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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 68

Senator PAYNE (2:09 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Will the minister inform the Senate about the outcomes of the first meeting of the National Indigenous Council? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I thank Senator Payne for her question. She, along with all senators on this side of the chamber, is determined to see an improvement in the outcomes for and service delivery to Indigenous Australians. I wish I could say that of all members opposite. I can say it of some but not of others. We have had the first meeting of the National Indigenous Council today. I am pleased to say that that meeting marks the successful beginning of a new era of Indigenous affairs—a very new era of Indigenous affairs. Indigenous Australians can now sit down with nine relevant federal cabinet ministers and express their views on a wide range of issues.

The council is made up of people with a wide range of views and experience. Some of them have not ever had the opportunity to contribute to policy making at a national level. These people are achievers in their own right. And they have not been asked to sign nor have they signed a confidentiality agreement. I mention that because, on what could be a positive day, when not only Indigenous Australians but also the government of the day recognise this historic day, we have one spoiler who says, `They've been told they can't speak.' Who would that be? He is sitting opposite—it is Senator Carr. Senator Carr cannot help himself.

Yesterday and for part of today the National Indigenous Council has been briefed by the most senior public servants in Australia—a courtesy, as best I know, never extended to them in the past by any Australian government. The council quizzed the most senior public servants, as I understand it, in a more effective way than any estimates committee has ever done.

Senator Carr —Let's see the Hansard!

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Carr, you continue to shout across the chamber during question time. I ask you to desist.

Senator VANSTONE —Having met with the Prime Minister, council members are now meeting to discuss some of their own views. The council gave us advice on our three priority areas—there is a lot more to say on this—which we will take on board. Everyone but federal Labor recognises that it is time for change—Indigenous leaders and state and territory leaders recognise that there needs to be change—that what we have been doing for first Australians is not good enough. When almost everyone wants to put their political differences aside and just get on with the job, it is disappointing that only one party in Australia wants to be a spoiler and that is the federal Labor Party—not the state Labor parties. On the dawn of a new era, their shadow minister has distanced them and taken them further and further— (Time expired)

Senator PAYNE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister outlined in her response the important capacities of the individual members of the National Indigenous Council and their engagement with the public sector today. Can the minister advise the Senate of any further outcomes of the meeting and, as I asked in my first question, any alternative policies?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Yes, Senator Payne, I can. One of the interesting things to me from the meeting this morning was the very strong emphasis on responsibility that must be taken by families and communities. There is a lack of understanding as to why governments have not given communities and families that responsibility in the past. To that end, I refer to a draft shared responsibility agreement, which looks pretty good to this government and to the Western Australian government and to the Western Australian community of Mulan. And who is out there spoiling? Senator Carr. He says they have been pushed into it. This poor community wants a petrol bowser and we are prepared to make an agreement with them to give them the petrol bowser. Senator Carr thinks it is a dreadful thing that, in exchange for a petrol bowser, this community will make an agreement to get better health outcomes for their children. And that man over there says that this is a bad thing. (Time expired)