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Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3362

Senator McAULIFFE (QUEENSLAND) - Has the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs seen an article in the 'Sydney Morning Herald ' last Saturday to the effect that descendants of Pacific islanders brought to Australia as slave labour last century are planning an appeal to the United Nations against what they allege is racial discrimination by Federal and State governments in Australia? Will the Minister advise the Senate of the position in Australia with respect of Pacific islanders? Does he agree with those persons quoted in the article last Saturday that the Government is acting in a discriminatory manner against them?

Senator CAVANAGH - Yes, I saw the article. I do not agree that the Government is acting in a discriminatory way against that ethnic group. I think the Constitution permits the making of special laws for any race of people other than normal Australians. Therefore I think the Government would be capable of making special laws for Pacific islanders or their descendants. However, my portfolio of Aboriginal Affairs is under Government direction. We have given a wide interpretation to Aboriginal affairs but that is the extent to which my portfolio goes and the extent to which my Department is able to help. Some people have applied for special assistance as Aborigines but they have had to be rejected, of necessity, because they could claim no Aboriginality although they were dark people of Pacific islands descent.

I believe the article claimed that we were encouraging such people to claim to be Aborigines for the purpose of getting some benefits. While we accept a wide definition for Aboriginals and Aboriginal groups, there is no great inquiry as to the identity of each member of a group; in fact some groups have some members who are not Aboriginals. It could well be that by making false declarations some Pacific islanders are getting some benefits from the Department. This is fraudulent, of course, and is liable to action if fraud can be proved. I suppose some people might claim that if we are going to treat every ethnic group separately we should take in all minority ethnic groups, such as migrants who come here. I have a charter now only in respect of Aboriginals.

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