been misrepresented-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! If the honourable senator claims to have been misrepresented, he will have to wait until Senator Keeffe resumes his seat and then make a personal explanation. I again ask Senator Keeffe to come back to the Bill.

Senator KEEFFE - I do not propose to speak for a great deal longer, but there are a number of matters about which I must speak. I refer now to a document published by the Australian Council of Churches. I do not think it can be looked upon as a dangerous magazine.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! It is relevant to the Bill, is it?

Senator KEEFFE - It is relevant to the Bill because it deals with the rights of Aborigines, the very rights for which these people were fighting in occupying land in front of Parliament House. Faith Bandler, who is a highly respected leader in the Aboriginal groups, had this to say:

Now the Commonwealth has power to override the States. It's not so long ago, together with Denis Walker and Pastor Nicholls - now Sir Douglas Nicholls- and a few other people, that we had an interview with Mr McMahon. Unlike his predecessors, 1 thought him a very insecure little man. At least this is how he behaved in our presence, and we were very particular about his opinion of the Queensland Act. And in the course of discussion, which wasn't the pleasantest I assure y,ou, I reminded Mr McMahon that Mr Gorton, in January 1971, in Singapore, said that if the Queensland Government didn't remove its discriminatory legislation they would move in and do it for them. We told Mr McMahon this, but as you might remember he told us never to believe what we read in the Press.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! Senator Keeffe, you are a long way from the Bill. Please come back to it.

Senator KEEFFE - 4 contend that what I am referring to is the reason for Aboriginal people occupying the area outside Parliament House. They did that in order to get this story over and to highlight and publicise their requirements. I contend that what I am saying is completely consistent with the terms of the Bill. Faith Bandler continued:

He accused us of being liars in actual fact But the point I wanted to make is this: That the Commonwealth has got power to move in and override the State, and 'I think this ought to be borne in mind when we are talking about land rights for Aborigines.

The issue of land rights was probably the major reason why the Aboriginal embassy was estabished. As the result of a badly drafted ordinance that the Government introduced, the embassy was removed. In the dark of night, with the aid of torches and matches, you redrafted the ordinance and when you thought everybody was in bed, you sneaked out again-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Withers) - Order! Senator, I think that you should refer to the Government and not to me. I take it that you are addressing the Chair, and the Chair did not do these things.

Senator KEEFFE - I am not referring to the Chair.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - You should refer to the Government.

Senator KEEFFE - I thought that if one used the descriptive word 'you' it referred to your Government.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - No. It refers to the Chair.

Senator Willesee - The Chair is dissociating itself from the action of the Government.

Senator KEEFFE - I am sorry if you do not wish to be associated with the Government, Mr Acting Deputy President.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - If you continue on that track, Senator Keeffe, you will be in trouble. I am trying to point out to you that the Chair is not responsible for these things. I thought that you were addressing the Chair. Therefore, you should not say that the Chair has done this or that it has done something else. You should use the term the Government*.

Senator KEEFFE - Thank you. I draw to the attention of the Senate these paragraphs from the Charter of the United Nations because I think they are relevant to the discussion in which we are now engaged. The United Nations Charter states:

One of the purposes expressed in the United Nations Charter is 'To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion'.

If the people demonstrating across the road had been impoverished farmers who were not able to sell their grain, butter, sugar or the various other commodities produced from farms, not only would they not have been removed but also the Government would have arranged for them to have air conditioned accommodation on the lawns opposite Parliament House. If a Labor government had been in power, the members of the Opposition - that is, the members of the present Government - probably would have built this accommodation with their own hands and with their own money.

Let us consider this matter from a factual point of view. Our Aborigines represent less than 1 per cent of the total population of Australia. Because they are black and have been deprived for more than 200 years, in true colonial style, every member on the Government side - there is no exception - is prepared to continue to deprive them even of the right to demonstrate for what they believe to be justice.

Senator Jessop - What about the treatment of Aborigines in Western Australia?

Senator KEEFFE - In Western Australia the Aborigines under the new legislation will be .looked after better than Aborigines in any other State with the possible exception of South Australia. I suggest that the honourable senator should not interject along those lines. The declaration by the General Assembly of the United Nations made in 1963 states:

Article 1. Discrimination between human beings on the grounds of race, color or ethnic origin is an offence to human dignity and shall be condemned as a denial of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human

Rights, as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among nations and as a fact capable of disturbing peace and security among peoples.

Article 2. <1) No State, institution, group or individual shall make any discrimination whatsoever in matters of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the treatment of persons, groups or persons or institutions on the grounds of race, color or ethnic origin.

(2)   No State shall encourage, advocate or lend its support through police action or otherwise, to any discrimination based on race, color or ethnic origin by any group, institution or individual.

The Government has botched up the Ordinance. The Attorney-General is probably one of the worst Attorneys-General this country has ever seen politically and in respect of his ability to do his job. I say that with respect to the man himself because he has his weaknesses and I suppose they should not be held eternally against him. There is a basic weakness in the actual policy of this Government - the Government you support, Mr Acting Deputy President - in the way in which it has violated on racial grounds, I contend, those last 2 clauses of the United Nations Charter. The only decent way and the only compassionate way out of the mess in which the Government now finds itself is to accept the amendment which is to be moved by the Opposition.

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