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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5188

Senator CROSSIN (6:55 PM) —I rise to also speak on the Commonwealth government response and the executive summary to the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation final report. In representing the Northern Territory, of which almost 30 per cent of the population is Indigenous people, I find this response extremely disappointing. I am sure that that will be the case for not only the Indigenous people that I represent in the Northern Territory but a great many Australians in this country. I truly cannot believe—after 10 years of work, during which the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation produced some outstanding milestones for this country and attempted to put reconciliation front and centre on the social calendar of this country and to make reconciliation the key plank of the government's platform at the time—the inadequate response of this government to the final report from this council.

I was one of a number of members of this parliament who attended the final ceremony, for want of a better word—handover and closure—of this council at the end of 2000. This magnificent document that was presented to us, entitled Reconciliation: Australia's challenge, was quite timely, being produced in December 2000. If people remember, it has a magnificent image on the cover of this document of an elderly Indigenous person holding hands with a young Australian, the result of which we saw at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. That emotion and sentiment was captured by the whole of this country during the opening of the Olympic Games, sentiment that has been captured by many citizens around this country in their reconciliation walks—and I participated in the walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and that has been duplicated in many cities around this country.

People in this land are concerned about reconciliation and it has become a people's movement. No doubt, as a result of this response, it will continue to be a people's movement, because there is a severe lack of leadership from this federal government on reconciliation. This is not a document that provides any sort of leadership, guidance or future hope that this country will truly come to terms with reconciliation and what it means. There were only six recommendations in the final report of this council after 10 years of hard work. As Senator Ridgeway has said, this government has seen to support, and in kind, only one of those recommendations but probably the recommendation that will be the least significant in improving reconciliation and its agenda in this country. To actually agree that section 25 of the Constitution should be dealt with and that it is now irrelevant is something that we all know. Anyone reading the Constitution would see that it would be a matter of course for any government in this day and age to pick that up, take it on board and do something about it.

This is simply 23 pages of a photocopied document at best, with a very flimsy cardboard cover. It does not go to the heart of the substantial report handed down by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation; it merely restates, as most of the budget documents of this government have, what this government is doing. It is not a genuine attempt to actually come to terms with the findings of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation or an attempt to lay out any sort of map or path to develop this as a social issue in this country. As Fred Chaney said in the press some weeks ago—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bolkus)—Order! Will senators on my right please remain silent. That includes you, Senator McGauran.

Senator CROSSIN —That just shows the kind of feeling this government has towards a significant document such as this. Fred Chaney, the Chairman of Reconciliation Australia, has labelled this report as disappointing. It is disappointing. Once again it is a sad indictment of this government's copybook that the issue of reconciliation is not high on its agenda. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.