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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 48

Mr McGAURAN (Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) (12:33 PM) —I am moved to respond to a number of the points the member for Kennedy has made on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill 2005. I do not doubt his sincerity, his compassion or his genuine interest in this issue. Thank heavens he brings the concerns of Indigenous people in the electorate of Kennedy and further afield to this House but, if I hear one more story from him about his time as state minister for Indigenous affairs 20 years ago, I will explode! The trouble with the member for Kennedy is that he is living in the past. Every aspect of Indigenous affairs, not least the people assuming leadership, is entirely different. I cannot see how the member for Kennedy can draw on experiences from long ago to criticise the government today.

For instance, if you were to go to any community— Indigenous or non-Indigenous—in Australia and say, ‘We’re from the government; we’re here to help you,’ of course you would be howled down and greeted not only with scepticism but with cynicism. We all know that, but that is not we are saying. We are saying, ‘We’re here to listen to you and act on what you want’—that is the revolutionary change. When the member for Kennedy said the government are in effect saying to Indigenous communities—

Mr Katter —Peter, you can’t be serious! Some principles are timeless.

Mr McGAURAN —No, you are the one out of date when you say that our message to Indigenous communities is ‘Trust us.’ That is not our message; our message is ‘We trust you to deal with government and bureaucracies and to have us respond as you wish.’ I am sorry, but the member for Kennedy in large part is immersed in the past.

The member for Kennedy also asked for an extension of time for regional councils. We have given them 12 months since the abolition of ATSIC the first time round. In the member for Kennedy’s usual, genuine way he has raised concerns about the treatment of individuals, and I want to reassure him that we are not abolishing ATSIC staff. They are all public servants who have been taken up in other positions and in other ways. If the member for Kennedy finds an ATSIC employee whose future is uncertain or jeopardised, please let us know. But I am advised that that will not happen. Also the 35 regional chairs across the country have received compensation payments equal to four-months income. They were the only full-time paid members of the regional councils. The others were commissioners who received sitting day fees.

I do not want the member the Kennedy to misunderstand me—perhaps I have gone a bit far—because he was a distinguished minister for Aboriginal affairs, and this has been written about in a number of retrospective papers on the era. He was revolutionary and his stance put him in conflict with the dominant, all-powerful Premier of the time. It took a great deal of courage.

I well remember the member for Kennedy, as indigenous affairs minister for Queensland, taking on the legendary hard man of the Queensland Public Service who was director-general of the Indigenous affairs department. I think the member for Kennedy paid a heavy political price for his courage and the strength of his convictions. At that time he was seen as a man of new ideas. He was seen as somebody who directly communicated with Indigenous people—

Mr Katter —I appreciate that, Minister.

Mr McGAURAN —But I do not see that in you now. I want the Bob Katter of old!