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Wednesday, 25 March 1998
Page: 1620

Mr RANDALL (10:51 AM) —I also wish to speak on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill 1997. I also hope that in talking generally to this bill you will give me the same latitude as you gave to the member for Banks (Mr Melham) regarding ATSIC and some of its operations and the wider perception. The content of this bill, as the member for Banks said, is uncontentious and quite narrow. However, there are some matters regarding the operation of ATSIC that I would like to speak about as they affect my electorate and my state. I will proceed initially on the matters of the bill. The substance of this bill, as we know, is essentially technical amendments to effect the disposal of ATSIC interests in land and over certain other property.

The amendments contained in this bill also affect delegation of powers to effect such disposals. Also contained in this bill are amendments addressing grants, loans and guarantees. These are important amendments. Without impugning the integrity of ATSIC or its commissioners, it is important that regulations are reviewed within this body, as they are elsewhere, to ensure their accountability and also to ensure the public's good perception of ATSIC and their accountability, including those issues mentioned before—delegation of powers, disposal of property, et cetera. As the member for Banks has said, this is a non-contentious bill and we appreciate the support of the opposition to expedite the technical amendments of it.

But I must say that ATSIC is a body which has grown out of proportion. My information is that it is a huge monolithic bureaucracy somewhere out in Woden here in Canberra that employs well over 400 people just to administer that particular body. The member for Banks talked about Mr Gatjil Djerrkura and I wish to endorse his comments. Mr Djerrkura is a marvellous leader of ATSIC, somebody who represents his people in a very professional manner and somebody who has the authority of his people to speak for them. But to me the ATSIC body, or the ATSIC bureaucracy, which is camped or lumped out in Woden, is an anomaly. It is something that eats up a huge amount of funds when the reality is that the Aboriginal people themselves would like to see moneys placed out into the regions and into their local communities. This great body in Canberra is eating up an enormous amount of those funds which could go out to the communities themselves.

The term for the administration of the ATSIC body here in Canberra is bottom-up funding rather than top-down funding, which could be achieved in a number of ways through local councils being the administrative bodies. I have spoken to Gatjil Djerrkura myself in a social setting and his words to me, when we mentioned bottom-up funding, were, `Now you are speaking my language, mate.' I think there is a great deal of cooperation to see this bottom-up funding matter addressed. I believe that some of the recommendations that will come out of the review of the ATSIC Act, which is currently being undertaken, will be towards this bottom-up funding for local communities.

As the member for Banks did say, in our first year of this government we did address some cuts towards ATSIC. We know it is a very well-funded body. It has well over a billion dollars a year. This money was not taken away as such but was directed towards other programs such as Aboriginal housing, education and health. There is more specific tied funding rather than a large grab of funds just being put within this large administration called ATSIC in Canberra. I think that that is probably the preferable way of doing things.

The public had been demonstrating for some time, as indeed had a large section of the Aboriginal community, that they wanted to see more results in terms of improving living conditions for a large section of the Aboriginal community than they were while ATSIC was responsible for the great majority of funds. Again, the Aboriginal people themselves want to have a greater determination of their funds, not just the hierarchy which is involved in this bureaucracy here.

This bill contains provisions which relate to the commissioners and regional chairs of ATSIC. Specifically, a person will be disqualified from standing for election as a commissioner or regional councillor if they have been removed from office within the previous three years for misbehaviour. That also clears up another perception problem. Commissioners and regional council chairpersons must also seek ministerial consent if they are to engage in outside employment. This, again, is addressing a conflict. This will have the effect of avoiding any improper or incorrect accusations of conflict of interest on the part of those office holders.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill 1997 will enable ATSIC to better meet the needs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders which, naturally, is what this bill should focus on. The bill will also give ATSIC more options when handling the disposal of ATSIC funded property and will allow ATSIC to delegate power to ATSIC staff, not only the board of commissioners of ATSIC, to approve the disposal of residential property. This will have the effect of making this aspect of the ATSIC administration more efficient and expeditious.

This bill makes provision for amendments relating to the Indigenous Land Corporation and these will be advantageous to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I wish to expand on this point of the Indigenous Land Corporation in the latter part of the time that I have left. Powers will be widened to allow the Indigenous Land Corporation to grant land to trusts, partnerships and individuals as well as corporations. The Indigenous Land Corporation, when performing ILC functions, will be required to take into account the needs of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders suffering most disadvantage in access to land.

This bill will also empower the minister, in consultation with the Indigenous Land Council board, to appoint such additional members as he or she considers appropriate from time to time. We know that under the previous government the former Prime Minister, Mr Keating, created the billion dollar land fund. The essence of this billion dollar land fund was that those who could not gain any material or monetary gain from the native title process would be able to do so through the land fund. It is an enormous amount of money and we have seen the operation of this land fund already.

The process of native title, unfortunately, has been hijacked—and hijacked quite disproportionately. I just wish to relate an account in my electorate, for example. The Perth airport is entirely in my electorate. There are six native title claims on the Perth airport and three are specific claims. One is by Robert Bropho and his Nyungah group. Then there is a competing specific title over the airport by a gentleman called Corrie Bodney. Just recently, another native title claim has been placed over the airport by the Warrall family, who do not live anywhere near the airport. They live outside of my electorate. The three specific claims which border the Perth airport have put three families competing with each other. They really do not like each other very much. They have a lot of problems—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. N.B. Reid) —Order! I did draw the House's attention to the fact that this is a very narrow constraint. I extended a certain amount of latitude to the member for Banks. If the member could try to address his remarks to the bill, that would be helpful.

Mr RANDALL —This bill does make provision for the Indigenous Land Corporation. I am drawing a comparison between this land corporation and the funds being sought by competing Aboriginal interests through the native title process as it competes with the Indigenous Land Corporation. But I will be a bit more specific. I just wanted to make the point that ATSIC administers the Indigenous Land Corporation but that competition from native title claims is confusing the whole issue. That is what I am talking about. This whole matter has to be addressed in relation to that.

The ATSIC Act was amended in 1995 to provide funding for land to Aborigines who were unsuccessful. There is an enormous number of cases where this unworkability of the Native Title Act is affecting the operation of ATSIC. I believe, Mr Deputy Speaker, I should be given the opportunity to make those comparisons.

What I am also drawing attention to is the fact that this bill has to be attended to. I am hoping that the Labor Party and the minor parties in the Senate will understand this because the Aboriginal people themselves, through their representative body ATSIC, are at each other's throats over these matters. All I am saying is that for the benefit of the Aboriginal people, this matter has to be determined. It is very nice, in this bill, to be giving powers to ATSIC to tighten up certain provisions in terms of disposal of land, et cetera, but Aboriginals also need to be given the workability of a decent native title regime.

We all know, and Aboriginals themselves will tell you, that the native title regime is not working at all. For example, here is an article from the Sunday Times dated 22 February 1998 which points out the number of claims. This is causing contention, that 82 per cent of Western Australia is subject to native title claims. It is just not good. There have been many reports, particularly in Western Australia, of the annoyance of Aborigines over these ambit claims and—

Dr Theophanous —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Earlier on you raised a point of order in respect to the honourable member for Swan going way beyond the bill by discussing native title and the Native Title Act. The honourable member is now going into detail on his views about the Native Title Act and what its consequences are. This is not about the Native Title Act; this is about ATSIC, and it is about programs for Aboriginal people delivered through ATSIC—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I did draw the honourable member's attention to that. However, I did extend a certain amount of latitude to the member for Banks to make some comments and so I allowed the same amount of latitude to the member for Swan. However, I ask the member for Swan to continue with this debate and contain his remarks to the bill.

Mr Nugent —Could I speak briefly on a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker? I understand totally your position, of course, but I would make the point that the member for Banks not only strayed from the bill but also talked about issues that were way outside the bill. He talked about leaking documents and about protest to the minister, and we—and you—allowed him that latitude. When at the beginning of his speech the member for Swan sought similar latitude, the member for Banks, as the opposition's lead spokesman on this matter, indicated very clearly that he thought that was very appropriate. So I would ask that you give my colleague very generous treatment in that respect.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I have already ruled on that matter. The honourable member for Swan may continue with his remarks and try and address them to the terms of the bill.

Mr RANDALL —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I take your point. The matter that I raised here, though, is the wider ramifications of ATSIC, which the bill alludes to. I have pointed out one problem in my electorate, and I am being electorate-specific. It is not that it causes me, in particular, a problem—even though there is a native title claim over my backyard. I live on the edge of the Swan River and there is a native title claim over my backyard, a 15-metre setback from the river. They could not put a sewerage line on to my property, because they could not negotiate the native title claim on my backyard; so I am being specific.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member has already put his interest on the record. I thank him for that, but I now ask him to return to the bill.

Mr RANDALL —That is right. I am quite happy, in terms of the point from the member for Calwell, to declare my interest—and I do have an interest. They put the sewerage line down the middle of the road, because there was not a claim there.

In fact, I would like to draw this to a close. All I am pointing out is that, in terms of ATSIC and the perception of ATSIC, we would like to see its workability, and the bill helps such workability. The public perception is that ATSIC is not delivering outcomes for Aboriginal people. I believe that the bill, which is supported by the opposition, will help the workability of ATSIC as it now stands. I hope that under the review of ATSIC, as I have said earlier, the delivery of services from ATSIC will come from the administration of bottom-up funding.

My final comments are these. I appreciate the support of the opposition on delivering this clarification on a technical amendment to the bill, as it is a matter that needs to be sorted out as soon as possible. I am pleased to hear from the member for Banks that the opposition will also expedite it through the Senate with their support.