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Reality or rhetoric Mr Downer?

The Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Robert Tickner, has challenged the Opposition to back its professed commitment to Aboriginal health, housing and education with a commitment in tomorrow's vision statement that a future Coalition Government would not reduce spending in indigenous affairs.

Mr Tickner said today that in opposing the Government's detailed proposals for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land acquisition fund the Opposition had placed great emphasis on a professed overriding concern for the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the areas of health, housing, employment and education.

"Tomorrow's vision statement provides the Opposition an opportunity to demonstrate whether this purported deep concern is reality or simply rhetoric," he said.

"I call on Opposition Leader Alexander Downer to categorically rule out any cut in funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs under a Coalition Government."

Mr Tickner said the Government had given an unequivocal commitment not to cut spending in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. This commitment had been enshrined in an agreement with State and Territory leaders signed by the Prime Minister.

However, Coalition policy at the last Federal election had been to inflict dramatic cuts in Aboriginal employment, housing and education programs.

"The Coalition has never overturned this policy," he said.

"If the Coalition is genuine in its professed commitment to Aboriginal health, housing, employment and education, it will immediately repudiate this policy and pledge to maintain funding for programs in these and other vitally important areas.

''Significantly, the Opposition agrees with the Government that there should be no Ministerial interference with the expenditure priorities determined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) budget.

"The Government accepts that there can be legitimate debate about policy priorities outside ATSIC in areas such as employment and education.

"However, I urge the Coalition to quarantine Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs from threatened expenditure cuts.

"We ought to be on common ground that this is an area of high priority, for Government expenditure.

''If the Coalition will not give a commitment to maintain funding in indigenous affairs, there Is only one conclusion that can be drawn- - that its supposed commitment to Aboriginal health, housing and education is merely a smokescreen to hide its continuing hardline opposition to key initiatives in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs."

Further information: Paul Willoughby (06) 2777431 office)

(06) 2312758 (home)

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