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Indigenous Research

National Indigenous Policy Development

As responsibility for Indigenous people was retained by each of the States after Federation in 1901 & there was not an explicit power in the Commonwealth Constitution for the Federal government to legislate to supplant the State's exclusive jurisdiction, it was necessary to create a complex & cumbersome administrative cross jurisdictional mechanism to achieve consistency in approach throughout Australia. Indeed, because of long standing reluctance by some of the States to relinquish control it still remains difficult to determine if there are national policies across the various areas concerning Indigenous people.

Commonwealth-State forums

It is instructive to appreciate that the first joint Commonwealth & State forum which attempted to develop a consistent national approach to Indigenous affairs was held in Canberra on 21 - 23 April 1937. Although it would appear there was reluctance by some of the States & the Northern Territory (NT) towards developing national policies to supplant their own parochial approaches, following the second national joint forum in 1948, meetings occurred with growing frequency:

  • Conference of Commonwealth & State Aboriginal Authorities (in Canberra on 21 - 23 April 1937)
    • Click here to view or download a PDF version (4.8Mb) of the proceedings
  • Conference of Commonwealth & State Aboriginal Authorities (in Canberra on 3 February 1948)
    • Click here to view or download a PDF version (1.9Mb) of the proceedings
  • Native Welfare Conference 1951 (in Canberra on 3-4 September 1951)
    • Click here to view or download a PDF version (6.4Mb) of the proceedings
  • Native Welfare Conference 1961 (in Canberra on 26-27 January 1961)
    • Click here to view or download a PDF version (983k) of the agenda
    • Click here to view or download a PDF version (2.7Mb) of the proceedings
  • Aboriginal Welfare Conference of Commonwealth & State Authorities 1963 (in Darwin on 11-12 July 1963)
  • Aboriginal Welfare Conference of Commonwealth & State Authorities 1964 (in Canberra on 5 May 1964)
  • Aboriginal Welfare Conference of Commonwealth & State Authorities 1965 (in Adelaide on 21-22 July 1965
  • Aboriginal Welfare Conference of Commonwealth & State Authorities 1966 (at Thursday Island on 7-14 October 1966)
  • Aboriginal Welfare Conference of Commonwealth & State Authorities 1967 (in Perth on 21 July 1967)
  • Aboriginal Welfare Conference of Commonwealth & State Authorities 1968 (in Melbourne on 12 July 1968)

The realisation that the Federal Parliament needed to become more involved in shaping a national approach to improve the circumstances of Indigenous people, because of the deficiencies of the separate State based approaches, is revealed in a speech on 8 June 1950 given in the House of Representatives by Paul Hasluck, who in 1951 was appointed Minister for Territories in the Menzies Government.

Click here to view or download a PDF version (1.2Mb) of his June 1950 speech.

At the 1961 Native Welfare Conference the Commonwealth & the States agreed on a national policy of assimilation, which meant that

' ... all aborigines and part-aborigines are expected eventually to attain the same manner of living as other Australians and to live as members of a single Australian community enjoying the same rights and privileges, accepting the same responsibilities, observing the same customs and influenced by the same beliefs, hopes and loyalties as other Australians. Thus, any special measures taken for aborigines and part-aborigines are regarded as temporary measures not based on colour but intended to meet their need for special care and assistance to protect them from any ill effects of sudden change and to assist them to make the transition from one stage to another in such a way as will be favourable to their future social, economic and political advancement'. (page 1)

Click here to view or download a PDF version (631k) of the speech by Paul Hasluck, the Minister for Territories, given to the House of Representatives on 20 April 1961, which formally confirmed the adoption of this policy.

Note: Click here to go the Australian Institute of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website, which has digitised copies of a number of important historical reports.

National administrative structures

The approach followed over the three decades up to the late 1960s, which largely involved deliberations confined to departmental heads & their relevant minister, meant that to a large extent direct input by Indigenous peoples into national policy was marginalised & very limited.

It is worth remembering that the original 1901 Constitution contained two provisions explicitly relating to Indigenous people. There was the 'race power', in s. 51(xxvi), which provided that the Federal Parliament was only permitted to make laws with respect to 'the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it was deemed necessary to make special laws'.

This first provision meant that Indigenous affairs remained within the jurisdiction of the States and therefore the Federal Parliament had little or no role to play in Indigenous affairs. The second provision was in s. 127 of the Constitution, which stated that 'in reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted'.

The 1967 referendum removed section 127 & amended s. 51(xxvi), so that the Federal parliament was able to pass special laws relating to Indigenous peoples, including the direct provision of services & programs. Following the 1967 Constitutional referendum the Federal government began to assume a greater role in policy-making & providing services to Indigenous people. The Gorton Liberal government established a Council for Aboriginal Affairs, constituted with a membership of three non-Indigenous men appointed by the Government. It also established an Office of Aboriginal Affairs within the Prime Minister's Department & appointed a Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs under the Prime Minister.

However, by the early 1970s, following the election of the Whitlam government in December 1972, the Federal government assumed a greater role in developing Indigenous policy. This marked the adoption of processes to directly involve Indigenous people in decision making & consultative processes, in contrast to the earlier approach. The Whitlam government established the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) in 1973, which had roles of both policy making & administering Indigenous policies.

In November 1973 the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC) was established, constituted as a national elected body of Indigenous representatives. This was replaced in May 1977 by the Fraser government with the National Aboriginal Conference, which continued to operate until it was disbanded by the Hawke Government in June 1985. After the passing of the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989, the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) commenced in March 1990, when it took over key functions previously undertaken by the DAA.

As a statutory body ATSIC was constituted through the creation of a large number of elected regional councils and a national board of Indigenous representatives. ATSIC was abolished in March 2005 following the repeal of the Act.

In August 1991 the Hawke Government established the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR) under the provisions of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991. This statutory body consisted of a body of 25 appointed members, 14 of whom were Indigenous people & the remaining 11 drawn from the wider community. The CAR had a legislated life of 10 years, up to 1 January 2001, the centenerary of Australian federation.

In January 2001 Reconciliation Australia, a non-profit organisation, was established to continue the promotion & recognition of the importance of reconciliation. Click here to go to their website.

State Indigenous Policy Development

A number of administrative approaches have been adopted by governments in Western Australia (WA) to close control & manage the State's Indigenous inhabitants. There have been a number of phases, referred to by terms such as protectionism, assimilation, self determination & self management. Over the time from colonisation in 1829 up to the present, Indigenous people in WA have been officially described at different times in legislation & departmental nomenclature as Aborigines, half-castes & natives. For instance, there is the current State Department of Aboriginal Affairs, whereas in another department (Department of Health) there is an Office of Aboriginal Health. In constrast, the Commonwealth uses the term Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) when referring to Indigenous Australians.

The close regulation of many aspects of the lives of Indigenous people was achieved through the statutory position of the Chief Protector of Aborigines, which operated in WA from 1898 to 1936. This system, which was also followed in the other Australian states, was preceded by the establishment in 1886 of the Aborigines Protection Board, which appointed Local Protectors throughout the State. The Chief Protectors in WA were:

  • 1898 - 1907: Henry Prinsep
  • 1907 - 1915: Charles Gales
  • 1915 - 1936: AO (Auber) Neville

In 1936 the title of Chief Protector was changed to Commissioner of Native Affairs & subsequently renamed the Commissioner of Native Welfare in June 1955. This title was abolished in June 1972. The Commissioners who administered this portfolio were:

  • 1936 - March 1940: AO (Auber) Neville
  • March 1940 - April 1947: FL (Sonny) Bray
  • August 1948 - February 1962: SG (Stan) Middleton
  • February 1962 - June 1972: FE (Frank) Gare

For most of WA's history as a colony & then as a State, the administrative structures related to Indigenous peoples largely operated apart from mainstream services. This meant that health, hospital, educational & welfare related services were at various times largely delivered by separate organisations, which were separate from services accessed by the remainder of the community. This meant in effect a quasi-apartheid structure operated at different times in the State & which resulted in differential levels of public services determined according to race rather than to need.

This separate provision of key services was reinforced by specific discriminatory regulations which restricted movement, place of residence, employment conditions, the right to marry, access to alcohol & many other civil rights of the Indigenous population, For instance, it was only in December 1963 that the Chief Protector's legal power as the guardian of every Indigenous person was repealed by the Native Welfare Act 1963, a provision that had been codified by the Aborigines Act 1905.

In mid 1972 when the Department of Native Welfare (NWD) was abolished & its welfare functions were transferred to the Department of Community Welfare, this meant that for the first time in WA State welfare services were 'mainstreamed' for Indigenous people. At the same time other responsibilities previously undertaken by the NWD, such as planning, assessment & heritage listing of Indigenous cultural materials & management of sacred sites were shifted to the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority (AAPA), which had been established by the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act 1972.

Departmental administrative arrangements

  • 1829 - 1885: British Colonial Secretary
  • 1886 - March 1898: Aborigines Protection Board (established by statute)
  • April 1898 - December 1908: Aborigines Department
  • January 1909 - December 1919: Department of Aborigines & Fisheries (merger of two departments due to economic conditions)
  • January 1920 - December 1925:
    • Department of North West: Control above 25 degrees latitude south
    • Department of Fisheries: Control below 25 degrees latitude south
  • January 1926 - December 1935: Aborigines Department
  • January 1936 - December 1954: Department of Native Affairs
  • January 1955 - June 1972: Department of Native Welfare
  • June 1972 - October 1994: Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority
  • November 1994 - June 2001: Aboriginal Affairs Department
  • July 2001 - June 2013 Department of Indigenous Affairs
  • July 2013 - present: Department of Aboriginal Affairs

Welfare services

  • 1908 - January 1917: Public Charities & State Children's Department
  • January 1917 - December 1927: State Children's Department
  • December 1927 - June 1972: Child Welfare Department
  • July 1972 - December 1984: Department of Community Welfare (assumed welfare functions of Native Welfare Department & replaced Child Welfare Department)
  • January 1985 - October 1992: Department for Community Services
  • October 1992 - June 1995: Department for Community Development
  • July 1995 - June 2001: Department for Family & Children's Services
  • July 2001 - June 2007: Department for Community Development
  • July 2007 - June 2013: Department for Child Protection
  • July 2007 - present: Department for Communities
  • July 2013 - present: Department for Child Protection & Family Support

Royal Commissions

Click on the following links to view or download copies of published reports of Royal Commissions which have been specifically concerned with or included sections on Indigenous issues. Not all reports have been converted into a digital form & therefore are only available in hard copy.

Note: Click here to go the Australian Institute of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website, which has digitised copies of a number of important historical reports.

  • Royal Commission Into the Treatment of Aboriginal Native Prisoners 1884 [2.1Mb]
    Chaired by John Forrest
  • Royal Commission Into the Penal System of the Colony 1899
    Chaired by Adam Jameson
  • Royal Commission on the Condition of the Natives 1905
    Chaired by Walter E Roth [Available from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Studies]
  • Royal Commission into the Treatment of Aborigines by the Canning Exploration Party 15 January - 5 February 1908 1908
    Chaired by JM Finnerty, G Taylor & CF Gale
    The report of the Royal Commission was apparently not tabled in Parliament.
    Transcripts were published by Hesperian Press in 2010 with a collection of other materials edited by Bianchi P et al, Canning Stock Route Royal Commission
  • Royal Commission Into the Killing of Aborigines in East Kimberley 1927 [14.8Mb]
    Chaired by George Wood
  • Royal Commission Into the Condition & Treatment of Aborigines 1935 [4.2Mb]
    Chaired by Henry Moseley
  • Royal Commission Into the Well Being of Persons of Aboriginal Descent in Western Australia 1974
    Chaired by LC Furnell
  • Laverton Royal Commission 1976
    Chaired by GD Clarkson

Select Committees

Click on the following links to view or download copies of published reports of Select Committees which have been specifically concerned with or included sections on Indigenous issues. Not all reports have been converted into a digital form & therefore are only available in hard copy.

Note: Click here to go the Australian Institute of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website, which has digitised copies of a number of important historical reports.

  • Select Committee Relative to Aboriginal Natives 1871 [262Kb]
  • Select Committee to Promote Effeiciency of Charitable Institutions Bill 1874 [319Kb]
  • Select Committee on the Aboriginal Native Offenders Bill 1883 [344Kb]
  • Select Committee on the Treatment & Condition of Aboriginal Natives 1885 [365Kb]
  • Select Committee on the Aborigines Protection Bill 1886 [360Kb]
  • Select Committee Into Native Welfare Conditions in the Laverton-Warburton Range Area 1956 [2Mb]
    Chaired by W Grayden MLA
  • Special Committee on Native Matters 1958 [3.4Mb]
    Chaired by FE Gare
  • Select Committee on Native Title Rights 1997 [1.7Mb]
    Chaired by Tom Stephens MLC
  • Select Committee on Reserves (Reserve 43131) Bill 2003 2004 [1.9Mb]
    Chaired by Peter Foss MLC

Surveys & reviews

Click here to view or download a copy a report, Survey of native affairs, conducted by FEA Bateman (a Magistrate) which was tabled in the WA Parliament in June 1948.

Note: Click here to go the Australian Institute of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website, which has digitised copies of a number of important historical reports.

This page: www.planitaerth.com/indigenous.html