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Wednesday, 15 May 2002
Page: 2278

Mr WAKELIN (10:20 AM) —This morning we are dealing with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill 2002. The amendments have been well defined. They include adjustments to the term of office of the commission chair and the regional council chair, a provision for the appointment of an additional regional councillor to a regional council from which a commissioner has been elected, a provision to guarantee the appointment of an independent chair of the review panel—and I heard the concerns raised by the member for Fremantle about that. The amendments clarify that the effect of penalties for multiple criminal convictions on eligibility for, and termination of, office holder positions is the same as penalties for single convictions; they allow the outgoing commissioner to stand for election as an incoming regional council chair without having to resign as commissioner. There are a number of other issues which seem practical and reasonable in terms of the progression of ATSIC so that it can function as well as it can.

In terms of the focus of this government on health, housing, education and employment issues, I believe there has been significant progress for Aboriginal people and for the country as a whole. When this government came to office, we had a totally confused mess with native title. Through the efforts of this government, we have been able to create a balance. We no longer see these emotive, chaotic situations in the media and with a number of Aboriginal groups. Let us remember that it was competition between Aboriginal groups that was at the heart of much of the problem with native title. The program that this government introduced did bring order and some commonsense for all parties. If there is still some difficulty with legal issues, much of it must rest with the Labor Party and the Senate. There were opportunities to reduce the problems with much of the legal situation, had at least two of the points that were disallowed at that time been allowed to go through.

If it is costing $33 million in native title litigation, let the opposition carry much of the responsibility for that. It is all very well to talk about mediation. It is all very well to talk about the wellbeing of Aboriginal people. But in this place we have a responsibility to be practical, to face the reality, and know that there has not been sufficient progress, for a whole lot of reasons, on the general issue of Aboriginal wellbeing.

I bring to the attention of the Main Committee, for those who may not have seen it, an article in the Australian of Thursday, 9 May 2002, headed `Pearson puts the challenge to Labor'. He talks about a number of issues. He refers to Don Watson's book, Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: A Portrait of Paul Keating PM. The writer endeavours to come forward with some of the Pearson commentary on our contemporary situation. I think it should be compulsory reading for every member of this parliament. The government is not spared, and I would not expect it to be spared, in the comments about where we can do better. There is plenty of room for improvement. Mr Pearson argues, for example, that, from the government's perspective, we have not done nearly enough to end the issue of passive welfare.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 10.25 a.m. to 10.42 a.m.

Mr WAKELIN —Noel Pearson chastised the coalition for not doing enough on passive welfare and for not confronting the real issues of addiction. These are the very sad and real circumstances of too many people in Aboriginal communities and these things should be the main purpose of this parliament's focus in the immediate future.

Academic debate about the past and about the general indiscretions of one side of politics or the other will not advance this issue at the rate at which it should be advancing. This Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill is just another small contribution to the improvements in the various structures that are there and which in all good faith have been set up for Aboriginal people. As the member for Werriwa said not so many weeks ago, I hope in the future in this place that we stand aside from our partisan differences and focus on those things that we really must do to advance this issue.