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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 95


Senator RIDGEWAY (7:53 PM) —by leave—I move Democrat amendments (1) and (3) to (7) on sheet 4534:

(1)    Clause 1, page 1 (line 7), after “Amendment”, insert “(Unfair Dismissal)”.

(2)    Schedule 1, page 16 (after line 5), after subsection 151(1), insert:

           (1A)   The Minister’s power to give directions in accordance with subsection (1) is limited to giving directions in relation to the new functions transferred from ATSIC.

(3)    Schedule 1, page 17 (after line 17), after item 118, insert:

118A  After section 154

Insert:

154A  Review by Administrative Appeals Tribunal

         (1)    An application may be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for review of:

                   (a)   a decision made by Indigenous Business Australia to refuse a housing loan from the New Housing Fund to an individual; or

                   (b)   a decision made by Indigenous Business Australia to refuse a loan to an individual, a body corporate or an unincorporated body to enable the individual or body to engage in a business enterprise; or

                   (c)   a decision made by Indigenous Business Australia to refuse to give a guarantee in respect of a housing loan from the New Housing Fund made or to be made to an individual; or

                   (d)   a decision made by Indigenous Business Australia to refuse to give a guarantee in respect of a loan made or to be made to an individual, a body corporate or an unincorporated body, where the purpose of the loan is to enable the individual or body to engage in a business enterprise.

         (2)    Where Indigenous Business Australia notifies a person of a decision of a kind referred to in subsection (1), the notice shall include a statement to the effect that, subject to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975, application may be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for review of the decision by or on behalf of a person whose interests are affected by the decision.

         (3)    A failure to comply with subsection (2) in relation to a decision does not affect the validity of the decision.

         (4)    In this section:

decision made by Indigenous Business Australia means:

                   (a)   a decision made by Indigenous Business Australia itself; or

                   (b)   a decision made by a delegate of Indigenous Business Australia upon a reconsideration of a decision made by another delegate of Indigenous Business Australia.

(4)    Schedule 2, item 1, page 61 (after line 34), after section 193Y, insert:

193YA  All evaluations to apply test of no disadvantage to Indigenous programs

         (1)    Where the Office conducts programs of evaluation and audit in accordance with section 193Y, the Office must assess whether the funding of the program meets a no disadvantage test in relation to program administration arising form the transfer of ATSIC and ATSIS functions.

         (2)    For the purposes of this section, a no disadvantage test means that the program will not receive less funding as a result of the administrative changes arising from this transfer of functions mentioned in subsection (1) for a period of one year commencing on 1 July 2005.

(5)    Schedule 4, item 23, page 83 (lines 4 and 5), omit the item, substitute:

23  Subsection 74(1A)

Repeal the subsection, substitute:

decision made by Indigenous Business Australia means:

Inviting comments from Indigenous Advisory Committee and Indigenous expert on the Heritage Council

Note 1:   The Indigenous Advisory Committee is established by section 505A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Note 2:   The Indigenous expert on the Heritage Council is provided for by the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003.

Note 3:   Subsections 15B(4), 15C(7) and (8) protect the National Heritage values of National Heritage places, to the extent that those values are Indigenous heritage values.

Note 4:   Sections 23, 24A, 26, 27A, 27B, 27C and 28 protect the environment, which includes the heritage values of places. See the definition of environment in section 528.

I want to make a few comments about these amendments on behalf of the Australian Democrats. The Australian Democrats oppose this bill abolishing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. However, we also propose numerous amendments in the alternative, given that we know that the opposition is likely to vote with the government to abolish ATSIC.

The first amendment essentially draws attention to the effect of the bill. It changes the title of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill by putting in brackets the words ‘unfair dismissal’, because of the way in which this debate has occurred and, certainly, the lack of information or truth that has come forward in terms of work in this respect, particularly in relation to regional councils. We have moved this amendment because we think it ought to be made clear what the government’s agenda in Indigenous affairs really is. Again I say to Senator Carr, who is dealing with this bill for the opposition, that, whilst the actual amendments are being circulated at a late stage, they are ones that his office is well aware of—I am told that there have been discussions going on. Whilst there may have been delays in the Clerk’s office, it was certainly made clear what issues we were going to put forward. I am sure he can talk about some of the technical aspects of that.

This proposal reflects something that I said last week in the debate on the opposition’s second reading amendment—that is, that the government are asking us to close our eyes while they abolish Indigenous affairs and Indigenous people. This government are already the first government since before the Whitlam government to not have a separate Indigenous affairs minister. It was clearly a precedent that they wanted to set out and which they have built on in the more recent changes. Everything so far about the process is unfair, from the lack of consultation prior to the announcement to the cat-burglar style raid on ATSIC offices across the country in order to hide Indigenous artworks. Incidentally, we are still waiting for a response from the minister on how much it cost and where the money came from. I might even add to that a question about how much it cost to run all the advertisements in national newspapers across the country not suggesting anything specifically other than people might want to get legal advice.

There are also the constant misrepresentations about the performance of ATSIC, the chaos that is being overseen by government departments which is causing significant suffering to communities, and the refusal to acknowledge the legal status of the board of commissioners. I know that there are issues there, but a matter I raised during the Senate select committee process was the petty but malicious behaviour in relation to whether or not a commissioner’s vehicle should be re-registered. It seemed a nonsense that the government was going to be exposed to some sort of liability. There is also the blame placed on Indigenous people for their own circumstances and the confusion that reigns in the regions regarding how they are going to have their voices heard. Finally, there is the fact that none of the ministers and senior bureaucrats are going to be affected by these arrangements. It will be Indigenous people who will suffer from the empty rhetoric and utter neglect of yet another government—only this time the rhetoric is not just hot air; it is mostly deception.

We oppose the entirety of schedule 1—that is, the abolition of ATSIC. It is not so much about defending any board of commissioners; it is about getting the government to pay attention to its own report. The government spent $1.4 million in taxpayers’ money to go out and do consultations. They engaged three well-known Australians: Mr Hannaford; former senator Bob Collins; and Ms Jackie Huggins, a well-respected Indigenous woman and historian from Queensland. For all the work that they had done and the report that had been produced, all of those recommendations were ignored. So we oppose the abolition of ATSIC and suggest that the government go back. But I understand that they have got to this point and they are not going to do some miraculous U-turn. The proposal is put for the reasons that I have already set out—for all the reasons that have been set out by the committee, which the government continue to ignore.

As we stated in our supplementary comments, we do not believe that ATSIC’s flaws were fatal. In our opinion, the evidence to the committee showed first and foremost that most of the popular concerns about ATSIC are unfounded and that ATSIC was by and large very successful considering what it was up against in this government, particularly at the regional level. The Democrats believe that we ought to be listening to the report from back in 2003. No-one has ever pretended for a moment that ATSIC was perfect. The review report did make 67 recommendations for how to radically reform the body to put greater control in the hands of regions, just as the title of the report indicated. We believe that these should not be ignored. In fact, our amendments and comments are broadly and sometimes specifically based on the recommendations and findings of that review.

We also state in our supplementary comments that the Democrats are of the opinion that ATSIC, even in a renewed form, is capable of being reformed along the lines recommended in the review report. We also say in our supplementary comments that the litany of discarded Indigenous affairs structures over the last 30 years to 40 years is a pattern which must cease. If you are serious about fixing this you cannot keep going through this cyclical political process so that in three years, five years or 10 years we start replacing the structures that are there and then saying that they have failed—it is a nonsense to suggest that. Everybody, irrespective of what their purpose is, needs to be given support to discharge their responsibility. If the body which is responsible for representing Indigenous people’s interests in this country is changed every 10 years or so then it is inevitable that there will be confusion and chaos. Nobody taking that role will ever fully be respected and understood by Indigenous people and the end result is that there will be less effective delivery of outcomes.

A primary finding of the Senate committee regarding the bill before us was that an elected Indigenous national body should remain. The Democrats say that ATSIC should be reformed but should remain in existence. The Democrats recommendations in our supplementary comments and the amendments we propose in this debate are provisions which try to make the government’s intrinsically unfair Indigenous affairs agenda fairer, more reflective of Indigenous wishes—and I am sure that there are many Indigenous people listening out there—and more administratively sound. Our fundamental position is that a new arrangement should be based around the recommendations of the consultation that has already occurred and that is shown in the ATSIC review report as a basic starting point.