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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26144

Senator KNOWLES (2:15 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Vanstone. Will the minister inform the Senate how the government's new deal for Indigenous Australians will offer better outcomes and better futures? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies that would affect these people?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank Senator Knowles for her question. Coming from Western Australia, one of the states that does have a significant Indigenous population, she is understandably particularly interested in these issues. Much has been made recently of the government's decision to abolish ATSIC, whereas in fact that is just a small part of our reforms. It is worth commenting that it is Labor policy to get rid of ATSIC too. You would think, therefore, that it would not be a problem. The matter was referred to a committee, though, so that further investigation could be made. We have heard the chairman of the committee saying there is not much support for ATSIC out there. So you would think the Labor Party, given that it is their policy and that their committee has found not much support for ATSIC out there, would be happy to support a bill that simply gets rid of ATSIC. But no, the committee is dragging itself out, looking at a whole range of issues. It is welcome to look at those. I encourage people to look at a range of issues associated with Indigenous Australia, but the key issue of whether to get rid of ATSIC should be resolved. Not doing so is costing the taxpayer $65,000 a week.

You can visit remote communities, Mr President, and ask any one of them, from Ampilatawatj to Fitzroy Crossing to Oombulgurri, what they could do with $65,000 for a whole year. Let me help you with what they could do: they could employ a youth worker, if they had high suicide rates; they could get more computers for their kids. We are not letting them miss out, because we are finding this additional money that is now required, but the point is that that money could be spent on something else of value. When we know that it is Labor policy to get rid of ATSIC, that it is our policy and that the committee has not found support for ATSIC, why not get on with it?

One of the reasons that Labor do not want to get on with it is that they have not been entirely frank with the electorate. They said they would get rid of ATSIC. That was the headline they wanted. They are out there saying, `Don't worry; when we get into power you'll have Son of ATSIC—you'll have a bigger ATSIC board.' There will be more bureaucracy standing between Indigenous communities and the Australian government. What we are going to do is shift the Indigenous specific programs. The people and the programs are being retained and they are being shifted into mainstream departments. Mainstream agencies will manage Indigenous programs. There will be better access to programs and services and they will be more accountable for the outcomes than ATSIC was. Mr President, you may have heard some criticism of mainstreaming from senators opposite.

Senator O'Brien —Yes, lots!

Senator VANSTONE —I see Senator O'Brien nodding yes. I did not see Senator O'Brien or anybody on the other side criticising mainstreaming when Labor did it with Indigenous health. It is one rule for Labor and another rule for everybody else. I do not see federal Labor members going up to the Northern Territory criticising Clare Martin for saying mainstreaming is a good thing—in fact, writing to the Prime Minister advocating mainstreaming. We are going much further than this. Senator Knowles, there is a lot more I would like to say on this issue. We are not simply, however, going to the old mainstreaming. We are doing a much better job than that. We are making it easier for Indigenous communities to deal with us.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator VANSTONE —For example, before senators opposite think it is so funny, think about someone in a community applying for domestic violence grants. They have to go to the Office of the Status of Women and to the Department of Family and Community Services. They may have to go to the Attorney-General's Department, to the Department of Transport and Regional Services and then to the old ATSIC. Then they have to do the same thing at a state level. These are the communities least equipped to deal with the complex and fiddly bureaucracies that we have. While the mainstream departments are responsible for it, we are bringing those together. As for giving Indigenous people a voice, we are going and listening directly to the local communities about what they want. (Time expired)

Senator KNOWLES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister further expand on the benefits that this new deal will provide for the Indigenous communities?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —It will be my pleasure to expand on the benefits that this new deal will provide for local communities. They do not need more bureaucracy between them and government; they need government listening directly to them, and that is exactly what we will do. We can look forward to seeing even more improvements than those that the government have already delivered. Look, for example, at the year 12 retention rates. When we came to government they were 29 per cent; now they are 39 per cent.

Senator Crossin —Tell us about the gap!

Senator VANSTONE —Before Senator Crossin keeps interrupting, she might like to draw her attention—

Senator Crossin —Tell us about the gap!

Senator VANSTONE —Senator Crossin might like to look at what the year 12 retention rates were under Labor. I will save her—

Senator Crossin —Tell us about the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Crossin, come to order.

Senator VANSTONE —They were 32.5 per cent in 1994. They went down in 1995 to 30 per cent and in 1996 they went down to 29.1. So, if we want to have a discussion about giving people opportunities and giving them education, let us compare the record: year 12 retention rates down under that lot and up under this lot.