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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4006

Senator ELLISON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services and Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney-General)(3.13 p.m.) —It is just a shame that the opposition wastes its time dealing with such questions as when the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Senator Herron) looked at a report or whether he did and whether it was a photocopy or not. What we are dealing with here is the future of indigenous Australia. What we are dealing with here is the most important matter of what this government is doing for indigenous Australia. That is what counts.

The most important days this week are today and tomorrow.Why doesn't the opposition look forward? Why doesn't it look at what this government is doing? It attacks this minister for doing nothing. This minister can proudly stand on his record. When one looks at the 1996 budget, one sees that $840 million was set aside over four years for housing and community development in indigenous Australia. Last year reforms were made to the ATSIC Act in relation to representation and manner of election. Accountability was enhanced. What about the quarantining of provisions for the community development employment projects, CDEP, allowing for over 30,000 places and allowing for a growth of 600 places? But of course the opposition does not want to hear about constructive things that this government is doing for indigenous Australia. All it is interested in is whether the minister read a photocopied report or not. Shame on it!

Why don't you look at the job in hand? You do not want to, do you? You do not want to look at the fact that this minister initiated a partnership between the Department of Health and Family Services, the army and ATSIC to service remote communities where there is a lack of water. In July this year that will be started in six remote communities.

I say to the opposition that that is what counts. It is things like water, the environment, health, education and employment. Five million dollars is being spent on reducing the high level of incarceration of Aboriginal Australians. That is what is important—not whether the minister read a photocopy of a report or not. Shame on you, I say to the opposition. By their deeds you shall know them.

We know the deeds that you did not fulfil in the last 13 years of government. In 13 months this minister has fulfilled those programs that I have just outlined, not to mention the private business program for indigenous Australia where, over the next four years, they will be encouraged to enter projects of their own. We have seen a number of successful ones. The Jawoyn community in Katherine is a case in point. That is the way to cure the high level of unemployment in indigenous Australia which was a legacy of this opposition. Labor's legacy of 13 years in government was 38 per cent unemployment for indigenous Australia.

What about the fact that some of these communities did not even have fresh water? The minister has announced this partnership, which I have mentioned, between the army, the Department of Health and Family Services and ATSIC. That is what this minister is doing. This opposition fails to see that. It is like what Marie Antoinette said—`Let them eat cake.' That is the unrealistic attitude we have from the opposition here.

They are asking, `Did the minister read a photocopy of the report or did he not? Did the minister read it a week ago, or when did he read it?' Let us devote the Senate's time to looking at this rather than looking at what has been done for indigenous Australia and seeing that these programs are being fulfilled.

The minister mentioned on the 7.30 Report that Gareth Evans said that we have simply thrown money at it. That is what his government did. They did not even bother to see where the money was going. They did not even bother to see whether the benefits were being delivered on the ground to indigenous Australia. That is why this minister, Senator Herron, wants to ensure accountability, not just for the taxpayer but also for Aboriginal Australia. He wants to say to them, `We are spending this money and we are going to ensure that it is delivered on the ground to you. We want to ensure that you do get your housing and fresh water and that you do have chances for employment.' That is what this government is about and that is what this minister is working to.

The 10-point plan, which has been mentioned by this government, is another workman-like approach to solving an absolutely insurmountable problem bequeathed to us by the former government in the unworkable piece of legislation called the Native Title Act, which has delivered nothing to Australia both black and white.