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Thursday, 5 December 1974
Page: 3168

Senator KEEFFE (QUEENSLAND) - I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs whether he saw an article in the Brisbane Sunday 'Sun' last weekend which alleged that three young Aboriginal girls were taken from their beds in a church hostel in Rockhampton, Queensland, and locked in the local watchhouse because apparently they had walked off an Aboriginal settlement? Has the Minister inquired into these allegations? Was the newspaper correct in stating that the girls had committed no offence and that, in fact, no charges were subsequently laid against them. If this is the case, does the Minister regard this incident as a serious indictment of the present administration of Aboriginal affairs in the State of Queensland?

Senator CAVANAGH (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) -Yes. I have seen the article. I obtained a minute on the question because the account of the incident that I read seemed unrealistic. I do not think it could have happened anywhere other than Queensland. The matter is somewhat old now. It appears that on 12 September at 9 o'clock at night three Aboriginal girls aged 20, 16 and 14, were asleep at a local hostel in Rockhampton. The girls were all from Woorabinda Aboriginal settlement and had recently left the settlement. I am informed that they were picked up by the police and conveyed to the watchhourse where they were placed in one of the cells. The following day, 13 September, a solicitor retained by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Aid Service went to the watchhouse and discovered that the girls had not been arrested or charged with any offence. The charge book kept in the watchhouse was noted 'Females. Held at the request of the Woorabinda police pending return to settlement'. So apparently it was a common occurrence.

The solicitor made unsuccesssful inquiries of the State Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs and then saw the local inspector of police who advised him that the girls had been picked up at the request of the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs and that the police were led to believe that they would be acting lawfully in acceding to that request. After the solicitor's discussion with him the inspector agreed that the girls had been unlawfully detained, and he arranged for their immediate release. However, in my opinion the incident vividly illustrates the complete disregard for the rights of individuals that characterises the administration of the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs. In this case it can be seen that false information was given by the Department to the State police in order to enlist their aid. It is one of the things that I think should never happen. As I said in my opening remarks, it could not happen anywhere but in Queensland, but unfortunately it is happening today.

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