Page:Aboriginal welfare 1937.djvu/23

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.


deal with persons in possession of opium. The act contains a proviso that it shall he a defence if the person can show that the drugs have been issued on the proscription of a qualified medical officer. Provision is also made to deal with persons who introduce liquor on reserves, and to punish aborigines found in the possession of liquor. The act recognises that there are many respectable half-castes, and, accordingly provision is made for their exemption. Any half-caste who holds a certificate of exemption may obtain a drink. The onus is placed on the publican of ascertaining if such a customer is so exempt.

Mr. PETTITT.—The act of New South Wales has a short provision in section 9 which has proved effective in dealing with the supply of liquor to natives. It also contains a satisfactory definition of "liquor" which was amended last year to include methylated spirits.

Mr. MORRIS.—The Dangerous Drugs Act of New South Wales in most far-reaching in its effect, and meets the situation.

Mr. CHAPMAN.—The control of poisons in Victoria is most stringent.

Mr. PETTITT.—Although the New South Wales act defines an aboriginal as a full-blooded or half-caste black, the definition goes further and includes the words "any person having apparently an admixture of aboriginal blood". There have not been many instances in which objection has been taken to the provision preventing such people from obtaining drink. It may be desirable that the act of New South Wales should go further and provide that it shall be an offence for an aboriginal to be found in the possession of liquor.

Mr. NEVILLE.—One man who claimed that he was the offspring of two half-castes successfully contested a prosecution, and, consequently, the definition had to be altered.

In regard to poisons, difficulty arose because of the number of natives who used strychnine in large quantities in the destruction of vermin. On two occasions, strychnine purchased for poisoning vermin was thought to be flour, with the result that 30 or 40 natives died. There have been other instances in which deliberate poisoning has been suspected. It is now an offence to supply these people with poison. Section 67 of the act provides that any person who, without a permit from the protector, supplies any native with any poison or noxious substance shall be guilty of an offence. The supply of poison is always under the control of the protector. There is no definition of "noxious substance".

Mr. McLEAN.—The act of South Australia contains no provision for controlling the supply of liquor to aborigines; that matter is dealt with under the Licensing Act, which deals with the supply of liquor to any aboriginal native of Australia or any half-caste of that race.

Mr. CHAPMAN.—I ask leave to amend the motion to read—

That in any amendment of the law provision be made to restrict or control the supply of intoxicating liquors and poisons to natives, and that the definition of "liquor" include methylated spirits.

Dr. COOK.—The courts do not regard methylated spirits as a spirituous liquor.

Resolved

That uniform legislation be adopted to provide that the supply of intoxicating liquors (including methylated spirits) to natives as defined in the new definition, shall be an offence.

TRAFFIC IN OPIUM.

Dr. COOK.—There is a tendency to believe that legislation to control the traffic in opium actually controls it. That is not so in fact. In the Northern Territory the traffic in opium is one of the most undesirable features associated with the degradation of the aborigines. There is a comparatively large Chinese population in the Territory, and for many years numbers of Chinese there have smoked opium. The retail price in Darwin is about £16 for a 5-oz. tin. Consequently, those engaged in the traffic have sought a market for the dross, or charcoal, which remains after the opium has been smoked. This dross is put up in packets similar to A.P.C. powders and sold to the aborigines. In order to purchase opium at the enhanced price the Chinese have had to find a market for the dross, and they are selling it to the aborigines. For this reason, we have endeavoured to prevent the employment of aborigines by the Chinese, but we have been been advised that we cannot legally exclude a Chinese who is Australian-born from his rights unless we can establish that a definite offence has been committed. I suggested to the department that in order to control this trade we should enter into it ourselves. We could import opium at about £1 an ounce from Malaya. Perhaps the confiscated opium would supply all needs. It could be issued to Chinese certified by a medical officer as addicts, and subsequent issues could be made to depend upon the return of the dross for destruction. The aborigines who are habitues could be placed in institutions for treatment for the cure of the habit. In this way, opium could he made available to Chinese addicts at a price which would make smuggling unattractive. This system would prevent an extension of the smoking habit. The Customs Department rejected my proposal. It was said, among other things, that as Australia was a signatory to the International Convention controlling opium it was quite impossible for the Government to take up the matter. My reply is that the Convention, which was designed ultimately to eliminate the use of opium for smoking, has failed to achieve that end after a 30 years trial. We are entitled therefore to try some other method. If the price of opium could be reduced, and the dross controlled, the aborigines could undoubtedly be protected. The Customs Department has twice rejected my proposal.

Mr. BLEAKLEY.—Queensland is very interested in this subject. Dr. Cook's proposal, though it would be regarded as reactionary by many people, is well worthy of consideration. Undoubtedly the Aborigines obtain the dross. In Queensland they will pay almost any price for it. They mix the ash in water for drinking. I do not know how this suggestion would he received in Queensland, but it is worthy of consideration.

Professor CLELAND.—Although the proposal seems, at first sight, to be radical, I shall support it, for its adoption would undoubtedly materially reduce the ill-effects on the native inhabitants of opium smoking. I can see no other system than that of licensing which is likely to have the desired effect.

Mr. BLEAKLEY.—An idea of the difficulties that we meet with in dealing with the opium traffic will be gained when I relate the following incidents: On two occasions parcels of opium thrown overboard from vessels that have come from China have been picked up on our northern reserves. One parcel contained £1,500 worth of opium, and the aboriginal who found it returned it through his superintendent to the Customs Department. He was given £5, which disgusted him and, incidentally, other people, as he might have been tempted to sell it for a much larger sum. On another occasion a parcel of £1,000 worth of opium was picked up on the coast near Cairns.

Mr. CARRODUS.—Our department is in sympathy with Dr. Cook's proposal, but we are helpless in the matter. The decision rests finally with the Customs Department. That department says that as Australia is bound by the International Convention on the subject it is impossible for the Commonwealth Government