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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 2016

Senator BONNER (Queensland) - I wish to take up some of the Senate's time this evening to highlight some of the things which I believe to be completely wrong in regard to the establishment of the much vaunted National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. I want to bring to the attention of the Senate how this Committee, which is being established at the moment, came about. I believe- I know- that it had its birth within the tentacles of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Initially this organisation did not know or even understand anything about Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders because it was conceived in Victoria under the leadership of Mr Gordon Bryant, the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Of course, members of this organisation in that part of Australia would have known nothing about Torres Strait Islanders in particular, and very little about Aborigines.

The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders has been, and as I understand it still is, a radical organisation. Perhaps it may be right for that body to adopt a radical approach sometimes. When the former Minister took office last year he announced his intention of consulting with Aborigines. He formed, or set out to form what is today called the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. This Committee, of course, was the brainchild of the previous Government. But even when the previous Government proposed this move I did not agree with the then Minister on the establishment of the Consultative Committee as it is now being formed.

I have travelled around a lot, particularly in my own State of Queensland and I am finding that Aborigines are confused and that they have been brainwashed into what I believe can be only termed living separately and being separate from the rest of the Australian community. This is a kind of auto-apartheid as I see it. The Aboriginal people have been told and have been brainwashed into believing that the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee will be a separate Aboriginal parliament. How ludicrous it is to suggest that there will be an Aboriginal parliament within Australia. I firmly believe that there is room and need for consultation with Aboriginal people. But I believe that to have a separate parliament and a separate electoral roll on which only Aboriginal people will be listed will divide the Aboriginal people not only among themselves but also from the rest of the Australian community. I give a warning here and now that this will cause a lot more trouble than people seem to realise at the moment.

I want to read from a letter that was written to me and which was sent also to quite a number of other people including the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. It was written by an Aboriginal person who left the small Aboriginal community of Purgan which is outside Ipswich at a time when it was very difficult for an Aborigine to do many things for himself. This man worked hard, established himself and became one of the first Aboriginal licensed drainers in Australia. With the permission of the Senate I would like to read this letter which was sent also to many other responsible people. It states:

Dear Sir,

As an Aborigine I would like to protest about the formation of a National Aboriginal Consultative Committee for the following reasons:

1.   No one asked Aboriginal people whether they wanted the formation of such a committee or not.

2.   Even if Aboriginal people do want such a committee (and this has not been established) the time allocated for preparing this election is far too short- no State or Federal elections are run in such a short time with so little preparation.

3.   White people have set up this committee and now white people are going to tell us who is an Aborigine and who is not- see Parliamentary Debates, 5 June 1 973.

4.   I believe any council which has consultative powers only is useless- in fact Aborigines are still going to go begging and asking through a whole lot of red tape- they still can't make any decisions and 'their' representatives don't have the same powers as the Parliamentarians.

5.   Consequently I feel that a formation of such a committee would be a step backwards, indicative of segregation and allocating second class citizenship to Aboriginal people.

6.   I believe that a much more effective measure would be to make Aborigines more politically aware by means of education and publicity so that they enrol in State and Federal elections. They would then be in a position to set up their own party- as has been done by the pensioners etcetera -

Or even the DLP and other small groups- on the same level as another political party and nominate delegates to represent them on a platform they see as most important.

It was- signed by Mr Les Davidson of 825 Boonah Road, Churchill. That letter shows the interest of a man who has done a great deal of work amongst the Aboriginal people not only around Ipswich and Brisbane but also Cherbourg where he goes quite frequently and helps a lot of people. He knows the feelings of Aborigines in the same way as I do. When I think of the idea of putting into the minds of Aboriginal people that they are going to have a black Parliament what I see happening is something like what I read in an article entitled 'Pete's Week' in the 'Sunday Mail' of 18 November 1973. I do not criticise the 'Sunday Mail' for this article but I think it has a bearing on what people are saying about an Aboriginal or black Parliament.

The article takes a look at the Aboriginal Parliament and shows the kind of denigration which will come out of this Consultative Committee. A cartoon depicts the Speaker of the Aboriginal Parliament saying: 'If the honourable member continues in this vein, I'll point the bone at him'. Just below that there is another cartoon supposedly depicting a member of the black Parliament saying: 'And make it retrospective- to the day Captain Cook landed'. Further down there is another cartoon of an honourable gentleman from the Aboriginal Parliament standing up and saying: 'I'm afraid the venerable member is still living in the dream time '. This is the kind of thing which is floating around Australia now about the concept of the black Parliament. There is so much confusion about it.

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) in answer to a question I asked some weeks ago in this chamber has informed me that there are about 30,000 or 40,000 Aborigines enrolled out of a population of 162,000. Many Aborigines will not enrol on a separate Aboriginal roll. They do not want a separate Aboriginal Parliament. There are ways in which Aborigines can be consulted without electing or establishing what we might call an Aboriginal bureaucracy. Another well known Aborigine from Queensland was referred to in an article in the Australian' on 19 November 1973 under the big headlines: 'Aboriginals refuse to vote in their own poll'. I wish to quote some of the words of this very prominent Queensland- Aborigine. The article states:

Many Aboriginals have refusedto enrol to vote in the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee elections to be held on Saturday.

This is an article written by Mr L. McBride from Queensland. The article continues:

Only 1178 Aboriginals have enrolled in the electorate which takes in Brisbane and extends . . . north to Tin Can Bay and . . . west to Toowoomba.

Mr McBridesaid many Aboriginals did not want their names on the rolls.

Later on the article states:

Mr McBridesaid many candidates in Saturday's elections were newcomers to Aboriginal politics.

That is true. The article then quotes Mr McBride as saying:

Some candidates have only felt the necessity to be involved since they found out there was a good job at the end-

He is referring here to the end of the elections- and pretty good pay and privileges.

Senator Cavanagh - That is true in respect of politicians, you know.

Senator BONNER - I realise that politicians get good pay, but we have different roles to play. Our function here is to make the decisions but the Consultative Committee will act only in an advisory capacity to the Minister. There is so much confusion. We are told that the Committee will hold meetings in Canberra 3 times a year. What will be the functions of the members of the Committee for the rest of the year? What will they be doing? Will they be going around talking to the Aboriginal people in their districts or will they be sitting in a big office and waiting for the Aborigines to come and tell them what they want? I do not think there will be many Aborigines coming into the big, plush offices that the members of the Committee will have because basically the Aborigines who need advice are the Aborigines who will not come to a big. plush office in any city. They want people to go out and talk to them and to point out to them what benefits are available to them in the fields of education, employment and many other aspects on which they need advice.

I have spoken on a number of occasions on this matter and I have condemned the idea of this National Aboriginal Consultative Committee for the reasons that I have endeavoured to outline on this place. Those reasons have been substantiated by another very prominent Aborigine and many other Aborigines in my own State of Queensland. I feel that the time has come when I, as the first Aboriginal to be elected as a parliamentarian, should make my thoughts known in this Parliament where decisions are made. I realise that it is too late to do anything before the elections which will take place next Saturday. But I do feel that the Aborigines will be brainwashed into a kind of auto-apartheid situation where they will be a separate section in the Australian community, and I do not want that to happen. 1 want to see Aborigines become part and parcel of the general Australian scene. I want to see Aborigines encouraged to take part in politics.

Senator Poyser - How would you know what they want? You do not go out and ask them.

Senator BONNER - Noises are coming from someone on the other side of the chamber who probably would not know an Aborigine if he fell over him. I happen to be an Aborigine and I have suffered some of the problems that are suffered by Aborigines today. I am very concerned at the double standards that we see today.

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