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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 16. September 8th 1971


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During the recent anti-Apartheid campaign which accompanied the Springbok Rugby tour of Australia, it was suggested - whether out of genuine belief or concern, or as a way of avoiding the Springbok issue - that those protesting should first look at the Australian treatment of their own indigenous peoples before attacking the policies of another government. In this article, taken from the Adelaide S.R.C. paper "On Dit," the position of the Aboriginal in Australian society is examined.

We have no doubt that the inhumane laws of South Africa should be attacked where and when they can, but let it not detract from the fact that apartheid exists in this country too and that it is being applied in your name, for you are part of the society which by your silence condones and perpetuates it!

The Queensland "Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Affairs Act" 1965, is abhorent and repugnant. It denies the indigenous peoples of that state basic human rights and in the name of protection holds them in subjugation, erodes their pride and dignity, kills their initiative and generally imposes on them a sense of hopeless resignation to their inferior position in society. The Act herds them into Bantu-like reserves where their lives are controlled by despotic, Department appointed managers whose powers are reminiscent of the cotton-plantation-owners in the ante-bellum South. Their wages are controlled and as will be seen, often denied to them by those in authority.

In January 1971 at the Prime Ministers' Conference in Singapore, Mr. Gorton reiterated his pre-election promises of 1969 when he pledged that all forms of racialism would be abolished in Australia. He stated that the governments of Western Australia and Queensland had been ordered to repeal their race-laws within two yean. "If they did not, the Federal Government would repeal the laws for them." (The Australian, 20/1/71.)

However despite his pledge when taking office that all election promises would "without any reservations, be honored during the lifetime of this Parliament" (Hansard, 15/3/71), Mr. McMahon capitulated to the Queensland Premier Mr. Bjelke Peterson on 8th April indicating that the Act was designed to protect persons who without guidance and assistance could be easily exploited. Therefore it was not seen to be discriminatory and apart from minor details would be allowed to remain on the Statute books.

In South Africa apartheid provides a legal apparatus which regulates the lives of more than four-fifths of the population. In Queensland at least 30,000 Aborigines and Tones Strait Islanders are classified as "Assisted" and controlled by laws as oppressive as apartheid. When the act was introduced those Aboriginals living on reserves were automatically covered by it. However any Aboriginal or part-Aboriginal is liable to be declared Assisted, for if an Aboriginal is summonsed by the Director of the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs (Daia), or comes before a Court on any charge, and it is decided that he should be placed under the Act, then he can be subjected to all the legal and economic disabilities that this involves, even though he may be declared innocent of the particular charge. The Director has the power to grant or reject an application for exemption from the Act, regardless of the individual's wishes.

"It is a notable fact that Aborigines refer to the 'Unassisted' as 'Free men' which shows the degree to which they feel they are oppressed by the Act... not that all assisted Aborigines want to be exempted. As things stand exemption means that Aborigines must leave the reserve. Many Aborigines have lived in the reserves all their lives, their roots are there and so they are reluctant to leave." (Abschol Conference Report, 14/1/71.)

In South Africa an African may be removed with his dependants "to any place in a Bantu area where he has not lived before, has no relatives or friends and has no employment." (Apartheid in practice — published by the United Nations.) Under [unclear: 309-n] 34 of the Queensland Act the Daia has power to move an Assisted Aborigine from one reserve to any other or in the case of an individual living off a reserve, onto a reserve. In doing this the Department has the power to separate families. A non-resident wishing to enter the reserve cannot do so without the permission of the Manager. This means that children who have left a reserve to seek work elsewhere can be prevented from visiting their families. "An instance of this occurred in Townsville, where we discovered there is a list of fifty young people who on no account were to visit their families on Palm Island for Christmas . . . nor could the parents leave the reserve to visit the children without the permission of the manager." (Abschol Report on Queensland Trip, 1969-1970)

In South Africa "A 'Bantu Tribal Authority' consists of a Chief or Headman and a number of councillors. The Minister of Bantu Administration and Development may, at any time, depose any Chief or Headman, and cancel the appointment of any person chosen as a councillor by the Chief or Headman. . . (Apartheid in Practice.) In Queensland the Manager of the reserve appears to have more despotic control than the Chief in the Bantu. Each reserve is allowed to 'elect' representatives onto the Reserve Council. They arc the 'local government' of the reserve and as such are responsible for the 'good rule and government' of the reserve or community. However this democratic system is not as open as it seems. The council consists of four Assisted Aborigines, two of whom arc appointed directly by the Director (in reality by the Manager) and two by the Aborigines themselves. However any of these Councillors may be removed if the Manager so desires. An Abschol team which visited Queensland in 1969-70 reported, "We found instances of men who run last out of half-a-dozen candidates being appointed to the council by the Manager. Such practices hardly make for popular government." (Abschol report on Queensland.)

Furthermore, each order or resolution passed by the Council is subject to the will of the Manager, who may suspend such an order or resolution. The Manager also controls the Council funds and therefore has another effective method at his disposal to block any action he so wishes. (No appeal mechanism exists in respect of funds.)So much for democracy!

The crux of much of the discontent is due to the powers vested in the Manager and staff on the reserves. The Abschol team found on its survey in 1969-70 that, "The resentment of white control is so widespread and deep that it is said the situation is akin to a military occupation."

The most general powers of control are contained on regulations 10-13 of the Act and apply to every resident or visitor to the reserve. All must conform to a "reasonable standard of good conduct", must "obey all lawful instructions of the Director, District Officer, Manager, Councillors or other officers of such reserves", and must not commit "any act subversive of good order or discipline on a reserve." The Manager as senior officer is the one to decide which acts arc 'subversive' to good order and what interferes with nromal duties. The wide scope of these powers is easily susceptible to misuse and gives the Manager almost absolute power over the actions of all residents.

There are many disturbing stories circulating about how widely these powers are circumscribed and abused. On Palm Island for example, "A girl was tried for some crime and acquitted. The Manager used his power to intervene and the girl was convicted and jailed for three days until Father Sutherland intervened." (Queensland Abschol. 'Torres Strait Report 1970.")

The 90 days Detention law in South Africa is often quoted when the evils of apartheid are discussed. On Queensland reserves the Manager can enforce dormitory detention (House-arrest) at will for a period of up to six months. At the completion of this period the Manager may, after a report to the Director enforce the detention for a further unlimited period. On Palm Island, "One man said he had been sentenced to six months detention without knowing why. When he demanded to know the crime for which he was being punished, he was given another six weeks for insolence." (Abschol Report on Queensland.)

Despite their extensive powers over the lives of thousands of people, few of the Managers have received qualified training. Backgrounds of these men as reported by Abschol include, Army careers; one whose experience had been gained in South Africa; another of Dutch ancestry who had been a Plantation Manager in Ceylon; another who had been a pastrycook, and yet another who had been an Ambulance driver. "Certainly none of the staff were specifically trained to deal with the problems of individuals, only of discipline And the discipline varies from reserve to reserve." (Abschol Report on Queensland.)

Appeals are allowed, but it should be kept in mind that most adults on reserves have grown up with the idea that they have few if any rights and that they must always obey the white staff on the reserve. Their upbringing makes it unlikely that they will argue with the Manager and even less likely that they will make an appeal against his decision. If they do appeal or complain they know only too well how they can be harrassed and discriminated against. It is also important to realise that the standard of education attained by most adults is extremely low. Thus the high rate of illiteracy, lack of comprehension of rules and procedures implies heavy dependence on the white employees of the Department for assistance in their appeals against decisions of the Department. The most telling argument against the effectiveness of the appeal mechanism regarding administrative decisions is that it is very rarely used, despite continued complaints about these decisions. Thus whilst it may be true that the Queensland Full Court would take action against abuses of power by the Administration of the Act, it is highly unlikely that any Aborigine would bring such a complaint before the Court.

On each reserve there is an Aboriginal Court where jurisprudence is in the hands of two Aboriginal J.P.'s or at least three members of the Reserve Council. The members of the Court receive no training in their duties. Usually they do not comprehend the proceedings and are easily influenced by anyone who does. This, plus their natural desire not to get into the bad books of the Manager, gives him considerable control over their activities.

Yet another blatant denial of rights concerns the wages paid to Aboriginals. Under the Act 'A protector may direct employers or any employer to pay the whole or any portion of the wages of Aboriginals to himself or some other person on his behalf..." The employer however may retain a certain amount for keep and also part as pocket money which can be paid directly to the Aborigine. As for the rest of the money, this is appropriated and paid into the 'Aboriginal Welfare Fund'. This money is invested under the Fund so that a rate of interest is derived which is greater than that which would accrue if the deposits were invested individually. The difference between the sum of the interest at ordinary Savings Bank interest and the greater interest accruing from the total amount invested is then credited to the Welfare Fund. The money so accrued is substantial. In 1968-69 the interest amounted to 26,356 dollars. In 1969-70 it was 20,986 dollars. In 1970 according to the Queensland Auditor General's Report there was held in the Commonwealth Savings Bank Account 548,257 dollars (plus 75,966 dollars for Thursday Island), belonging to Assisted Aborigines. What in fact is happening is that the Aborigines who are already receiving minimal wages are 'forced' to contribute to their own welfare!

It is in the interests of the Department to discourage withdrawals in order to maximise the interest accruing to the Welfare Fund. Ample evidence is available to show that Aboriginals are denied access to their Bank books, that they are refused permission to withdraw money from their own accounts and that private accounts have been appropriated from the Commonwealth Bank by the police in Queensland when it has come to the notice of the authorities that such private accounts exist.

Besides the denial of the right to utilise their own earnings as they so desire. Aborigines are not assured of receiving award rates as they can be classified as 'slow' or 'retarded', a practice easily abused in order to ensure a source of cheap labor. Yet another parallel with South Africa where there are differential rates for Blacks and Whiles doing the same job!

Again, under the Act any Assisted Aborigine working outside a reserve can be withdrawn from that work by the whim of the Director. (R.72.) On the reserve of course his employment opportunities are dictated by the whim of officials. Even when fully employed the Aborigines arc paid wages hardly conducive to a decent standard of living and this must account in large degree for the widespread incidence of malnutrition on Queensland reserves.

In January 1971, sixty delegates representing Aborigines and Aboriginal Rights groups throughout Queensland, at the Townsville Conference, passed a motion which pointed out that "Wages on Communities are too low to allow parents to care for themselves and their children."

Under another imposition of the 1965 Act we find that Assisted Aborigines and Islanders are denied the right to buy, sell, lend, borrow or acquire anything through hire-purchase without the approval of the District Officer. (Sect. 28.) The District Officer may also take control of any share that the Assisted Aborigine has in business. The Act therefore smacks of all the worst features of the 19th century English Poor Law. The Act creates a culture of poverty out of which the Aborigine finds it impossible to climb.

Why should Queensland hiding behind so called 'State Rights' be allowed to place such a discriminatory act on the Statute Books when the Federal Government has been given powers under referendum to terminate such legislation? It is intolerable that the rule of law has become so perverted as to permit power to pass to a Government department which is allowed to make special rules for individuals touching every facet of their life and freedom. One law for the Black and one for the White! Apartheid!