Page:Aboriginal welfare 1937.djvu/24

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to engage in the business. But, although our department is helpless, an expression of opinion from this Conference might be useful.

Mr. BAILEY.—While this subject is of great importance in regard to the aborigines, the proposal that Dr. Cook has made would have far reaching effects. I doubt whether it would be wise for us to deal with it in the broad way that Dr. Cook has suggested, but the Conference might make a recommendation in regard to opium dross. I do not think that we could go so far as to suggest that opium should be admitted free.

Dr. COOK.—That is not quite what I suggested. My proposal is that some statutory authority, possibly the Comptroller-General of Customs, should be authorised to obtain supplies from the factory in Malaya. The opium should be handled by a government monopoly. Issues should be strictly controlled, and additional supplies should be granted only when the dross is returned. Any free importation of opium would defeat the whole scheme.

Mr. BAILEY.—But would not the adoption of your proposal encourage the smoking of opium? If the Chinese in the Northern Territory could get opium under a permit system would not the Chinese elsewhere in Australia want it, and would they not be likely to get it?

Mr. CARRODUS.—That is one of the objections raised by the Customs Department.

Dr. COOK.—The purpose of the prohibition under the International Convention was to prevent the smoking of opium by Chinese or any one else; but that purpose has not been achieved, and the whole scheme has definitely failed. In fact, it has given rise to abuses which have resulted in an extension of the evil and an increase of the number of opium smokers. I suggest that the traffic should be controlled under permit, and that issues should be made to confirmed opium addicts perhaps on a sliding scale. As there is more support for this proposal round the table than I expected it to receive, I move—

That this Conference is of the opinion that in order to control the smoking of opium dross the Commonwealth Government should give consideration to a scheme to provide confirmed opium smokers, certified to be such by an approved medical authority, with opium at a price which will render illicit importation uneconomic, on condition that the dross of the opium issued is returned for destruction before further issues are made.

Professor CLELAND.—I second the motion.

Mr. NEVILLE.—I do not want the evil associated with the dross to spread. We have had no trouble of this kind in our north-west.

Dr. COOK.—If Western Australia is not affected by the problem it will not be affected by the remedy.

Mr. McLEAN.—The motion refers to confirmed opium smokers. Are there not other opium smokers who may not fall within that category? Is it not likely that the dross which they have will be supplied to the aborigines?

Dr. COOK.—Under my scheme there would be no opium from which they could get dross. My experience in Malaya showed me that it is possible to estimate fairly accurately the quantity of opium required by a confirmed smoker. Such people could be issued with a little below their requirements. The dross that they returned could be analysed to make sure that no ash was mixed with it. If on analysis it was found to be less than should have been returned a further reduction could be made in the amount allowed to the person concerned.

Mr, McLEAN.—Would not the person who had not reached the stage of certification still be a potential purchaser of smuggled opium?

Dr. COOK.—I doubt it. In any case, things could not be worse than they are. There are about 50 or 60 persons in the Northern Territory who would come within the definition of certified. They are Chinese of course.

Mr. BLEAKLEY.—Do you know of any other possible market for opium which might permit a profitable business to be continued?

Dr. COOK.—The aborigines would provide a possible market, but I have never known aborigines to buy opium. They get only the dross. The other Asiatics in the Northern Territory, apart from the Chinese, do not smoke opium. Our aborigines use an ingenious arrangement with a soda water bottle to smoke the dross.

Mr. BLEAKLEY.—Do not the aborigines mix the dross with water and drink it?

Dr. COOK.—They smoke the dross as I have explained. Any objection that may be raised to my proposal can be countered by the statement that at least it could not lead to worse conditions than those which prevail at present. If my scheme were tried, and it did not prove successful, it could be abandoned.

Mr. HARKNESS.—How does the opium affect the aborigines?

Dr. COOK.—It affects them in the same way as it affects the Chinese. Those who use it become indolent and lazy. They crave for opium and hang around Chinatown in the hope of getting it. They prostitute their women and are guilty of every vice in the calendar in order to obtain money to purchase dross. Finally, they may succumb to tuberculosis or similar maladies.

Dr. MORRIS.—I think it would be unwise for this Conference to pass a motion asking the Commonwealth Government practically to stultify itself in the eyes of the world. I sympathize entirely with Dr. Cook's views, but I do not think we should take the drastic step of urging the Government to do something that is not only wrong in the eyes of the world, but is also illegal for signatories to the International Convention. Perhaps we could get the same result by indirect means. We could say that addicts, regardless of colour, should be placed under medical control. They could be pensioned, perhaps, and placed in an institution.

Dr. COOK.—I think Dr. Morris has rather misunderstood my desire. What I wish is to control the consumption of opium on a scientific basis. It would not be practicable to place the 50 or 60 aborigines in the Northern Territory in an institution, for some of them are at Pine Creek, some on the Katherine, and some at Darwin. Some of these people are engaged in profitable businesses. It is wrong to say that the control of opium, as I have suggested, is against the view of all the people of the civilised world. In Malaya and Java the control of opium is a government monopoly. Very large numbers of people in the East smoke opium, and supplies are provided from government-owned and maintained factories. It is, therefore, not right to regard this traffic as universally illegal. I am suggesting control under medical supervision, and, if necessary, I am prepared to amend the motion to make that point clear.

Mr. CHAPMAN.—We should consider whether it is within the scope of this Conference to express an opinion upon a matter that is essentially federal in its application. I have to ask myself whether it is my business, as a representative of Victoria, to tell the Commonwealth what it ought to do in the Northern Territory. I feel that the purpose of this Conference is to suggest procedure which is more or less applicable to all States, or, at any rate, to two or three of them. This problem exists only in Darwin, so far as I know, and, as such, is a matter entirely for Commonwealth administration.

Dr. MORRIS.—After all, we are merely urging the Commonwealth to give consideration to the matter.