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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 99

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) (8:04 PM) —I thank Senator Ridgeway for his contribution. This debate might be a classic example of where people agree on the position they want to get to—namely, better outcomes for Indigenous Australians—and just have furious fights about how to get there. That is an odd kind of way of saying that I assume we all agree on that much at least in this chamber—that any changes we make should be for the purposes of getting better outcomes for Indigenous Australians—but, nonetheless, we have a different path of choosing.

I have a similar view to Senator Carr in relation to Senator Ridgeway’s amendment (1), although, if Senator Carr were here when Susan Ryan was minister, he would have had the pleasure of seeing a bill named in a fashion that was rather inconsistent with its substance. I am referring to the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Bill 1986, which was really an equal opportunity bill, but it suited the government at the time to call it something slightly more grandiose. I have never held that against Susan Ryan; I thought it was politically a smart move from her perspective. Nonetheless, it is quite obvious that we will not be supporting amendment (1). It would be no surprise to the senator that we will not support his opposition to schedule 1 either.

Under the bill, Indigenous Business Australia will take over the responsibility for ATSIC’s housing fund and Business Development Program. Under the act, the minister was able to give general directions to ATSIC about its operations, and the power in the bill to give directions to IBA reflects the expanded role of IBA. As to appeals to the AAT being available where IBA refuses business loans, I think the short form of my response is that these really should be commercial decisions; they are not necessarily of the character that one always believes should go before the AAT. The government have the view that it was not appropriate for the ATSIC Act to provide for an AAT review of ATSIC decisions to refuse business loans. It is believed there is a clear distinction between the types of decisions involved in providing housing loans and in providing business loans. We think that Indigenous Business Australia is the best place to make those final decisions.

I will now deal with the ‘no disadvantage’ amendment. That does seem to me to be one that assumes bad faith on behalf of the government, and I can assure you there is not that. I do not think there is bad faith anywhere in Australia with respect to better outcomes for Indigenous Australians. There is, as I say, disagreement—and often quite serious disagreement—about how to get there, but not necessarily bad faith. I am not expecting anything that works and works well to be changed but, if something is not working well and not delivering the outcomes, I hope you would agree, Senator Ridgeway, that it should be changed and therefore we can get better outcomes.

As to the environmental issues, when the environment minister is required to decide whether a proposal might have a significant impact on the environment and should therefore be subject to an assessment, the environment minister must invite comment from relevant ministers and from the public. In the case of proposals which could impact on Indigenous heritage values, the environment minister must at the moment also invite comment from ATSIC. When the requirement to invite comments from ATSIC is removed, the requirement to invite comments from the public on whether any proposal may have a significant impact will continue, to ensure that Indigenous views can always be put forward. The requirement to invite comment from relevant ministers will ensure that whole-of-government views are obtained. So there will not be any change to the consultation requirements in undertaking a detailed environmental assessment of a proposal. The requirements will continue to ensure that Indigenous views can be put forward on proposals at the assessment and approval stage. So the short form of all of that, Senator Ridgeway, is the same as you heard from Senator Carr. The government will not be accepting your amendments.