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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 2408

ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS POLICY - STATEMENT BY THE PRIME MINSTER, THE RT HON WILLIAM MCMAHON - TO THE CONFERENCE OF COMMONWEALTH AND STATE MINISTERS RESPONSIBLE FOR ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS AT CAIRNS - 23 APRIL 1971

Photo of McMahon, William

McMahon, William

Period of Service: 10/03/1971 to 05/12/1972

More information about McMahon, William on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 23/04/1971

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 2408

ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS POLICY
STATEMENT BY THE PRIME MINISTER
The Rt Hon. William McMahon
TO THE CONFERENCE OF COMMONWEALTH AND STATE
MINISTERS RESPONSIBLE FOR ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS
AT CAIRNS
23 April1971
I am sorry not to be able today to meet the Ministers responsible for
Aboriginal affairs throughout Australia. It is, however, appropriate that I
should take this opportunity early in the life of my Government to declare
the profound concern I and my Government have for the advancement of
Aboriginal Australians and our determination to move steadily and firmly
towards the solution of the many problems which confront us in achieving
it. At the same time I would like to give a brief outline of some of the principles
underlying our policies and our administration of them.
I believe that the problems of racial differences and the evils of poverty,
ignorance, prejudice and discrimination which so often go with them are
among the most urgent and most difficult in the world today. At a time.
when the moral indignation of the world is directed at these evils it is important
for our own sense of humanity and for our relations with the rest of the
world that our determination to deal effectively with them in our own
society should not be in doubt. While we intend to proceed with discretion
and care, we will not allow prejudice or temporary financial difficulties to
stand in the way of more effective action to deal with these intensely human
problems. Let me say a little about fundamental objectives. I do not like attempts to
embody complex policies in single words like assimilation or integration,
capable as they are of varied interpretations and acquiring often irrational
associations. We believe that Aboriginal Australians should be assisted as
individuals and, if they wish, as groups to hold effective and respected places
within one Australian society with equal access to the rights and opportunities
it provides and accepting responsibilities towards it. At the same time

they should be encouraged and assisted to preserve and develop their culture
their languages, traditions and arts so that these can become living elements
in the diverse culture of the Australian society. My Government's policy will
be directed to these ends.
I welcome this meeting especially as a symbol of our genuinely federal
approach to this problem. Aboriginal affairs is not a single functional responsibility
like most other portfolios. It is a general care for the whole welfare of
a minority people with a variety of special problems. Housing, education,
health, employment, economic opportunity, civil liberties the foundations
of community advancement are in their general aspects the responsibility
of a number of Ministers and their Departments, sometimes in a State and
sometimes in the Commonwealth. Aboriginal advancement must be built
upon the same foundations. Hence I believe that, to the extent practicable,
we should move towards devolving upon individual Ministers and their Departments
the administration of those aspects of policies for Aboriginal advancement
for which they are responsible for the rest of the community.
It will, as I see it, be the function of Ministers responsible for Aboriginal
affairs, with the active interest of the Prime Minister, and in the States, I
hope, the Premier, to develop policy, to co-ordinate different components of
it, and to check up on its balance and effectiveness. Since responsibility for
many of these components of policy lies in the State sphere we look to you
to participate fully and to give to policies and administration a genuinely
local quality and flavour. You may rely upon the genuine co-operation of
my Government in your efforts.
In my own Government I intend that the Minister responsible for Aboriginal
affairs will have my strong personal interest and support. It will be his
task to work out, in collaboration with his colleagues in functional departments
and with the Minister for the Interior, policies to meet the special
needs and problems of Aborigines.
For this purpose I shall establish a special Ministerial Committee presided
over by the Minister. He will, with the aid of this Committee, be concerned
to present these various policies as a coherent whole and to ensure their
effective balance and co-ordination.
In this work the Minister and the Ministerial Committee will be advised by
the Council and Office of Aboriginal Affairs whose functions and powers I
am taking steps to clarify and re-state. The close liaison which has developed
between the Council and Office and their opposite numbers in the States
will, I hope, be strengthened even further.

I have asked the Council, in consultation with appropriate Commonwealth
and State Departments and authorities, to review urgently existing Commonwealth
programmes for the advancement of Aboriginal citizens and to advise
me through the Minister on a programme of action which can be put into
effect progressively. This programme will build on the special welfare activities
designed to improve the health, housing, education and vocational
training of Aborigines now being carried out with Commonwealth financial
support primarily through the States.
The programme will be concerned to increase the economic strength and
independence of Aborigines by widening their employment opportunities and
by assisting them into potentially successful enterprises both as individuals
and as communities. Attention will be devoted to the search for opportunities
for Aborigines in areas with which they have traditional links. For instance
we hope, with the collaboration between the Commonwealth and the States,
to find opportunities for them in conservation-type enterprises and activities
which may include forestry, flood mitigation, rehabilitation of the natural
environment and the development of national parks with special Aboriginal
interests. But in parallel with these efforts we will try, by training, accommodation
and placement, to assist those willing to move to areas and centres of
greater opportunity.
Consideration will be given to an appropriate policy for Aborigines and
the land, ensuring to continuing Aboriginal groups effective access to land for
recreational and ceremonial purposes as well as for the development of enterprises.
I am happy to inform Ministers that discussions with the States, following
the agreement reached at this conference a year ago to examine remaining
legislation which appears to discriminate against Aborigines, have proceeded
amicably and promise well for a successful outcome. Thereafter it will be our
task, with, I believe, the support of the great mass of the Australian people,
to move towards the complete enjoyment of normal civil liberties by Aborigines
generally.
We believe that this will not wholly be achieved until Aboriginal citizens
are given the-fullest opportunity to demonstrate the richness of their own
cultural life and its potential as a component in our general diverse culture.
Consequently we intend to assist Aborigines to protect and develop their
own languages, arts, traditions and general culture and to help educate the
community generally to understand, respect and enjoy the contribution
Aborigines can make to the richness and diversity of our national life.

Finally we believe that Aborigines must be helped to take an increasing
part in the management of their own affairs. We welcome the moves that have
been taken to develop State, regional and local councils and other representative
and consultative bodies in Aboriginal communities and hope that this
programme can be stimulated. There is scope for programmes of consultation
with Aboriginal groups to be further developed and in particular for types of
organizations to be studied which may build up decision making and action
by Aborigines themselves. Interesting experiments are in process with organizations
in community development and group economic enterprises. We will
encourage and help their further progress.
My Government recognises that much has already been achieved in health,
education, housing, vocational training, placement in employment and in
economic development. However it sees continued and substantial progress
in Aboriginal affairs as the test of our community's determination to end
racial discrimination in our midst and to deal with Aboriginal Australians
with respect, justice, humanity and compassion. If existing programmes can
be built upon effectively on the lines I have described I believe we can achieve
a break-through to a new level of performance. I welcome your collaboration
in proving that we can measure up to this test in the eyes of the world and to
the satisfaction of our own conscience.
I wish you well in your deliberations.

Transcript 2408