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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 73

Senator CROSSIN (5:26 PM) —I rise to speak to the report of the Senate Select Committee on the Administration of Indigenous Affairs. Unlike Senator Johnston, I believe Indigenous affairs in this country is highly political and has become even more so under this government. If for one minute Senator Johnston believes that Indigenous affairs in this country should be apolitical, his very speech is testament to the fact that that is not the case.

ATSIC has been used as a whipping horse by this government since it was elected in 1996. It has been blamed for nearly every failure in terms of Indigenous statistics that the government can grasp its hands on. Yet, as soon as this government came to power, it stripped ATSIC of its funds and ensured that ATSIC embarked on a process that was set up to fail.

Senator McGauran —Do you want to keep it?

Senator CROSSIN —In fact, ATSIC has been successful in ensuring that Indigenous people were empowered, that Indigenous people had a place in the Public Service and that they were trained and had jobs in implementing Indigenous programs. It also ensured that Indigenous voices were heard in some form.

If you read this report, you will see that this report does not suggest that ATSIC be maintained. There is no recommendation in this report to suggest that. Senator McGauran, it may well pay you to read it. For Senator Johnston to suggest that we did not go to Western Australia is a lie. We did go to Western Australia. He cannot stand in this chamber and say we did not go to that state. We went to Broome and we had witnesses from Western Australia come to Canberra and present evidence to us. Senator Ridgeway is right: we should have gone to Melbourne, we should have gone to South Australia, and we most probably should have gone to Perth and Kalgoorlie, but we were under pressure from this government to get this report tabled so that we could get on with debating the bill. We do not get any thanks from those on the other side of the chamber for curtailing the work that we wanted to do. We do not get any recognition that we feel that some of us have sold Indigenous people short in this consultation, but we met this time line.

I think it is most appropriate that I pay homage to the Indigenous people that we met on our travels. I particularly want to thank the committee secretariat—Jonathan, Alison, Ian and Tim. I also thank Hansard and sound and vision because, when I chaired that committee in Alice Springs, we had quite a momentous day there. We heard from Indigenous women in one room and we sent some of the committee members outside and heard from Indigenous men. It is probably unprecedented in the history of the Senate that that was done. Why did we do that? Because we wanted Indigenous people to feel comfortable and we wanted them to know that they were being listened to.

There are three areas of the report that Indigenous people presented to this committee. I ask this government to take this on board very seriously. Senator Johnston is right: we did not hear overwhelming evidence to retain ATSIC. The report does not reflect that. The report reflects that we heard from Indigenous people that they wanted a national representative body that they chose themselves—not a national Indigenous council. If the Indigenous council were going to exist and it were to be hand-appointed by the Prime Minister, Indigenous people said that that would be fine: it would be one means of getting advice. But they strongly said to us: ‘We want a national representative body—maybe elected, maybe not. You tell us what you want and we will deliver it to you.’ They certainly wanted support for some form of regional council, regional body or regional assembly. There are some very sophisticated models out there that Indigenous people have designed because they fear that, in the new world of Indigenous policy under this government, they will not be heard, that there will be no conduit between what is happening in the community and the new Indigenous coordination centres. They want a body that gathers their thoughts together and presents them to the government in a collective way. That is no longer there, but that is what they are after.

Finally, of course, they want to ensure that mainstreaming works. They are not convinced that it works. It has not in the past, and they do not believe that it will in the future. They see nowhere where they can turn to get an independent, arms-length evaluation of what is going on. What is happening in the COAG trials? What is happening with the SRAs? Senator Ridgeway is right. We have no evidence about the legality of SRAs or how they can be implemented. They said to us that at least a Senate committee of some form to oversee the government’s implementation of these policies would be welcome. (Time expired)