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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 110

Senator CARR (8:50 PM) —I was not intending to say anything further on this matter, but since the minister has felt so aggravated about some remarks I have made about this agreement I think it is important to enlarge upon them. The minister said she was advised that this matter was the product of a local initiative. I am advised to the contrary. What occurred was that the senior officers of the department were approached by the local administrator, who had been seeking funding for a petrol bowser for some considerable time and had been rebuffed—

Senator Vanstone —By ATSIC, was that?

Senator CARR —I understand that whoever it was rebuffed them, and I also understand—and this is on the public record—that Mr Gibbons explained to the local administrator that, if they wanted to get some progress on this matter, they had better come up with some proposals that were close to what the government’s policy position was in regard to so-called mutual obligation. That was the nature of the conversation that occurred according to the public record on these matters—according to the statements that have been made by the local community. There was not universal support in the local community for it. Again, that is on the public record. It is all very convenient for the government to now say that this was an initiative of the locals, but that is not necessarily what the documents indicate.

My concern now and my concern at the time was how a primary health care issue like the treatment of trachoma could be reduced to such a facile arrangement under which you expect parents to sign up to the proposition that they did not look after their kids. That is the humiliation that you are trying to impose upon communities. And you are putting it to them in circumstances in which considerable actions have already been taken at a local level and considerable progress has been made by local communities. You put to them this demeaning proposition that if they want a petrol bowser then they have to acknowledge that they have not been washing their kids. That is an extraordinary proposition.

Furthermore, when we go into the detail of these shared responsibility agreements we note that the government in talking to itself in its internal documents says that these are not matters of discretionary expenditure; they go to core funding arrangements, such as cyclical maintenance on housing. What citizen in this country would be expected to barter away basic entitlements like housing or income support or other primary health care issues to meet an ideological obsession of the government whereby they are to commit publicly to the proposition that they do not look after their kids—or whatever it is that some bureaucrat in Canberra has determined is the flavour of the month!

That is what offended me. That is why I said it was paternalistic; that is why I said it was coercive. The evidence is crystal clear. The fact that it is not signed needs to be constantly drawn to the government’s attention, because it was the government that said that this was the big answer to the problems facing Indigenous communities: ‘We will impose these new arrangements but we will always tell people that Indigenous people know what is good for them and that they thought it up.’ We know that is not the case.