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Deputy Prime Minister responds to Pat O'Shane's criticisms

ELLEN FANNING: The Deputy Prime Minister has joined A.M., this morning, to defend his Prime Minister and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Mr Fischer has rejected outright Pat O'Shane's call for John Herron's resignation and says there's no doubt there is an Aboriginal industry in Australia. The Deputy Prime Minister spoke to Matt Brown in Canberra just a short time ago.

MATT BROWN: Well, Tim Fischer, how do you respond to Pat O'Shane's criticisms of your government's handling of Aboriginal affairs and how do you defend the record of your government?

TIM FISCHER: I reject it outright. She may belong to the brigade that believes in infinite welfare, infinite bureaucracy-I don't. And on the question of fairness, John Howard made it very clear in a speech to ACOSS, last year, reaffirmed on the floor of the House of Representatives, that we will be looking after the elderly, that we will be, for example, giving an absolute priority to aged pensions and service pensions in what is a very tough budget setting. The fairness is there and will continue to be there after the Budget on 20 August.

MATT BROWN: She says though, for example, particularly on Aboriginal affairs, that the Prime Minister has now used the term 'Aboriginal industry'. She's taken quite some exception to that. Now, do you think it was helpful that John Howard used the term Aboriginal industry?

TIM FISCHER: I defend John Howard's use of plain English and there is no doubt ....

MATT BROWN: And that term?

TIM FISCHER: ... there is an industry attaching to elements of Aboriginal policy in this country which is more about its self-interest than perhaps helping the good people of Alcoota (?) who are getting on with their lives north east of Alice Springs, and a very good example of a dry community making real progress. Where we ....

MATT BROWN: So do you accept that Aboriginal industry is seen in the community, and particularly by Aboriginal people, as a pejorative term, a term which demeans many of their own efforts?

TIM FISCHER: Let me turn to Pat's exact comments on this. She herself says there are elements of ATSIC which have become extremely bureaucratic, become less associated with the genuine welfare and end outcomes on health and education for Aboriginal people across Australia, and more associated with process and bureaucracy. On that score, perhaps Pat herself does not believe in infinite bureaucracy. Certainly, John Howard and I believe it is high time to push through to outcomes, and that's what John Herron is doing this very day, out on the Darling River with Michael Cobides (?), about getting right through to the outcomes with regard to the large amounts of taxpayers' money spent on health and education which are not delivering progress.

MATT BROWN: Pat O'Shane has told us that the Prime Minister's use of the term Aboriginal industry is promoting divisiveness and racial disharmony, if not hatred.

TIM FISCHER: I disagree with her in that regard. I support her in her remarks that at last the sacred cow of ATSIC deserves the sort of scrutiny, the accountability, which is part of the problem, to be honest.

MATT BROWN: Can you understand that people in Aboriginal communities-there's been a lot made that this is one of the first actions of your government, that they might be seeing this as an attack on their activity, that the Government has given so much attention to this and examples have been raised about the diesel fuel rebate which costs more than the entire ATSIC budget-fuel for farmers and miners?

TIM FISCHER: I believe that all will be revealed in the Budget on 20 August. In terms of the term 'Aboriginal industry', it's often used as an immigration industry. It's a phrase which dwells on those aspects associated with this policy area which have developed in the '80s and early '90s. The Federal Coalition Government is determined to bring about fair outcomes which do progress the legitimate interests of Aboriginal people, and it's about time we did that and had the courage to do that.

ELLEN FANNING: The Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer.