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Protection of Aborigines

Into the discussion--a warm one in the Colony--as to whether the present Aborigines Protection Board, which is independent of the Government, should be directly responsible only to the Crown, and should therefore, be abolished, and the charge of the natives left in the hands of the Executive at Perth, I do not mean to enter. There is much to be said on both sides. Those against the Board's independence say that it is absurd that the latter who are charged with all governmental duties respecting the superior race, the Whites, should not be trusted to deal also on their responsibility with the Blacks. Those in favour of the continuance of the Board's exceptional powers, say that the poor ignorant black subjects of the Queen should be specially protected against the possible greed and racial prejudices of their powerful neighbours, who have, after all, gradually pushed the poor creatures out of their ancient inheritance.

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The case for the Colonial Government is very ably put by the Premier, Sir John Forrest, in the following memorandum, addressed to the Administrator, for the Governor's perusal:--

Premier's Office,
      20th April, 1892.

Memorandum for His Excellency, The Administrator.

1. I have the honour to bring under your consideration t he question of the position occupied by the Aborigines Protection Board, constituted under the local Acts 50 Vic. No. 25 and 52 Vic. No. 24.

2. The 70th section of the Constitution Act provides the funds; for the use of this Board, which are expended without the slightest control on the part of the Ministry or Parliament.

3. The insertion of the 70th section in the Constitution Act, and the simultaneous passage of the Act 52 Vic. No. 24, were at the time viewed with much dissatisfaction by the people of the Colony, inasmuch as it was considered as a reflection upon their past treatment of the Aboriginal Race, besides being, in their opinion, totally unnecessary. It being, however, understood that the Imperial Government would insist on these Acts being passed before, granting Responsible Government, when they were introduced by the then Government no opposition was offered.

4, The Board thus constituted and supplied with ample means has had all existence of about 18 months, and has not in the slightest degree been interfered with, nor has it in any case sought advice from Ministers. The appointments to the Board have been made by the Governor without any reference (or consultation with Ministers, and the Board has managed its business as it pleased.

5. This Board, so carefully brought into existence by statute, and supplied with funds by the Constitution Act, is still to a very large extent dependent on the Government for

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carrying out its duties. While it purports to be a body independent of the Government, it is in reality greatly dependent upon it. Take, for instance, the machinery through which it distributes relief to the sick, the old, and the infirm. This has to be done by the magistrates, the Government medical officers, and the police; nor is any charge made against the £5,000 a year paid by the Government to the Board. As this vote is not all expended, and the unexpended portion is invested by the Board, the Government might fairly charge for all services rendered by the magistracy, the medical officers, and the police; or, seeing that the Government is opposed to the continuance of the Board, might even refuse to render any assistance, whatever, in which case the Board would be almost powerless to render relief throughout the limits of this very extensive Colony. Again, in regard to the protection of the aborigine, the Board is to a large extent powerless. It cannot execute warrants without the assistance of the Government through the police, and is, therefore, altogether dependent on the Government in this respect.

6. I do not remember, during the 18 months of its existence, any act or representation on the part of the Board with the object of protecting the aborigines, that duty being carried out now, as it always has been, by the Government.

7. The question asked by everyone is, What is the use of this Board, and with what object is £5,000 of the revenue of the Colony handed over to it? Can it be contended that the aborigines are better looked after by this irresponsible body of five gentlemen, who meet once a fortnight at Perth, than they would be by the Government, which is responsible to Parliament, and which has officers all over the Colony to carry out the duties? Or, is it because the Imperial Government believes that these five gentlemen, who meet once a fortnight in Perth, and who have but little machinery to do anything, are more competent and more trustworthy, or more likely to do what is just and right to the aboriginal race than Her Majesty's Government

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in this Colony? No one, I venture to say, will assent to either of these absurd propositions.

8. And yet it would appear that a feeling of distrust of the people of the Colony to act fairly in dealing with the Aboriginal Race was the only reason why this section found a place in the Constitution Act. There was really a misconception of the whole question. The paucity of the aborigines within the settled districts was not realised. In the South-Western corner of the Colony, with the exception of a few score scattered about here and there, they have entirely disappeared; while within what is called the settled portions of the Colony, the natives work on the sheep stations, and the police visit the stations and protect their interests when necessary. The natives who live on the borders of settlements, who are, as a rule, troublesome as sheep-stealers, the Board is altogether powerless to deal with, and those in the interior have no dealing yet with the white man.

9. The whole duty of this Board since its appointment has merely been to authorise the officers of the Government, viz., magistrates, medical officers, and police, to give relief to the sick, the old, and the infirm; and the Board has to rely upon these officers of the Government to bring these cases under its notice, or it would never hear of them. The number of natives living near Perth, and therefore such as may personally apply to the Board, is not more than a dozen.

10. Supposing the Government decided to leave the Board to carry out its duties without any assistance, what would. be the result? It is clear that the Board would be almost powerless to (to anything. The means at its disposal would be really in appointing agents here and there, and the old, infirm, and sick natives would in many places be entirely neglected. It would be impossible for the Government to permit this on the grounds of common humanity, and the Government finds itself in the position of having to look after the interests of the natives through its officers, and at the same time pay for the upkeep of

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a Board which has not the power or the machinery to do the work.

11. My object in writing this to you is that you may submit this memorandum to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State, and that he may be informed of the position of this question, and the views of this Government upon it.

12. It seems to me that the approval of the Imperial Government to the repeal of the 70th section of the Constitution Act, and the consequent placing of complete trust in the people of this Colony to do what is just and right to all Her Majesty's subjects, whether white or black, would be a graceful act, and would still further strengthen the bonds of loyalty and affection existing between the mother country and this portion of Her Majesty's Dominions.

13. Should the Secretary of State be disposed to take a contrary view of the question, the dissatisfaction now existing must increase, and it will be found that a Bill to repeal this section will be passed every year, or will either have to receive the Royal assent or be vetoed. It was with difficulty I was able to prevent a Bill being introduced at the recent session of Parliament, and if it had been introduced it must have been carried unanimously, as the feeling against this exceptional and unnecessary legislation is unanimous throughout the Colony.

14. Besides the reasons I have given there is also the Constitutional one, which is very important. By this exceptional legislation the Governor is placed in a position to act on his own responsibility, and not upon the advice of Ministers. This may easily place the Governor in direct conflict with his advisers, and result in much inconvenience and injury to all concerned. In no other part of Australia was it considered necessary to place the Governor in a similar position, by which he is involved to act on his own responsibility; and the people of this Colony naturally resent being treated differently to all other of the Australian Colonies, and they very justly, I think,

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consider it a grave reflection upon their honor and integrity of purpose.

15. I would, therefore, most strongly urge upon Lord Knutsford the advisability of acceding to the unanimous desire of the people of this Colony; and in urging this I am confident, that while the concession will remove a grievance and a just cause of complaint, it will be to the advantage of the Aboriginal Race.

(Sd.) JOHN FORREST,                

Last year a series of suggestions for the Board's beneficial interference, on behalf of its humble protegés, was made by its Chairman--the Hon. G. AV. Leake,, and these are, I believe, at the present time, being carried out.

Mr. Leake's contention was that the Aborigines Protection Board have £5,000 a year and more, to spend in the interests of the natives, and it is submitted that it would be beneficial if the Board could get a statement of the condition of the natives throughout the Colony, and of the relations in which they and the Europeans stand to each other.

With that view it would be well if the Board, could get a highly intelligent, educated gentleman, who could visit every station in the Colony, the various goldfields, and the pearl fisheries, from about Geraldtown to the DeGrey, and ascertain the number of natives, their mode of employment, their habits, their treatment, their diseases, and this is as much for the sake of statistical information, as of finding fault with either race.

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Of course there must be great differences in the treatment, by various Europeans, of the natives in their employ. For instance, I know of some squatters who feed their natives badly and work them hard. Then the natives run away, and warrants are issued by the magistrates for their arrest as absconders. Sheep are stolen, and this may arise from the fact that the native shepherds are few and insufficient, that they are imperfectly supervised, that they are poorly fed, that they suffer from the destruction of native game.

In any case these are matters which should be investigated, which has never been yet adequately done. The Tasmanian Aboriginals are extinct, those of South Australia are nearly extinct, those of New South Wales and Queensland are lessening in numbers, and it is surely desirable that some specimens of the surviving race should be preserved.

There are some stations that occur to me as I write--Darlot's, Lacey's, Wittenoom's, Bush's, Forrest's, Sholl's, Grant's--these are, I believe, models as to treatment of natives, and they might be taken as standards for comparison. Reports could be made, not to the general Government, but to the Board, who would impart them to the Government, and so place it in a position to judge to what extent "police protection," as a means of repression of native outrages, is needed.

Every station should be visited and reported on, the opinions of settlers and police gathered and examined, a vast body of valuable facts could be amassed,

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and thus some tangible results would follow from the expenditure of the sum apportioned from the General Revenue and placed at the disposal of the Board. Nor need it be feared by the squatters, or settlers, or gold diggers, that the Board is starting a system of espionage or interference. The motive of the Board is simply to obtain information, more or less accurate and practical, from all available sources, and these investigations should likewise extend to the blacks inhabiting country not as yet occupied by Europeans.

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