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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 104

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) (8:26 PM) —I think Senator Carr will understand why I will bypass a large amount of what he said. He is entitled to put his view, but it is not one that I agree with. It is true that the government were having consultations with the opposition in relation to this matter. I would think that is to our credit that we keep an open mind and are happy to listen. It is true that we entertained the proposition that was put, but a whole-of-government decision has been made to not finally clinch the deal. The reason for that is pretty simple: what do you achieve by extending the life of regional councils for six months? If the reasoning for that is to give these councils time to adjust, my response is that they have had 12 months. They were told when their time would come. They have had 12 months to adjust, and another six months will not change that. I agree wholeheartedly with people who might want to nominate particular regional councils that have done particularly well, but there would be others that have not.

The situation is changing. The Labor Party is not suggesting that regional councils should stay there forever and a day. All we would achieve by accepting this amendment would be a further six months of confusion before we could move on, and move on we intend to do. We are working with the state and territory governments and consulting with the regional councils and a range of Indigenous organisations and communities about alternative arrangements. That is already happening on the ground.

Quite different forms of representation than regional councils could, and I believe will, emerge and that will not happen while you continue to have a non-Indigenous construct in place. I cannot accept, with all the good faith I have in a number of regional councillors, that they will spend the next six months, if one were to agree that they stay, negotiating themselves out of existence. We are determined to see that the arrangements that follow the abolition of regional councils actually reflect Indigenous preferences in that area, and they will be different from area to area. What is largely not understood here is that the government’s change and determination is to listen directly to communities, to really give Indigenous people on the ground a voice. I know a number of people believe that ATSIC did that. But the proof is there with the small proportion of Indigenous Australians who are entitled to vote voting. My advice is it was about 20 per cent. You could put it another way and say that Indigenous Australia voted with their feet and just did not think it was worth it or, worse still, did not even know about it.

Those are the reasons, Senator Carr. It would not cost the government much more to do it the way you are suggesting. It is not a question of cost at all. It is simply that a decision has been made, it was announced some time ago, there was good grace given to the councils to last for a further 12 months, and when that 12 months is up it is time to move on and create the space in which representative arrangements decided by Indigenous Australians in their particular areas will be able to grow.