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Wednesday, 28 May 1997
Page: 3883


Senator ELLISON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services and Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney-General)(3.29 p.m.) —I feel compelled to rise and speak on this issue and perhaps put some matters in focus. Firstly, I would say that, if we continue with the name calling and the exchanges that have been going on, I think we will advance the debate no further. I could refer to the opposition spokesman for Aboriginal affairs, Daryl Melham, who stated on the 7.30 Report :

There is only one thing missing in this debate and that is the white sheets and burning crosses.

If we were to dwell on comments like that we would get nowhere.

Let us look at deeds rather than the words. Let us look at what has been done and let us look at what this Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Senator Herron) has done. I put it to Senator Bob Collins, through the chair, that Senator Herron has done a great deal since he has had this office. He has visited over 60 communities. He is the only minister to have visited ATSIC in Perth, Western Australia. He was asked a question about Abstudy, which is not even in his portfolio. What the opposition is trying to do here is to score a cheap political shot and play the man and not the ball.

Let us look at the budget provisions in relation to ATSIC, which I dare say Senator Faulkner has not even seen. I challenge Senator Collins on it. What part is wrong with the announcement that we made of a new four-year, $120 million indigenous business incentive program? What is wrong with that? What is wrong with putting ATSIC funding on a forward estimates course so that ATSIC can now have some security in the way it plans its finances? What is wrong with that rather than the year-by-year, ad hoc approach that was the hallmark of the previous govern ment? What is wrong with bringing in a program which will bring jobs to indigenous Australia where we have an unemployment rate at 38 per cent—a shocking rate?   That is what this minister is doing, and I say that to Senator Collins in particular. I notice you do not ask him about Aboriginal health because he knows more about that than all of you put together. But, of course, that is not in his portfolio so you do not ask him.

It was timely that we celebrated the 1967 referendum, which was brought in by a coalition government. Governments around this country, including the federal government, celebrated that fact and also took note of the stolen generation report. Today you have heard the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Senator Herron, admitting that it was a blemish on the history of this country, as did the Prime Minister (Mr Howard).

We can wear sackcloth and ashes and speak here at great length but it will not get the job done. That is what Senator Herron has been about since he has been in this portfolio—getting the job done. That was done by visiting in excess of 60 communities, seeing what the situation is like on the ground and seeing that we have a long way to go with health. It was all very well for former Senator Richardson to get his photo in the paper when visiting a community. But where was the result of his work in health with indigenous communities? After 13 years what did we see in relation to education, health and unemployment in the indigenous sector? We saw a disgraceful lack of attention—in 13 years. This government has only been here for 13 months and already we are reducing the rate of unemployment, we are increasing economic opportunities and we are announcing programs of the sort that I just mentioned.

You are only going to help indigenous Australia by empowering them and by giving them opportunities in health, education and employment. As the good book says: by their deeds you shall know them, not necessarily by their words. A lot of rhetoric has been spoken here today. You judge us by our deeds and the electorate will when we go to the next election. We are willing to rely on what we have done in office.