Senate debates

Friday, 12 June 2020


Indigenous Australians

5:30 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to express my deep concern at the Prime Minister's hurtful and, I must say, ignorant comments yesterday when he claimed there was no slavery in Australia. Today he attempted to wind back those comments by denying our history and saying one of the principles of the First Fleet was to not have lawful slavery and that that was indeed the case. To the Prime Minister: there was slavery in Australia and it was sanctioned by law. We had a slave trade in this country. Generations of colonisers and Australians profited from the exploitation and abuse of First Nations peoples and Pacific islanders. There is no question that slavery is unfortunately a part of our nation's history. These attempts to whitewash and erase history are deeply traumatising for First Nations peoples and for the broader community as well, knowing and hearing this happened. I'd argue that many First Nations peoples still feel the effects today.

Slavery emerged in Australia in the 19th century and the system didn't end until well into the 20th century. Legislation in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland facilitated the enslavement of First Nations peoples. Just take the Aboriginal Ordinance 1918, which allowed the forced recruitment of First Nations workers in the Northern Territory and legislated the non-payment of wages. In Queensland, there was a licensed system that allowed for the recruitment of First Nations peoples without their consent. First Nations peoples were forced to work for tobacco and flour, but, let me be clear, working for rations is slavery. First Nations peoples in Australia were made to work on pearl farms and on pastoral stations for nothing. Members of the stolen generations were denied their wages, education and childhood while working as domestic servants or farmhands after they were forcibly removed from their families.

Throughout the 19th century, around 62,500 Pacific islanders were transported to Australia and enslaved to work in the sugarcane fields of Queensland and New South Wales. The practice was known as blackbirding, a phrase which comes from the African slave trade. Pacific islanders were kidnapped, exploited and transferred as an asset when property was sold. In some cases entire male populations were kidnapped.

Last year the Queensland government settled a landmark federal class action. They agreed to pay $190 million in compensation to First Nations peoples who had their wages stolen by the government. The judge found that First Nations workers were, 'controlled by government-appointed superintendents or protectors in relation to their ability or capacity to earn income, own property, move or travel to areas outside the settlements, marry or even engage in customary native practices.' Not being paid for work or being told who you can marry is slavery. That's part of that court case.

This ruling is just the tip of the iceberg. First Nations peoples are still fighting for justice and stolen wages, including in my home state of Western Australia. First Nations peoples had their land stolen, their labour stolen and their children stolen. This is the truth of our colonial history. The effects are still being felt today.

I urge all members in this place to end the silence and the denial. It is time for truth-telling, listening and healing as we stand with First Nations peoples to address the unfinished business in this country of which we have a lot. We will not successfully close the gap until we make sure that we do tell the truth and we do go through a healing process in this country. It is a key part of closing the gap. The Prime Minister denied it and then didn't really apologise, compounding the mistake of saying that slavery did not happen in this country. If he's going to try to apologise, he should do it properly and acknowledge that it did occur—because then he tried to say it didn't occur in New South Wales. Quite clearly it did. Acknowledge the truth.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

): It was quite interesting to listen to Senator Siewert's comments in saying that they weren't paid the wages. It was an understanding there at the time that a lot of the Aboriginals went to the properties and were given food and shelter and looked after, and they were happy. When they brought in wages, those Aboriginals then moved on. They didn't have shelter. They had nothing done for them. They didn't know how to. So it's a two-way street here.

I'm not denying what has happened in the past, and it is a crying shame. That will never happen again. But to keep dragging it up and making Australians feel that they aren't welcome in this country, that we stole their country—what has happened in the past can never change. We are all Australians together to enjoy this beautiful country together, united, but I'm sick of the division that's happening and that was quite evident last Saturday with the placards out there reading 'Black Lives Matter'.

I've raised on the floor of parliament this week that 'all lives matter', but that's of no interest to the other members on the floor of this chamber—other than one other Senator: Senator Malcolm Roberts. That is a crying shame because you're letting a lot of Australians down by not supporting 'all lives matter'. What does it matter if you actually say that? What is the problem? Are you too scared to understand that you are appealing to these lefties like the Greens pushing their agenda—these elitists who are allowing the whole system of victimisation? Didn't Rudd say sorry? Hasn't there been compensation? How much longer has this got to go on?

I just want to ask some questions here. Who's an Aboriginal? I'll tell you what: since 1971, at the first census, there were about 116,000. Now we've increased 459 per cent to 798,400. Why? I'll tell you why. The definition of 'Aboriginal' continues to be contentious and unclear in many cases. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies provides an outline of a three-step working criteria for confirming Aboriginality, and this is usually accepted by government agencies and community organisations. The three points are: being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, identifying as an Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander person or being accepted as such by a community in which you live or formerly lived. So we're getting people out there, possibly as white as me, claiming to be Aboriginal. We're basing our laws and funding on the fact that you're claiming to be Aboriginal. That's why there has been the increase of 459 per cent. It's a bandwagon. It's an industry. That's what we've created.

We're not looking at people on an individual needs basis. I've got people who are white who are sleeping in cars with their children. They can't get housing. They are disadvantaged. So jobs, health, education—everyone should be treated equally. But, because you ticked the box that says you're Aboriginal, you can have the benefits, like ABSTUDY. That's quite interesting: school term allowances of around $500 a year to pay for school supplies, away-from-base payments and reimbursement costs. ABSTUDY payments are also available to those serving jail sentences. You've got a fortnightly living allowance of $1,074 for those studying for their master's or doctorate. You've got the master's and doctorate relocation allowance of approximately $1,500, along with away-from-base travel allowance of up to $2,080 annually. These are all things in education. Then you go into legal services, home loans, health, royalties and mining. In the Northern Territory, the Aboriginal Benefit Account has $426 million.

Today Malcolm Roberts put up a notice of motion that was based on facts. He notes the 2020 Australian Institute of Criminology report Deaths in custody in Australia 2017-18 but was denied leave in the parliament here to state the facts. It says that in 2017-18 total deaths in police custody and custody-related operations were three Indigenous persons and 14 non-Indigenous persons. So the facts that they're out there advocating aren't the truth, but you won't allow the truth to be told here, because it doesn't suit your agenda. There are a lot more things that I wanted to say, but I will continue to raise this— (Time expired)