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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 1900

ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS ADDRESS BY THE PRIME MINISTER THE RT HON. JOHN GORTON AT THE CONFERNCE OF COMMONWEALTH AND STATE MINISTERS RESPONSIBLE FOR ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS AT PARLIAMENT HOUSE, MELBOURNE

Photo of Gorton, John

Gorton, John

Period of Service: 10/01/1968 to 10/03/1971

More information about Gorton, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 12/07/1968

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 1900

ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS
ADDRESS BY THE PRIME MINISTER
THE RI HON. JOHN GORTON
AT THE CONFERENCE OF COMMONWEALTH AND STATE
MINISTERS RESPONSIBLE FOR ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS
AT PARLIAMENT HOUSE, MELBOURNE .~ 4i
12 July 1968
AS a result of the 1967 Referendum the Commonwealth now shares with the
States powers and responsibilities for the advancement of our Aboriginals.
In fact, of course, the powers of the Commonwealth are paramount in the
sense that in any conflict of law its law will prevail, but there is no such
conflict at present and I have every confidence that none will arise. We are all
of us trying to do our best to advance our Aboriginals and I believe that we can
do this between us in an atmosphere of goodwill, and irrespective of whether
we are using a State or a Federal power.
Each State has a different problem-different numbers of Aboriginalsdifferent
levels of development-different priorities.
I take this'opportunity of congratulating the States on the vigour of their
approach to the question of Aboriginal welfare which has been manifest in their
policies over recent years. We recognise this and are ready and willing to play
our part, in full co-operation with the States, in the task of improving the pace
of our advance.
It will be recalled that the late Prime Minister, Mr Holt, had already made
some significant moves in this matter before his tragic death. He had appointed
a Commonwealth Council for Aboriginal Affairs, and had set up an Office of
Aboriginal Affairs within his own Department. It was as part of this plan that
the important conference of Federal and State officers was held early this year
to consider the whole Aboriginal situation.
At the end of February, I appointed the Hon. W. C. Wentworth especially
responsible to me for the development of Commonwealth policy and its cooperation
with that of the States and he is the Minister who will be working
directly with you.
Leaving aside the specific Commonwealth responsibilities for Federal Territories
I believe that the Minister and the Council, in their relations with the
States, should seek to discharge three main functions:

1. To allocate funds from the Commonwealth to the State for Aboriginal
advancement, using State machinery to use these funds for an agreed
purpose to the greatest possible extent.
2. To gather information regarding Aboriginal matters ( especially welfare)
and to act as a clearing house for such information both as between the
various States and as between States and Commonwealth.
3. Where appropriate to assist the States in the co-ordination of their policy
and in setting the general direction of the Australian approach to
Aboriginal advancement.
We propose to give the fullest co-operation to the States, and I am sure we
will get the fullest co-operation in return.
Our ultimate objective is, of course, the assimilation of Aboriginal Australians
as fully effective members of a single Australian society. This policy was enunciated
by the 1965 Conference between the States and the Commonwealth on
Aboriginal affairs and, from the Aboriginal viewpoint, there is nothing arbitrary
about it. I think I should quote again the exact text there decided upon:
' The policy of assimilation seeks that all persons of Aboriginal descent
will choose to attain a similar manner and standard of living to that of
other Australians, and live as members of a single Australian community.'
In other words, without destroying Aboriginal culture, we want to help our
Aboriginals to become an integral part of the rest of the Australian people, and
we want the Aboriginals themselves to have a voice in the pace at which this
process occurs.
We will measure policy proposals against this objective, and will wish to
avoid measures which are likely to set Aboriginal citizens permanently apart
from other Australians through having their development based upon separate
or different standards.
We believe that if Aboriginal Australians can be helped, and encouraged to
help themselves, to develop their aptitudes more fully, to accept further responsibility
for their own individual activities, to become self-supporting and thus
re-acquire their dignity of life-that then they will be readily attracted to and
welcomed to the assimilation we aim for. In this way they could contribute
from their own traditional culture to the complex of influences so diverse in
origin which makes up our national life, and, while sharing in this complex,
continue to take pride in their own contribution to it.
However, we recognise that, despite progress over the last quarter-century,
many Aboriginal Australians are subject to special handicaps which impede
their advancement. We are ready, therefore, to support additional action designed
to help Aboriginals overcome these handicaps in the transitional phase.
We propose to assist State policies directed towards these ends in three
specific areas: Health Education Housing

We have already had some information from the States on these aspects,
and we hope that some general principles in relation to them will be discussed
at this Conference. This will enable us to make definite arrangements with each
of the States without delay under each of these three headings.
We recognise that the needs of different States will need to be met in
different ways, so that a co-ordinated Australian policy need not be a uniform
one. It is because of this that we feel it is preferable to make individual arrangements
with the various States on the basis of the general principles which may
emerge from discussions at this Conference.
After we have received detailed proposals from the various States, and after
our own Budget has been brought down, we shall indicate to each State the way
in which we think we can best assist and the funds available for such assistance.
In dividing the available funds between the States, we shall get some guidance
from the size of their Aborginal populations, although we may not always conform
strictly to this rule.
Any amounts contributed by the Commonwealth will be in addition to the
normal annual allocations made at Premiers' Conferences and Loan Councils,
but we expect any Commonwealth assistance to be a net addition to and not in
substitution for any amount which would otherwise be spent by a State upon
Aboriginal welfare. And this will be a condition of the grant.
SWhile we believe that the major part of the application of this welfare policy
within each State should be done by the State Administration concerned, this
does not preclude the possibility of some independent Commonwealth action.
Clearly, in any such instance, we shall consult the States concerned before we
undertake any such measures within their boundaries.
It is clear that our Aboriginal population is now not only increasing, but is
also increasing at a faster rate than the Australian average. Unhappily, the
additional population is not yet self-supporting, but remains in large part
dependent upon charity, Social Service benefits and similar benefits. The continuance
of such a state of affairs is obviously incompatible with the general
concept of Aboriginal dignity which we all seek to foster. It should be a primary
aim of our policy to make our Aboriginals self-supporting as fully and as
quickly as possible. They are entitled to have the opportunity to attain their
economic independence. And indeed effective assimilation is dependent upon
Aboriginal citizens being able to stand on their own feet.
We are aware of, and welcome, the interest both of the States and of Church
and other organisations working towards this objective, and we propose to reinforce
what they are doing.
We have therefore approved in principle the provision of a Fund for special
assistance, including capital funds, for potentially viable enterprises to be established
for or by Aboriginals either indvidually or co-operatively. Provision of
such funds will not, of course, be unlimited or indiscriminate, and we shall be
glad of any comments which this conference may make upon the way in which
we should administer them. In due course we would hope to obtain advice and
help from the appropriate State authorities before approving any particular projects
within their boundaries.

This capital assistance will be available on an Australia-wide basis, and will
be controlled by the Commonwealth through its Office of Aboriginal Affairs.
We regard this proposal as an essential part of our policy of assisting our
Aboriginals to become self-supporting, whether it be in the field of primary or
secondary industry. In parallel with this, the Commonwealth Department of
Labour and National Service will undertake detailed surveys of employment
opportunities for Aboriginals and of the necessary measures to expand them
and to provide incentives for Aboriginals to take them up. In this, we shall hope
to work with the fullest co-operation of the corresponding State machinery.
In short, we propose to apply ourselves constructively to the task of
Aboriginal advancement, with special emphasis upon making our Aboriginal
citizens independent. We shall rely very largely upon the State administrations
and we are ready to receive and evaluate any suggestions which the States may
make to us, either at this conference or subsequently.
Over the short term, the kind of proposals we envisage will undoubtedly increase
our outlay upon Aboriginal welfare, but in proportion as our policy succeeds
( and I believe, between us, it has every chance of success) our outlay will
diminish. In spite of the extra outlay initially involved, I consider this policy to
be not just an extension of the ' hand-out' principle, but in fact the very antithesis.
Finally, may I add that we have noted the efforts being made by the States
to involve Aboriginals themselves in the administration of their own affairs and
in the exercise of proper authority among their own people. This is also an
essential part of restoring Aboriginal motivation. We welcome these efforts, and
will ourselves emulate them.
We feel too that this Conference should now be established on an annual
basis, and the Commonwealth would be pleased next year to act as the host for
it, should this Conference decide that that is what they wish.
By Authority: A. J. A RTHuR, Cwlth Govt PrinteCra, n berra

Transcript 1900