Protection legislation overview

The protection legislation remained intact for the first half of the twentieth century. Protection legislation racially segregated Aboriginal people from Australia citizens and then proceeded to criminalise certain types of behaviour. Typically under the protection legislation, police were given specific powers in relation to Aboriginal people in public places and on reserves. The Queensland legislation allowed for Aboriginal people to be detained in prison indefinitely if they were considered ‘uncontrollable’.

The extensive regulation of the lives of Aboriginal people and the corresponding legislative denial of basic human rights became inextricably linked with the day-to-day administration of Aboriginal affairs.

The move towards an assimilation policy began in the late 1930s and was rolled out as a policy after 1945. By 1951 all Australian governments at least claimed that they were acting in accordance with an assimilationist policy.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had vehemently opposed these discriminatory laws and resented the regulation of the most intimate aspects of their lives and the arbitrary control that officials had over them. They had long campaigned for the right to be treated as other citizens. The Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association, established in the 1920s, was one such body that campaigned relentlessly for Indigenous people to be given the same rights as other Australians.

The 1967 referendum gave the federal government the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and this altered the dynamics of Indigenous policy. Although states could still make laws for Indigenous people, the federal government played a larger policy role and while it shifted focus away from a policy of assimilation and segregation towards one it called self-determination, state governments still maintained control of many issues that deeply affected the lives of Indigenous people, including issues of child welfare.