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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3280

Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - in reply- Mr Deputy President, when the debate on this Bill was adjourned last week I believe we had reached the stage that I was to reply to the second reading debate. I sought the adjournment of the debate at that time to get some other Bills on the record. I suppose that last week a lot may have been said that perhaps would not have been said but for the fact that there was a State election on Saturday, because many accusations were made, particularly about the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, myself as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and what operates in other States, to which one would be justified in replying. Because today is one of the last few days of the session and there is a need to clear up business on the notice paper, I do not think it is necessary to go into all those details now. I think honourable senators' minds are made up on what is to be done. I have an idea that there is an agreement that there will simply be opposition to 2 clauses at the Committee stage -

Senator Rae - I shall speak very briefly and Senator Bonner wishes to speak.

Senator CAVANAGH -That will be at the Committee stage?

Senator Rae - Yes.

Senator CAVANAGH -Much of what has been said about why this legislation should not apply can be dealt with at the Committee stage, therefore there is no reason to go into it now. I want to make 2 points in relation to the Bill. This Bill imposes no restriction on any person. It is not a Bill that prescribes a law which someone in Queensland has to observe as a restriction imposed upon him. It removes restrictions imposed upon Aborigines under Queensland laws. It supersedes the Queensland laws that descriminate against Aborigines. If this Bill becomes law, an Aboriginal will be able to do things that he cannot do at the present time. All we are ensuring by this Bill is that an Aboriginal on a reserve has the same rights and privileges as an Aboriginal off a reserve. The law that applies to an Aboriginal off a reserve in Queensland should apply to an Aboriginal when he is on a reserve. This Bill applies only to Aborigines. If

Les Stewart is asked by his tribal elders to impose a ban on the Minister's going to Cherbourg, this Bill does not affect his right to do so. Only Aborigines have a right to go on a reserve. This restricts the application of the Bill. It will not be an offence if an Aboriginal is on a reserve without a permit to be there. Aborigines can be excluded from a reserve because of all sorts of conduct in breach of the law in Queensland but the position today is that they must have a permit. The Aboriginal council can issue a permit for one month. A permit for more than a month has to be issued by the council and by the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Queensland. It is not a question of the town council's having the right to say who shall be on a reserve. It is a question of a departmental official having the right to say who is allowed on an Aboriginal reserve. The effect of this has been that people have been prevented from going back to their tribal lands and from rejoining their families on the settlements. It has also resulted in those who are not wanted on the settlements being removed.

I am informed that on Friday and Saturday, the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Queensland sent chartered planes to Palm Island to remove people from the reserve. I know of no reason for this other than the fact that in the Queensland elections these people would have voted for the Labor Party or perhaps assisted the Labor Party in the election. These people were transported to a place where they were amongst strangers, where they were not known. When I approached a parent of one of the respected members who was removed from the reserve, he told me that it was not the actions of the Aboriginal council but the white policemen. It was not the will of the Aboriginal council, but of the policemen who would obviously be acting on instructions from someone unrelated to the council itself. It would have to be someone who had the power to order their removal. The police would lack that power unless they could accuse a person of some form of misconduct or activity against the law. The Opposition wants to maintain the right of officials in the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs to say who shall go on to reserves.

Senator Rae - That is not so, senator. You know that.

Senator CAVANAGH - It is so. It is the effect of your opposition. Honourable senators opposite have not suggested any alternative wording. Senator Rae justified his attitude and said, in effect: 'Why should people who want such restrictions not have them?' As a lawyer Senator

Rae would know there is no need for laws if everyone can do what he likes. We impose laws to put restrictions on people who do not want the restrictions although their conduct offends some one else. The whole basis of the law is to protect the majority. That is why laws are framed. Even if one accepted the phoney telegrams from the chairmen of the councils- telegrams which had as their inspiration the original false telegram from the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs- one would say: 'No. The whole position is that we, as a community, have the responsibility to extend freedoms and human rights to everyone in Australia'. As I said, we, as members of the Parliament, have a greater responsibility. No one would suggest that, as a party to the International Labor Organisation, we should not endorse or ratify the convention concerning the protection and integration of indigenous and other tribal and semi-tribal populations in dependent countries.

I think Opposition senators will agree with me that under ILO Convention 107 we have a responsibility. However, we cannot ratify that Convention until such time as we get an overriding law in Queensland that will give freedom to the indigenous people. There should not be a separate law in Queensland applying to indigenous people as distinct from Europeans. That is the whole purpose of the legislation. We have discussed with the Attorney-General's Department whether we could ratify this agreement if the Opposition 's move were successful and the right of entry was not free in reserves in Queensland. Our attention was drawn to Article 12 of the Convention, which states: 'The populations concerned shall not be removed without their free consent from their habitual territories except in accordance with national laws and regulations for reasons relating to national security, or in the interest of national economic development or the health of the said population'. Therefore, under international law, people can be removed from a reserve if there is a question of security, if the economic well-being of the people is involved, or if someone is suffering from an infectious disease, thus protecting the rest of the community. However, an official should not have had the right to tell people they could not remain on Palm Island last Saturday. Such conditions must not prevail if we are to meet our international obligations. Despite what has been said, this is not an election issue and I hope the Opposition will reconsider its attitude and enable us to have unanimity on this legislation which is to ensure the freedom and the rights of the Aboriginal people. Why should a law apply in Queensland which does not apply in any other State? Is it suggested that Aboriginals in Queensland are more difficult to get on with than other Aboriginals? Why cannot the same freedoms apply in Queensland as apply in other parts of Australia? I ask the Senate to approve the second reading.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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