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Tuesday, 4 April 2000
Page: 13266

Senator CHRIS EVANS (2:46 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Herron, the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. The minister, in replying to an interjection in question time yesterday concerning Aboriginal stolen generation members requesting an apology from the government, replied, `I do not hear that.' Is the minister seriously claiming that he has not heard the heartfelt pleas of many stolen generation members for the government to apologise and to help ease their pain? Minister, do you not hear, or is it just that you refuse to listen?

Senator HERRON (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —I am not certain which interjection yesterday that Senator Evans was referring to. There was a lot of noise, and I am not certain as to what he is referring to. But, certainly, to answer his question directly, I have heard the pleas of people that were affected by this. They are heart rending. I suggest to Senator Evans that he go through the 535 oral submissions and papers that were put through in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report. There is no question. All of us are affected by those. We are people with emotions and hearts. All Australians are. They recognise that. There are some that may not be affected by it, but I think that most would be. What did Senator Evans's party do in the 13 years that it was in power? That is really the question. What did it do about the heart-rending effects that were occurring while it was in power for 13 years?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many senators contributing. Senator Herron has the call. He is answering a question of Senator Evans's, and I ask that senators give an opportunity at least for me to hear the answer.

Senator HERRON —Thank you, Madam President. The legacy of the Labor Party's 13 years, as I mentioned in response to a previous question, is the terrible family violence that is occurring in Aboriginal communities. Labor had 13 years in respect of the events that are occurring in Aboriginal communities—the alcoholism, the family violence and the sexual abuse. Madam President, do you remember when Senator Richardson, the then health minister, was shown on the Sunday program turning a tap on in a camp in the Northern Territory near Katherine? I have been up there. It was a photo opportunity. Nothing was done. That was Senator Richardson's legacy as minister for health. It was a photo opportunity. It was heart wrenching. It was great for the media. That is what has been done all the time. I am personally affected.

Senator HERRON —Senator Evans just called out, `Four years.' I am happy to tell you what we have done in four years. We have spent an extra $97 million.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Shouting while a senator has the call and is speaking is disorderly and I would remind all senators of that.

Senator HERRON —Madam President, I recognise Senator Evans's interjection. He said, `What have you done in the four years?' We have revolutionised Aboriginal affairs in this country. We have brought about a change from welfare dependency. If there is no other legacy of this government, it will be bringing about economic independence from welfare dependency, which the Labor Party institutionalised in the 13 years that they were in government. We have people like Noel Pearson now saying, `What we want is to get off welfare and to become economically independent. We want money in our pockets, we want roofs over our heads, we want clean water, we want sewerage and we want to do something about the alcoholism.'

I thank Senator Newman because she is the first minister ever to devote $6 million to try to counteract the problems of family violence in the community, which I could not get from ATSIC, I might say. They may give me a million dollars in this next budget, I hope. Senator Newman, through her Office of the Status of Women, has taken a major lead in relation to family violence in the community, and that will be another legacy that we will leave behind us because, for the first time ever, we are a government that is doing something constructive about the problems that were left to us as a legacy of the previous Labor administration.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the minister uses the Bronwyn Bishop defence, but I do not think it will wash. The important question, Minister, is: if you do feel sympathy for these people, if you do have empathy and if you have heard their pleas, why can't you bring yourself and the government to say `sorry'? Why do you have to adopt the David Irving defence to deny historical fact rather than to say `sorry' if you really do feel sympathy? That is the key question. What have you got to say to that?

Senator HERRON (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —Senator Evans asked: why haven't I and the government said `sorry'? I have, Senator Evans. I said it three years ago. I have repeatedly said it.

Senator HERRON —Oh, now we are twisting the question. The government, together with the Democrats and the Labor Party, moved an expression of sincere regret for what has occurred in the past. On 26 August last year, the government, with the assistance of Senator Ridgeway and the Labor Party, moved a motion of sincere regret for what occurred in the past. There is no question about what occurred. I have put in that submission the historical events that occurred, and I would ask anyone who is listening to get in touch with the legal and constitutional affairs committee and get a copy of that report. (Time expired)