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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1304


Senator ELLISON (3:55 PM) —I seek leave to make a short statement in relation to general business notice of motion No. 49 standing in the name of Senator Scullion.

Leave granted.


Senator ELLISON —This motion seeks to establish a select committee dealing with the intervention in the Northern Territory. There has been discussion between the parties and I seek leave that the matter continue by way of short debate, as has previously been done in relation to other select committees which have been set up.

Leave granted.


Senator ELLISON —At the request of the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Senator Scullion, I move:

(1)   That a select committee, to be known as the Select Committee on Remote Indigenous Communities, be appointed to inquire into and report on:

(a)  

   the effectiveness of Australian Government policies following the Northern Territory Emergency Response, specifically on the state of health, welfare, education and law and order in remote Indigenous communities;

(b)  

   the impact of state and territory government policies on the wellbeing of remote Indigenous communities;

(c)  

   the health, welfare, education and security of children in remote Indigenous communities; and

(d)  

   the employment and enterprise opportunities in remote Indigenous communities.

(2)   That the committee report to the Senate on 30 September 2008, 30 March 2009, 30 September 2009, 30 March 2010 and 30 September 2010.

(3)   That the committee consist of 6 members, 2 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, 3 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and 1 nominated by any minority group or groups or independent senator or independent senators.

(4)  

(a)   On the nominations of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and minority groups and independent senators, participating members may be appointed to the committee;

(b)  

   participating members may participate in hearings of evidence and deliberations of the committee, and have all the rights of members of the committee, but may not vote on any questions before the committee; and

(c)  

   a participating member shall be taken to be a member of the committee for the purpose of forming a quorum of the committee if a majority of members of the committee is not present.

(5)   That the committee may proceed to the dispatch of business notwithstanding that not all members have been duly nominated and appointed and notwithstanding any vacancy.

(6)   That the committee elect an Opposition member as chair.

(7)   That the committee elect a Government member as deputy chair who shall act as chair of the committee at any time when the chair is not present at a meeting of the committee, and at any time when the chair and deputy chair are not present at a meeting of the committee the members present shall elect another member to act as chair at that meeting.

(8)   That, in the event of an equally divided vote, the chair, or the deputy chair when acting as chair, have a casting vote.

(9)   That the quorum of the committee be 4 members.

(10)   That the committee have power to appoint subcommittees consisting of 2 or more of its members and to refer to any subcommittee any matter which the committee is empowered to examine.

(11)   That the committee and any subcommittee have power to send for and examine persons and documents, to move from place to place, to sit in public or in private, notwithstanding any prorogation of the Parliament or dissolution of the House of Representatives, and have leave to report from time to time its proceedings and the evidence taken and interim recommendations.

(12)   That the committee be provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources and be empowered to appoint persons with specialist knowledge for the purposes of the committee with the approval of the President.

(13)   That the committee be empowered to print from day to day such documents and evidence as may be ordered by it, and a daily Hansard be published of such proceedings as take place in public.

There has been some discussion, I understand, in relation to Senator Siewert’s amendment. I can foreshadow that if it is in the same wording as we understand it to be then it will be acceptable to the government—I mean the opposition. The government can speak for itself. This select committee is a very important one and the terms of reference outline why that is so. Firstly, the select committee, which is to be known as the Select Committee on Remote Indigenous Communities is to inquire into and report on the effectiveness of Australian government policies following the Northern Territory emergency response specifically on the state of health, welfare, education, and law and order in remote Indigenous communities. The select committee will also be looking at the impact of state and territory government policies on the wellbeing of remote Indigenous communities.

This is indeed a very important part of public policy in this country today. Other aspects of the terms of reference deal with the employment and enterprise opportunities in remote Indigenous communities and the health, welfare, education and security of children in remote Indigenous communities—and that is perhaps the most important of all. Under this reference, the committee would report to the Senate on 30 September 2008, 30 March 2009, 30 September 2009, 30 March 2010 and 30 September 2010. What we have are rolling reports. This is in the model of a standing select committee which will have the purview of a very import part of Australian public policy dealing with remote and Indigenous Australia.

It is important that we have these ongoing reports, and of course there has been much debate about the intervention in the Territory. This committee will continually monitor and benchmark outcomes in such things as law and order, health, school attendance, community development and employment. It will also compare conditions in communities covered by the intervention in the Northern Territory with adjacent communities not under intervention and communities in other jurisdictions. As I say, it will provide reports to the Senate on an ongoing basis and that, I believe, will be of great assistance not only to the government but also to the Senate and the other place in dealing with legislation and measures in relation to the intervention.

This is a select committee which will have its hands full. It will be busy. The extent of the issue is such that it does need that length of time that I have mentioned to deal with this. It also demonstrates a commitment that the intervention in the Northern Territory is not a one-off situation but an ongoing situation which is designed to achieve a better outcome for Indigenous people in the Northern Territory. Senator Scullion had given notice of this motion as a result of his longstanding interest in this area and of course, as a senator for the Northern Territory, he knows this area only too well. The details of the select committee are in the terms of reference, and I commend the reference to the Senate.