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Minister and Senator discuss ATSIC review which finds it lacks vision and credibility.



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PM

 

Wednesday 18 June 2003

Minister and Senator discuss ATSIC review which finds it lacks vision and credibility

 

MARK COLVIN: Crisis point - that's the verdict at the end of a review of Australia's elected indigenous body ATSIC. After consulting around the country, the three-member review panel has found the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Development Commission lacks vision and credibility.  

 

The panel has produced a discussion paper with a range of options, but one in particular seems to have caught the Federal Government's attention. That's a proposal to make States and Territories more responsible for delivering services to indigenous Australians. 

 

But others, like the Aboriginal Senator Aden Ridgeway of the Democrats, are warning against giving too much control to non-indigenous bureaucrats. 

 

Peta Donald reports. 

 

PETA DONALD: The Federal Government chose three people to travel the country and ask indigenous Australians what they think of ATSIC. 

 

A former Labor Senator, Bob Collins, a one time Liberal Attorney general in New South Wales, John Hannaford, and the Aboriginal historian and co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, Jackie Huggins. They've proposed four possible new models for ATSIC.  

 

Jackie Huggins. 

 

JACKIE HUGGINS: We're kind of still keeping our mind open, and certainly there are models that offer very radical changes, there's the status quo model and there's the in-between models and we'll be looking to further discussion about this. 

 

PETA DONALD: The Government has jumped the gun, choosing one model, temporarily, pending the outcome of this review. Funding decisions have been taken away from ATSIC's elected board, now just responsible for policy, while a government bureaucracy allocates the dollars.  

 

Today, the Indigenous Affairs Minister Philip Ruddock was playing up the negative findings of the review. 

 

PHILIP RUDDOCK: That ATSIC lacks a vision and strategy, that it does not have the requisite skills and understanding of government to drive a policy agenda. 

 

PETA DONALD: Mr Ruddock is keen for the states and territories to be more responsible for delivering services to Aboriginal communities. 

 

PHILIP RUDDOCK: If you have lived in a community, it might be Brewarrina, which is primarily indigenous, you have an entitlement to expect that there will be reasonable policing services, that there will be reasonable civic amenity, that if there's a need for a family and community services role, that that will be fulfilled by that department. Now, there may be a need for supplementary services to address the particularly disadvantaged. 

 

PETA DONALD: Democrat Senator Aden Ridgeway is opposed to the model the government's already put in place, saying rather than a non-Aboriginal bureaucracy, regional authorities should be allocating ATSIC's budget. 

 

ADEN RIDGEWAY: The review clearly illustrates that the idea of creating a service agency isn't going to achieve the changes that are needed.  

 

If you're talking about the delivery of services and outcomes, then that's best achieved through regional models, not the creation of a centralised service agency, which is what the Government has established, and not one that does have a poor relationship and is reflected upon badly by ATSIC commissioners, the regional councils across the country and certainly local Aboriginal organisations. 

 

PETA DONALD: The ATSIC board and regional councillors were briefed on the review this afternoon. 

 

Chairman Geoff Clark is sounding positive. 

 

GEOFF CLARK: If ATSIC has the potential to become the lead agency in each state and territory and be the primary advice to state governments and the commonwealth government, it has that potential. 

 

However, I've got to emphasise that any organisation requires the mandate of the people. We need to be able to design this so that the Aboriginal people fully endorse the concepts and to believe the organisation has the capacity to represent their interests. 

 

PETA DONALD: The discussion paper will now be circulated widely, with a final report due to go to the government in September. 

 

Review Panel member, Jackie Huggins again. 

 

JACKIE HUGGINS: ATSIC gets the blame for everything. If it's family violence, for instance, the Prime Minister said that perhaps we should look to ATSIC for funding.  

 

These are state and territory responsibilities and these are the kinds of messages that the review will certainly throw up and certainly make some absolutely positive way to move forward with these, because ATSIC is not the panacea for all ills of indigenous peoples or their programs and the worries that we have. 

 

ATSIC is a very vital organisation, that I think with some more work can actually be very beneficial, not only to indigenous peoples, but to Australia as a whole. 

 

MARK COLVIN: Jackie Huggins, of the ATSIC Review Panel, ending Peta Donald's report.