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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill 1993



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House: House of Representatives Portfolio: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

Purpose To reduce the number of Regional Councils; provide for full- time appointments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) Commissioners and Regional Council Chairpersons; and remove the power of the Minister to appoint the Chairperson of ATSIC and two non- elected Commissioners.

Background ATSIC is run by a board of twenty Commissioners. Seventeen of the Commissioners are elected by Regional Councillors. To stand for election as a Commissioner, a person has to first be elected as a Regional Councillor for a Regional Council. The Regional Councillors from all the Regions within a Zone vote to choose the Commissioner who will represent their Zone. The Chairperson and two other Commissioners are appointed by the Minister. The functions of ATSIC include the formulation and implementation of programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; monitoring the effectiveness of programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; and the development of policy proposals to meet national, State, Territory and regional needs and priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Elected Commissioners hold office on a part- time basis for a maximum of three years. To qualify for appointment as a Commissioner, a person has to be an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Commissioners have to meet at least four times a year.

There are sixty Regional Councils. Each Regional Council has between ten and twenty members, depending on the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in the region. The functions of Regional Councils include to develop a regional plan for improving the economic, social and cultural status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of the region, and to represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of the region and act as an advocate of their interests. Regional Councils are required to meet at least four times a year. Regional Councils decide, within guidelines determined by ATSIC, how funding from ATSIC is to spent. To stand for election as a Regional Councillor, a person has to be an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. In addition, a person can only serve on a Regional Council if they live in the Region. The voting system for Regional Council elections is the same as is used in Senate election. Regional Council elections are held every three years. Voting at Regional Council elections is by secret ballot and is not compulsory. On 3 November 1990 Regional Council elections were held. A total of 1611 nominations were received for 790 vacancies on the Regional Councils. Voting took place at 850 static and 400 mobile polling places, with a turn- out of approximately 37 000 of an estimated 114 000 eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Each Regional Council is served by an ATSIC Regional Office which is staffed by public servants employed by ATSIC. The Regional Office arranges and provides services for Regional Council meetings, carry out the decisions of Regional Councils, help prepare Regional plans and administer funds which are allocated by the Regional Council to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. Regional Offices range in size from nine to 32 staff. In 1991- 92, 29 Regional Offices managed approximately 3700 grants accounting for approximately $465 million of ATSIC's total outlays of $672 million.

Regional Offices have recently been the subject of a December 1992 report of the Auditor- General. 1 The audit's objectives were to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of Regional Offices both in the delivery of ATSIC programs and the support of Regional Councils. The major conclusions and findings of the report included that grants management procedures were neither efficient nor effective, and increasing workloads without commensurate additional resources have resulted in Regional Offices being unable to effectively support Regional Councils. The major recommendations of the report included that ATSIC develop a mandatory standard format for financial reporting by recipient organisations; ATSIC require Regional Offices to use performance indicators in their project progress report to Regional Councils; ATSIC include Regional Women's Advisers as project officers specialising in women's issues; and ATSIC issue broad guidelines to Regional Office staff on the nature and extent of services to be provided to Regional Councillors.

The major amendments proposed by this Bill were announced by the Minister in a Media Release of 28 April 1993. The Minister announced a reduction in the number of Regional Councils from sixty to thirty- six; full- time appointments for ATSIC Commissioners and Regional Council Chairpersons; and removal of the power of the Minister to appoint the Chairperson and two non- elected Commissioners of ATSIC. Rationale given by the Minister for the reduction in the number of Regional Councils included that it would `... allow for the amalgamation of Councils with small Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.' 2 Rationale for the appointment of full- time Commissioners and Regional Council Chairpersons included that is `... would recognise the key role of these elected representatives, whose functions had become more significant and demanding than was envisaged when ATSIC was created.' 3

Main Provisions A new section 27, that deals with the constitution of ATSIC, will be substituted into the Principal Act by clause 5. The principal effects of proposed section 27 will be to: * reduce the number of Commissioners from 20 to 17; * remove the Minister's power to choose the Chairperson and two non- elected Commissioners; and * maintain the status of current Commissioners until the earlier of the expiration of their term or the first meeting of the Commission afeter the 1993 Regional Council elections have been held.

A new section 30, that deals with the basis on which Commissioners hold office, will be substituted into the Principal Act by clause 7. Under proposed section 30, Commissioners will hold office on a full- time basis.

A new section 32, that deals with the election of the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of ATSIC, will be substituted into the Principal Act by clause 8. The Principal effect of proposed section 32 will be to require the Commissioners to elect one of their number to be the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of ATSIC.

The Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of ATSIC will hold office until they cease to be a Commissioner, or another Commissioner is elected as Chairperson (clause 9).

The principal effect of clause 14 will be to reduce the number of Regional Councils from 60 to 36. As under the current scheme, the boundaries of the regions are to be determined by the Minister and the proposed regions are contained in Schedule 1 of the Bill.

New Section 127A, that deals with the basis on which a Chairperson of a Regional Council holds office, will be inserted into the Principal Act by clause 21. Proposed section 127A provides that the Chairperson of a Regional Council holds office on a full- time basis. In addition, where the Chairperson of a Regional Council becomes a Commissioner, they will cease to be a Chairperson.

References 1. Australian National Audit Office, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission - Regional Administration, Audit Report No. 15, December 1992. 2. Minster for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Media Release, 28 April 1993, p. 2. 3. Ibid.

Bills Digest Service 5 May 1993 Parliamentary Research Service

This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

Commonwealth of Australia 1993.

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1993.