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Howard Government has mandate to gut ATSIC.



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Media Release

 

29 October 1998

 

HOWARD GOVERNMENT HAS NO MANDATE TO GUT ATSIC

 

The Howard Government has no mandate to “gut” the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission by stripping it of its major programs, the ATSIC Board of Commissioners sai d today.

 

The ATSIC Board has expressed its dismay at a statement by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Senator John Herron, that the Government has it plan to further attack the Commission.

 

Senator Herron said in a newspaper interview last week that the Howard Government had intended to announce substantial changes to ATSIC during the recent federal election campaign but decided against it for fear of promoting the One Nation agenda.

 

ATSIC Chairman, Mr Gatjil Djerrkura, said the Minister had claimed during the campaign that the Commission had fuelled media speculation about a secret government plan to gut ATSIC and had constantly refused to comment on the reports on the basis that he was in "caretaker" mode.

 

Mr Djerrkura said the speculation, which had appeared in newspaper reports in the first week of the election campaign, had not come from ATSIC but from Government sources.

 

"ATSIC refused to speculate on the speculation at the time in the hope the Government would reveal its proposals during the campaign but they did not do so," Mr Djerrkura said.

 

“Now the Minister is telling us, through the media, that the plan existed all along and is tucked away in someone’s bottom drawer for a year”

 

Mr Djerrkura said the Board was aware that recommendations to remove ATSIC’s key programs in the Northern Territory were contained in the Reeves Report, tabled in the Federal Parliament by Senator Herron just before the election was called.

 

This was seen by many Aboriginal people as a “blueprint,” for stripping ATSIC programs away on a national level.

 

However, the Board was firmly of the view that there was no good policy basis upon which to take away any of ATSIC’s major programs, such as the Community Development Employment Projects scheme and the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program.

 

“If the Government attempts to move down this track it will be all about politics, rather than good policy,” Mr Djerrkura added.

 

“We are concerned the Minister claimed during the campaign that the reports were an ‘Aunt Sally’ set up by ATSIC when he clearly knew this to be totally untrue and the Government plan did exist.

 

“ATSIC wrote to the Minister during the campaign seeking a meeting to clarify the situation but he said he was too busy. We then wrote to the Prime Minister seeking clarification but heard nothing.

 

“Given that the Howard Government decided against releasing this plan for open debate during the campaign and would not talk to the Commission about it so that we were in a position to consult with our constituents it surely cannot claim a mandate for its implementation during this term of Government.

 

“Meanwhile, the Board has received assurances from the Australian Democrats and the Australian Labor Party that they would strenuously resist any attempts to mount any further political attacks by the Howard Government on the Commission and its constituents ."

 

Further information through the Office of Public Affairs:

 

Brian Johnstone         02 6289 3307 /   0419 010 687

Martin Freckmann     02 6289 3399 /   018 631 045

 

 

 

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