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Debate shows tensions between state and federal government

When a fiery debate broke out in the House of Representatives over the government’s handling of rolling out payments to Aboriginal people, it revealed emerging issues in South Australia.

I have complained vigorously ... that the Playford Government in South Australia takes all the social service benefits to which the aborigines are entitled and gives them only a small handout ...

Clyde Cameron MP, 1961, p 1074
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About the artefact

Most Aboriginal people became eligible for government payments with the change to the Social Services Act in 1959. However, there were many ongoing issues in how Aboriginal people accessed payments.

In 1961, Aboriginal affairs were managed by the states and territories, rather than by the federal government. This created tension.

These Hansard excerpts capture these tensions in a fiery debate between state and federal government representatives about how payments had been rolled out to Aboriginal people. The discussions in the House of Representatives follow on from talks at the Native Welfare Conference in 1961.

The debate began when Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, described the rollout of payments to Aboriginal people as having ‘worked very smoothly’. Hasluck praised the efforts of the Minister for Social Services, Hugh Roberton, in seeing these changes through.

State officials and other attendees responded in a heated argument.

Clyde Cameron, a Labor representative from South Australia, said the government had dealt with the issue ‘belatedly’. He said he had pleaded with Prime Minister Robert Menzies directly because it was a ‘waste of time writing to the Minister of Social Services’.

Hasluck disagreed. He said Roberton had been a ‘strong campaigner’ for including Aboriginal people in the changes to the Social Services Act 1959.

Cameron brought up examples of issues from his state of South Australia. He said the South Australian Liberal Government was taking Aboriginal people's payments and only giving them a ‘small handout’. He said Roberton should direct the South Australian Premier to ‘cough up the money … to the people living on mission stations’. He also said the government should pay people directly instead of through the states.

Cameron continued delivering a passionate speech criticising the government over their treatment of Aboriginal people.

After input from other representatives, Malcolm Fraser, who would later become prime minister, responded to Cameron’s speech. He said Cameron ‘belittled the great advance that had been made by giving Aborigines the full social service and pension rights’. Fraser commended the government on its assimilation policy. He said the government showed ‘sympathy and understanding by its attitude in the field of social services’.

These excerpts are one of many examples of disagreements between state and federal government representatives about the process of delivering payments to Aboriginal people.

Source details

The full Hansard record of this discussion is available through ParlInfo on the Parliament of Australia website.


Australian House of Representatives (20 April 1961) Debates, HR16:1051–1055; 1072–1088.