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Aboriginal organisations have accused the Federal Government of trying to erode the power of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and push through major changes in Aboriginal policy without proper consultation

PAUL MURPHY: Aboriginal organisations have accused the Federal Government of trying to erode the power of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and push through major changes in Aboriginal policy without proper consultation. The Director of the Central Land Council, David Ross, says recommendations expected to be endorsed at the November special Premiers' Conference would destroy what Aboriginal people had been fighting for for over the past 25 years. Mr Ross was appointed today as the last Commissioner on the 20-member ATSIC board, and says he'll be urging his fellow commissioners to reject the proposals of a government working party, at an ATSIC meeting in Canberra next week. Louise Marr reports from Alice Springs.

LOUISE MARR: The working party of Commonwealth, State, Territory and local government representatives was established after last October's special Premiers' Conference, to find ways of achieving better co-ordination in the delivery of programs and services to Aboriginal people. Its recommendations - approved by the Aboriginal Affairs Ministers - will be discussed by the Premiers when they meet in November. But the combined Aboriginal organisations of Alice Springs, including the Central Land Council, are urging the ATSIC commissioners to try to block the proposals. Their analysis indicates the Commonwealth is planning to give the States and Territories almost complete control of Aboriginal housing funds and infrastructure provision like power and water, and that this significant shift in policy is about to be endorsed without any meaningful input from Aboriginal people themselves.

The report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody said governments should negotiate, not just consult, with Aboriginal people on these types of issues, and in this case the organisations say the ATSIC regional councils have not even had the chance to discuss the plans. They believe it makes a mockery of the Government's alleged support for Aboriginal self-determination.

Central Land Council Director and newly appointed ATSIC Commissioner, David Ross.

DAVID ROSS: Well, it seems to me, from the recommendations, that all moneys for community housing and infrastructure program will be handed across to the State and Territory governments with very little, if any, input from Aboriginal organisations, the regional councils. My way of looking at ATSIC was that it was setting up a Aboriginal organisation that can deal with these things themselves. And, you know, people are elected throughout the communities and their regional councils; they're living within their own communities; they know what communities want; they know what the priorities of communities are, et cetera. With these funds being handed over to the Territory and State governments, then you go back to the old days of government and bureaucrats running around deciding what is good for people. Now, you know, as I say, that's just putting the clock back 25 years.

LOUISE MARR: However, Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Robert Tickner, says the Aboriginal organisations have not understood the recommendations, and he's moved to allay their concerns.

ROBERT TICKNER: It is absolutely wrong to say that there is any handing over of responsibility. Nothing will happen involving any transfer of powers to State government. What we're seeing is a proposal that the Commonwealth negotiate agreements with the States, and so we have effectively what I've been calling for all my time as Minister: a very genuine national commitment of governments to address issues of Aboriginal disadvantage. This is not about the Commonwealth walking away from its responsibilities.

LOUISE MARR: Will ATSIC have control of those housing funds?

ROBERT TICKNER: Well, again, I repeat to you that what's going to happen is that an agreement, if this proposal eventuates, between the States and Territories and the Commonwealth; so what we're going to see is a co-operative arrangement and negotiations. To make it absolutely clear, nothing will happen unless the commissioners of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission are assured as I am, that Aboriginal interests are going to be protected.

LOUISE MARR: Why haven't the ATSIC regional councils been involved in negotiations or even consultations over this process?

ROBERT TICKNER: Well, of course, it's the responsibility of the ATSIC commissioners to embark upon that consultation process. Information has been supplied to the regional councils, and no doubt there's going to be feedback from them, but, of course, there's also going to be feedback in the period ahead. Even after the special Premiers' Conference, there is a great deal of detail to be hammered out about precisely the form and nature of the agreements that will occur.

LOUISE MARR: But the agreements are likely to be endorsed before the regional councils have had any real input?

ROBERT TICKNER: No, that is not so. I can assure you that that will not be what happens. There has obviously got to be consultation, but I don't want to run away from emphasising the extent of the horrendous obstacles that have got to be overcome to get reform of processes of this kind.

PAUL MURPHY: The Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Robert Tickner, with Louise Marr.