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Thursday, 5 December 1974
Page: 3191

Senator RAE (Tasmania) -The Bill with which we are concerned will override certain Queensland legislation relating to Aboriginal people in that State. The major problem, I suppose, with which we are concerned, is what is the basic interest of those people. I do not doubt that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) will say- and I accept his sinceritythat he believes that to take this action is in the best interests of those people. But there is a dearth of evidence to confirm the Government's view that the action it is taking is in the best interests and is considered to be in the best interests of those people. After all, if we look at the recent past history of performance by the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra, there is really not much evidence to suggest that there has been greater efficiency, greater sympathy or greater empathy flowing from the Department in Canberra than there has been from the Department in Queensland. 1 do not want this debate to proceed on a basis of a comparison of the Departments. I want to draw attention to the fact that no evidence has been produced so far, notwithstanding the debate just a few nights ago on the motion that the House adjourns, which would indicate that the action being taken by the Government is other than an action taken at its whim and probably against the will of a majority of the people who are living in the reserve communities in Queensland. This Bill really raises the question of the administration of Aboriginal affairs in Australia. It raises then the question of whether the Commonwealth at the moment- and I emphasise 'at the moment'- is in any position to look at anyone else and say: 'We know better. We can implement better than you can.' The Commonwealth's history since the change of government was admirably summed up by the Minister himself when he said that the implementation of the Government's policy had been a disaster. I just would add that it continues to be, notwithstanding the best efforts of the Minister who apparently is not receiving the sort of support from his Department that he would like.

I evidence, in relation to that, an example which occurred the other day when the Minister during a debate replied to Senator Lawrie. Senator Lawrie had said that public funds had been spent by the Minister's Department on transporting people to the Weipa conference held in October. The Minister denied this and denied it positively. I know the Minister well enough to know that he is a man who says what he believes and believes what he says. When he denied it positively he would not have done it carelessly. He would not have done it without having a reasonable basis for believing what he said was accurate. That belief must have come from his Department. He asserted positively that no such funds had been paid. It happened that I subsequently received affirmative proof of the orders that had been placed by his Department. I have copies of the orders for transport with the various charter services which were used.

I did ask a further question drawing the Minister 's attention to the situation and asking whether he had reconsidered the matter. He then did reconsider it, sought further information and obtained information which he supplied to the Senate in a statement, the unfortunate aspect of which was that although it did state that $4,800 had been spent of Commonwealth funds- notwithstanding the fact that the Minister had denied that previously- it did not in any way explain how the Minister came to be misled and how the Minister came to mislead the Senate. It did not explain that in any way. I can only assume that there was- as there has been in so many other areas- a breakdown between the Minister and his Department. Either he was prepared to assert something positively without knowing- I do not think that that is the case and I do not suggest it is the case- or, alternatively, he was clearly misled by his Department. I wonder whether, in relation to this Bill, he has not been misled in some way. The evidence would tend to support the view that a large number of the elected councils on the various reserves in Queensland do not want some of the provisions in this Bill. I read, only as an example, a telegram which I received from Mr John Watson, Chairman, Palm Island Council, Townsville.

Senator Cavanagh - Who sent it?

Senator RAE - The Minister may have a look at the telegram and work out who sent it.

Senator Cavanagh - Senator Bishoptold us.

Senator RAE - This is dated on a different day to that which Senator Bishop's investigations covered. I do not want to re-debate last week's nonsense that the Minister raised in this place. We debated that matter the other day. I simply reassert that I believe people are entitled to make their views known by telegram. It does not really matter who sends the telegram for them. While speaking about telegrams I will refer to some that the Minister has sent. I will read a telegram which is addressed to me at Parliament House, Canberra. It states:

Still concerned with new legislation. Please take no action on legislation till you hear our side. New legislation will undermine council authority and Palm Island way of Iiic.

That telegram was signed by John Watson, Chairman of the Palm Island Council, Townsville. If the Minister and other honourable senators on the other side of the chamber, believe that they are acting in the best interests of these people, it seems extraordinary to me that all the evidence which comes to me is totally against that conclusion. As was made clear last week, people from the various councils around Queensland- for instance, Mornington Council -object to the proposal in the Bill concerning the permit to enter Aboriginal reserves. The telegram from that council states:

Proposed law should be discussed by Advisory Council before any action by Australian Government.

That telegram is signed by Nelson Gavenor, Chairman of the Aboriginal Council. That telegram was also sent on a date different from the day on which we discussed some telegrams last week. There were more than 20 telegrams. There were 22 telegrams. I think the Minister referred to 2 1 telegrams but I think that there must have been one that he did not have last week.

Senator Cavanagh - The honourable senator is more popular than I am.

Senator RAE - Yes, with good reason- if I can just inject a little lightness into a serious matter. Further telegrams which I have received, include one from Les Stewart, Chairman of Cherbourg Aboriginal Council and of the Queensland Aboriginal Advisory Council. In a telegram to me he said:

On behalf of the Aboriginal Advisory Council I wish to strongly object to the present Bill before Parliament whereby present Councils will have no right to determine who visits and resides on their communities. We object to any new law which will take away our tribal right. We ask you to support us in every way to make sure we retain our rights. We assure you we have not even been consulted as to our views or wishes in regard to proposed new law. Further telegrams of protest sent to Prime Minister . . . Senators Cavanagh Lawrie Bonner Leader of the Opposition Mr Snedden and Mr Anthony Leader of the National Party.

That telegram is signed by Les Stewart, Chairman of the Cherbourg Aboriginal Council and Queensland Aboriginal Advisory Council. There are such a large number of telegrams of expressions of view that I find it very difficult to accept that all of these people are, over a period of time, simply acting on the instructions of or being directed by the Premier of Queensland, as was suggested the other day. The telegrams 1 have read today are ones which have been sent in the past few days, since the debate on the adjournment when the matter of telegrams was raised by the Minister. I think we can take it even further than that and say that, in relation to Aboriginal Affairs administration throughout Australia, the attitude of many is exemplified in this telegram which was sent to me from Alice Springs, lt states:

Crucial time in Aboriginal affairs. Aboriginal affairs must be taken out of the inflexible archaic bureaucratic institutions of Australian Public Service and a national Aboriginal statutory commission control and operated by elected Aboriginal people with a secretariat to implement its decisions. Well intentioned Labor Government Aboriginal policies are being screwed up.

Using that word seems to have become popular lately. It continues:

.   . And destroyed by Department of Aboriginal Affairs at the expense of our people. Widespread dissatisfaction with Department of Aboriginal Affairs amongst our people. Our views must be taken seriously.

That was signed by the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress. I mention it as some further indication of the views which have been expressed by Aboriginal people in Australia in the past week or two in relation to the administration of Aboriginal affairs by this Commonwealth Government. If we go further -

Senator Cavanagh - Does the honourable senator not have any more telegrams?

Senator RAE - Yes, I am going to read some more. I have another one sent by Mr Les Stewart to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on 2 December which is worth reading. It states:

After knowing what is in your Bill we are unable to accept assurances of Senator Cavanagh that we need not fear and all is well. It is our tribal right to say who we will accept and reject on reserves. We must retain this right otherwise there is reason for considerable fears as to our well being and our future. We sincerely hope you will respect our rights and delete from your Bill such clauses referring to entry and residence.

I do not think it is unreasonable when one has regard to the telegrams which I have read out to believe that there is at least a case for demonstrating that consultation has taken place. Is it not part of the Government's policy that there should be a right to self-determination amongst Aboriginal people? Is it not part of the Government's policy that there should be consultation with Aboriginal people? Yet these telegrams claim that there has not been adequate consultation. These telegrams claim that the people do not want what the Government is trying to force on them. I believe that we in the Senate would not be carrying out our duty were we to permit this Bill to be passed today without some demonstration, by way of a poll or otherwise, that this did reflect the wishes of the people concerned. My colleague Senator Bonner will be able to speak in some greater detail on that aspect.

What have been the results of the approach of this Government to Aboriginal affairs? Tents have been erected outside Parliament House, protests have been mounted against the Government's administration through the Department. We find that confrontations are being deliberately brought on between the Aboriginal people and either the Minister or the Department. There was a very dangerous situation not so long ago involving the New South Wales Legal Aid Service, when the Minister at first decided upon a confrontation policy while he was engaged in a tour of the north west of Australia. Fortunately, shortly afterwards he decided to pull back from the extreme confrontation which he had precipitatedand I applaud him for pulling back because I think that it was in the best interests of the administration of Aboriginal affairs in Australia that that confrontation which had been called on by the Minister was avoided. We also find protests being made in relation to almost all aspects of the administration of Aboriginal affairs. I am surprised to find myself in possession of a letter which again gives some idea of the way in which the policy on Aboriginal affairs in Australia is being administered.

Senator Cavanagh - Why are you surprised to find yourself in possession of it?

Senator RAE - Because it came to me by an unknown means. I do not know how it came to me, and I was just going to explain what it purports to be. It is a letter written by one Fred Fogarty from the Northern Territory. It refers to an aspect of the administration of Aboriginal affairs. I believe that there is a sufficient likelihood of its having a foundation to warrant my reading from it. It says, amongst other things, that so far as his case was concerned: . . the case was adjourned, sine die, a Latin word that means in the future, in my case it means never as the AttorneyGeneral Murphy rang Friday afternoon instructing my solicitor and the Crown Prosecutor what to do. I have an assurance that my case will never come to trial.

When something like this happens there is always someone in the Legislative Council that comes close to guessing the truth, in this case Letts.

He goes on to comment about a debate which took place in the Legislative Council. It refers to guessing the truth'. In other words, he was apparently one with sufficient perspicacity to see what had happened.

Senator Sir Magnus Cormack - Do you mean to say that the Attorney-General intervened with the defendant's lawyers?

Senator RAE - This is the claim which is made in this letter which I will be happy to table. I want to read something further from it.

Senator Keeffe - Can we get your assurance on that, or do we need a resolution?

Senator RAE - You have my assurance that I will table it. It continues:

I can safely say I am out of the woods, thinking back on all the riots in the NT, we are the only one that ever got away with it, funny, ours was the most serious we burnt and bashed the white man with chains and chased them to buggery the other only ran rampage, maybe threw a few spears, yet they got gaoled.

It is signed 'Fred Fogarty', and attached to it is a report of the court proceedings. Mr Fogarty 's case was reported in the Darwin Press as having been adjourned sine die upon the application of Mr Fogarty 's counsel, which was not opposed by the Crown Prosecutor.

Senator Cavanagh - He was convicted and gaoled. You are greatly out of date.

Senator RAE - I want to read this letter as to what he says happened -

Senator Keeffe - What is the date?

Senator RAE - It is dated 20 February 1974. 1 want to read what he says happened, so far as the Attorney-General was concerned, and the claim that he makes in relation to what is apparently the attitude of this man towards the administration of Aboriginal affairs in the Northern Territory.

Senator Keeffe - To whom was it addressed?

Senator RAE - I do not know, but it starts off by saying: 'Hullo dear friends at the National Black Theatre'. So I presume that it was addressed to someone at the National Black Theatre. I do not know any more than that. That is the letter. It is a letter which claims that the AttorneyGeneral intervened and directed that the case should not proceed, that it should be adjourned sine die.

Senator Cavanagh - That is not supported by the facts, because it did proceed.

Senator RAE - I raise it with the Minister so that he may be able to explain to us some time later why the case was adjourned, who intervened, why they intervened, whether it was after discussion with the Minister or not, and whether it is a fact that Senator Murphy did intervene. The case was undoubtedly adjourned, and Mr Fogarty felt that he had been able to obtain a freedom. I think it is a matter of curiosity why the Attorney-General should intervene in that way. I think it is a matter of some reasonable curiosity as to why the case was later continued. The Minister may be able to answer. It is the expression of a view, though, about the administration of Aboriginal affairs in Australia.

Returning to the matters more closely related to this Bill, I suggest to honourable senators that it would be difficult to claim that the record of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra is so good that it can claim that all wisdom and administrative efficiency reside with it and that there is none in the Department in Queensland. I think it would be very difficult for us to assume that the people living on the reserves in Queensland wish to have this type of legislation imposed upon them. But if it is so, and it is demonstrated to be so, obviously the Parliament should accede to those wishes and pass the legislation. But until that is demonstrated I think there is a very strong case for believing that the people do not wish to see their right to remain protected by the restricted entry provisions in relation to reserves taken away from them.

For that reason it is the Opposition's view that debate on this Bill should be adjourned to enable the Government to consult with the Aboriginal people living in the reserve communities in the State of Queensland and with their elected councils and other representative bodies, and further to ascertain, by a poll taken within those communities, the wishes of those people in relation to future restrictions upon the right of entry to those community areas. The procedure which will be adopted to assert that view is something which I will come to shortly. But I will summarise in this way: I think that we jointly share a concern to see that any legislation is in the best interests of, in this case, the Aboriginal people of Queensland.

Senator Cavanagh - You know you have no interest in the Aborigines in Queensland. You have a bigger interest in maintaining the rump government in Queensland.

Senator RAE - The 2 things may be synonymous. I do not pause to debate that, and I would not expect the Minister to agree that they were synonymous. There are others who might assert that the 2 things are synonymous, and in fact a number of the Aboriginal leaders in Queensland would assert that they are synonymous. The 2 things are the best interests of the Aboriginal people of Queensland and the interests of preserving a non-socialist government in Queensland. But it is a joint view that the interests of Aborigines in Queensland should be served. In the absence of any evidence to suggest that the Aborigines want the withdrawal of this restriction, and when there is a very strong prima facie case that they do not want it to be withdrawn but prefer to retain the protection which they regard that it gives to them, it is our view that this Government is not acting in their best interests in proceeding with this legislation.

We shall attempt to adjourn the debate on the Bill. If we fail to adjourn it we shall vote against the clauses that are opposed by those members of the Aboriginal communities who have made their views known by way of telegram and other contact both to the Government and the Opposition. At a later stage today I would propose that we move that the debate be adjourned. If that is carried, on the motion that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting or for a later hour, whichever the Minister would like, I would move that it be the first day of sitting in March 1975, to enable the Government to consult the Aboriginal people living in the reserve communities in Queensland, their elected councils and other bodies and further to ascertain, by poll taken within those communities, the wishes of those people in relation to future restrictions upon the right of entry to those community areas. The Opposition parties simply wish to see that the people are consulted, that their views are taken into account and that a Big Brother socialist government does not dictate to them what it thinks is in their best interests as opposed to what they think is in their best interests. This appears to us at the moment to be what is happening. We would need some sort of evidence such as a certified poll to indicate that what the Government proposes by way of removal of restrictions and the protection that it affords is in their best interests.

The restriction is no more than a restriction against an unqualified right of entry by any outsiders on to the reserve areas. It is regarded obviously by a large number of chairmen of the councils and by the councils of these Aboriginal communities as providing them with a protection which they value and which they think enables them to enjoy their life on the reserves free from interference which is unwanted by them. I can fully recognise that one would not expect to have that type of restriction imposed in our type of society, but if communities desire to have it and desire to continue to enjoy it and if it is quite clear that they do, why should they not be able to enjoy it? I put that very strongly. I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to consider paying particular attention to that point in his reply. Why should not people who want this sort of restriction be entitled to have it? Until such time as a poll has been taken in those communities there is an obvious difference of opinion as to whether they want it. There is certainly sufficient prima facie evidence to indicate that they are not anxious to change the current situation. For those reasons the Opposition will seek to have the debate adjourned with a view to moving that it be adjourned to 1 March so that a poll can be taken. If that motion is not successful we will at the Committee stage vote against the provisions of the Bill to which exception is taken.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Milliner)- Before I call Senator Keeffe, you indicated, Senator Rae, that you wish to seek leave to table some documents.

Senator RAE - Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I do.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Senator Cavanagh - I rise on a point of order. I question the proposed procedure. In opening the debate for the Opposition Senator Rae has said that at some stage the Opposition will move that the debate be adjourned. He indicated that the purpose for adjourning the debate was to conduct a poll. I submit that if the motion for adjournment has tags to it such as for the purpose of conducting a poll- for which some responsibility, I suppose, would rest on myself and my Department- it should be moved as an amendment to the motion for the second reading, because the main question is whether we want a poll, not whether the debate be adjourned. If it is to be a straight out debate on a motion for an adjournment, when we have been notified that after Opposition speakers give reasons why it should be adjourned someone will move that the debate be adjourned, I would respectfully submit that that is in breach of standing order 431 which does not permit any debate on a motion for adjournment. If this debate is to precede -

Senator Rae - I think the Minister has misunderstood me. May I explain again so that he does not spend a lot of time taking a point of order? If I may intervene by leave of the Senate, I suggested that there be a motion to adjourn the debate. If that were carried the next motion would be for the resumption of the debate. I would seek to word that motion in terms that I have supplied to the Acting Deputy President. So the procedure is not in breach of standing order 431.

Senator Cavanagh - With due respect, I submit that it is. I understand that at some time there will be a motion that the debate be adjourned. That motion must be put without debate. The first speaker in the debate has announced that he will move the adjournment of the debate and every speaker will give reasons why the debate should be adjourned. As debate on a motion for adjournment is not permitted, the Opposition gets over that by speaking to the Bill, and the adjournment motion will not be put until everyone has given the reasons it should be adjourned.

Senator Rae - I have endeavoured to be cooperative. That is what it boils down to. I have tried to enable this matter to be debated so that views could be expressed because we seek an opportunity for a poll of the views of the Queensland Aboriginal reserve community people to be taken.

Senator Cavanagh - Move it as an amendment to the motion for the recond reading.

Senator Rae - The best way to enable that to be done is to move for the adjournment in the way that I have suggested. If the Minister wishes to propose another course of action I do not think it will make any major difference provided there is an opportunity for everyone who wishes to speak to speak and there is a clear opportunity for us to have a vote on the concept. The concept is that the Bill should not become law until a poll has been taken. If the Minister wishes to propose another course I will try to be co-operative.

Senator Cavanagh - My proposed course is that it should be moved as an amendment to the motion for the second reading.

Senator Rae - I do not see that as being as efficient in this case because it does not carry any impact unless the Minister gives me an undertaking, if that motion were carried, that he would not proceed with the second reading.

Senator Cavanagh - I could not.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I have considered standing order 431. The question before the Senate is that the Bill be read a second time. Senator Rae has indicated that it is proposed to move an amendment. He has not moved the amendment. In those circumstances I rule that there is no merit in the point of order.

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