Exemption certificates were created in 1943 in New South Wales by the Aborigines Welfare Board under the Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act 1943. They allowed Aboriginal people to argue that they should no longer be constrained by the provisions of the Aborigines Protection Act and to access social security benefits that other Australians received, including family and old age pensions. Many Aboriginal people considered this system, and the need to show the documents regularly to police, insulted their dignity so referred to the certificates as 'dog tags'. Exemption certificates were not needed after the 1967 Referendum established that Aboriginal people had full civil rights and they were abolished by the Aborigines Act 1969.
The Aborigines Welfare Board argued the certificates were a key to 'assimilation', and would enable Aboriginal people to enjoy the rights and privileges of white society so they could eventually blend in. This included the right to leave the state, receive some government benefits (including the old age pension, which was denied to people who lived on reserves or stations), live with less interference from the Board and to drink alcohol. Some Aboriginal people sought exemption certificates as a way of shielding their children from removal by the Aborigines Welfare Board.
However, people who had an exemption certificate were not allowed to enter or stay on Aboriginal reserves and stations, even if they were visiting relatives. This interfered with Aboriginal family life, as it discouraged people from seeing each other. People could also lose their certificates for misdemeanours, intoxication or even arguing with a Board representative. The need to show them to police officers was a source of humiliation, earning them the nickname 'dog tags'.
Sources used to compile this entry: Goodall, Heather, Invasion to Embassy: land in Aboriginal politics in New South Wales, 1770-1972, 2nd edn, Sydney University Press (originally published Allen & Unwin, 1996), Sydney, 2008, 505 pp; Parry, Naomi, 'Such a longing': black and white children in welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940, Department of History, University of New South Wales, 2007, 361 pp, http://unsworks.unsw.edu.au/fapi/datastream/unsworks:1369/SOURCE01?view=true.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 8 March 2014, Last modified: 26 February 2015