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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1213

Senator MACKLIN —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I refer to the Government's announcement that it plans to abolish the National Aboriginal Conference on 30 June this year. What arrangements does the Government intend to have in place on 1 July to provide a national representative voice for the Aboriginal communities in Australia? Can the Minister explain why the Government has chosen to deny the Aboriginal communities a national representative voice at precisely the time it is introducing national land rights legislation and such a voice is needed? Will the Minister explain why the moves should not be considered by the Aboriginal communities as nothing more than a blatant political manoeuvre to stop the trenchant criticism of the Government's preferred option by the National Aboriginal Conference?

Senator RYAN —The implication in the second part of Senator Macklin's question is quite wrong. It is not the Government's intention to deny the Aboriginal people a national voice. I will give Senator Macklin some details of how a stronger national voice for Aboriginal people is being developed. Clearly, it is not perceived by Aboriginal people throughout Australia as being a political ploy to silence criticism. On the contrary, my colleague Mr Holding has had in place for some time plans to replace the National Aboriginal Conference-which I think has been an experiment but one which has not been entirely successful-with a more successful and effective national organisation for Aboriginal people.

On 2 April Mr Holding announced that he would extend the term of office of the NAC members to 30 June this year. He made it quite clear that there would be no extension beyond that date. He has also made it clear that there will be a body to replace the NAC and it will be based on the views of Aboriginal communities; it will be based on Aboriginal communities. As Senator Macklin will be aware, the electoral boundaries under which NAC members were elected did not relate to Aboriginal communities. Some of the problems that the NAC experienced in representing Aboriginal communities throughout Australia were due to the illogicality of the boundaries for those electorates. The new body will be based on Aboriginal communities and therefore will be much more effective in representing the views of those communities at a national level.

The actual structure of the organisation is a matter for continuing discussion between the Minister and Aboriginal people throughout Australia. I remind Senator Macklin that Mr Holding took those decisions following consideration of a report by Dr Coombs on the role and future structure of the National Aboriginal Council, the circulation of a report from a joint NAC-DAA task force and after advice from the heads of agencies within the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio. There was a meeting of major Aboriginal organisations on Friday, 12 April, to consider the structure of the proposed re-organisation and there are to be continuing consultations with organisations and with local communities in the evolution of the new structure.

It is the Government's intention to announce the structure of the new organisation to replace the NAC on 30 June. The Government believes that an effective national independent representative political structure capable of advising the Government and of putting forward a national perspective on Aboriginal issues can be developed on the basis of deriving its authority from and being accountable to local groups, communities and their organisations.

I, and I hope Senator Macklin, wait with great interest to see how this newly effective body will emerge. I am sure that the views of Aboriginal communities on national land rights legislation and all other issues with which they are concerned at present will be much more strongly and effectively put under the new arrangements.

Senator MACKLIN —As a supplementary question, I refer to that part of my original question where I asked: Will there be a national voice available for Aboriginal communities on 1 July this year?

Senator RYAN —I have already answered that in the affirmative.