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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1307

Senator BARTLETT (4:02 PM) —I support the Greens amendment, which seeks to expand the focus of the committee to regional and remote Indigenous communities rather than just remote Indigenous communities. I think it is important to be able to do that. The Democrats in general support the proposal of having a substantial committee inquiry into this very important issue. Given that I have spoken for a number of years now in this chamber about the need to give a much greater and concerted focus and priority to Indigenous issues across the political spectrum, it would only be reasonable for us to support the proposal to do just that. But the hypocrisy we are seeing from the coalition again has to be noted. After three years of preventing a single Senate select committee being established, we now have a fourth Senate select committee being set up in the space of a couple of weeks. As I said a few minutes ago in regard to the Selection of Bills Committee report, the hypocrisy of the coalition putting in place a comprehensive Senate committee inquiry stretching out over 2½ years—it is proposed the committee make its final report in September 2010—into an intervention that this Senate was given one day to examine is unbelievable. I know we are meant to all smile wryly and go, ‘Oh well, that’s politics,’ but I just find that too hard, frankly. The gall is beyond belief—even for politicians. That is very different from agreeing with—

Senator Kemp —Although you support the motion.

Senator BARTLETT —I do. I have no doubt at all—

Senator Kemp interjecting—

Senator BARTLETT —I can see why Senator Kemp cannot see the difference between supporting a proposal and supporting a proposal whilst recognising that it is dripping with hypocrisy. It is not surprising Senator Kemp cannot differentiate those two things, because he has shown that he is incapable of recognising gall and rampant hypocrisy throughout his career. It is no surprise that he cannot see it now, but it is overwhelming to anybody who has the opportunity to look at this objectively. We have an opportunity here to examine this issue and look at the impacts of the intervention—and, I might say, Indigenous issues more broadly. That opportunity is welcomed and I do hope the Senate engages with it constructively.

Senator Kemp —So you are supporting it?

Senator BARTLETT —Yes, I am supporting it. It is very observant of you, Senator Kemp! It is amazing: it is good that you have finally followed a debate well enough to realise that when I say, ‘I support something,’ then, yes, I support it. I appreciate that when you stand up and say, ‘I support something,’ you usually have half of your brain looking for the excuse to back out of what you have just said, because you are used to saying one thing and doing another. As my record shows in this chamber, when I say I support something, I support it. I appreciate that is a strange concept for you, Senator Kemp—who is, I might say, interjecting from somewhere far removed from his actual seat. But, again, following proper process and having respect for the Senate is not something I have expected from Senator Kemp for a long period of time. The simple fact is that the intent of what is being done here is welcomed.

Senator Kemp —Tedious.

Senator BARTLETT —You are right, Senator Kemp; you are incredibly tedious.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Kirk)—Senator Kemp, I have to call you to order. If you wish to interject, please do so from your seat.

Senator BARTLETT —It does need to be put on the record, though, the disparity between the actions of the coalition when they were in government in preventing inquiries, including into the Northern Territory intervention, and what they are doing here. I called for a proper examination of the issues when the Liberals were in government. It is sad that it took them until they got into opposition to actually allow proper scrutiny, but now that we have the opportunity for proper scrutiny, it is something that should be welcomed.

It should be stated that this does not just concern the Northern Territory intervention and its effectiveness; it also concerns the impact of state and territory government policies—which also need to be thoroughly examined—the health, welfare, education and security of children in remote and regional Indigenous communities across the board and employment and enterprise opportunities.

I do not have any particular objection to a Senate committee going for 2½ years. Senator Sherry would know; he was, I think, part of the Senate Select Committee on Superannuation that went for about three or four parliaments. The Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare back in the 1980s and early 1990s also went for about six or seven years. So a committee going for a prolonged period of time is not necessarily a bad idea if—and this is the key issue and I do hope the Senate committee is able to achieve it—the committee operates constructively with a genuine attempt being made to leave the politics out of it, to take the point scoring out of it, to stop the ideological arm wrestling, to stop the using of Indigenous people as political footballs and to actually look at the issues. That is part of the reason why I have foreshadowed my amendment.

The other thing we have seen with this proposal, as with every other select committee that the coalition have now suddenly seen a need to set up, is that they are taking the chair for themselves. It may well be that the best person for the role of committee chair is one of the coalition members, but I think we really need to be looking at the principle of the best person getting the job. In my view, and this is the reason behind my foreshadowed amendment, once the members of the committee are known, the committee should—and it could be an early test of its ability to work in a non-partisan way—determine for itself who should be the chair, and then the deputy chair would be from a different party from that of the chair. I can say this now as I clearly have no self-interest in this as this committee will obviously not feature any Democrat, but it will have a person from the crossbenches. I expect this would be a Green, but that is still to be determined.

Depending on who those people are, it is quite possible that the best chair for that committee could be a Green or a government person. The select committee should not be set up specifically—

Senator Kemp —It certainly won’t be you, Andrew.

Senator BARTLETT —No, it will not. You are right, Senator Kemp. You have indeed listened to me once again. As I said, I will not be here and neither will you. Can I suggest that your not being part of this prolonged inquiry is a massive chance for this committee to actually operate in a constructive way, because your record, particularly on using Indigenous people for opportunities to score cheap political points and smear people, is one that is clearly on the record in this chamber. And you are doing it once again right now. Thank you for being true to form and proving my point. It also demonstrates that instantly giving the chair of the committee to a coalition senator, regardless of who it is, is not necessarily the best way to guarantee that the committee can do its job effectively.

I welcome the fact that the Senate will decide to have a comprehensive examination of regional and remote Indigenous communities. I very much urge whoever serves on the committee to do all they can to make it a constructive, non-partisan series of inquiries and reports over the 2½ years for which it will be operational. We do need to remember why it is that we are doing this. We are doing it to try to improve the situation for Indigenous Australians. We are not doing this, I hope, to try to provide a rolling opportunity for political point scoring and ideological wedge making in regard to the Indigenous affairs policy debate. Unfortunately, we are still seeing that from time to time in this chamber and we are still seeing it from time to time from some in the mainstream media. Indigenous peoples deserve far better than that.

If there is one area where all of us in all political parties have failed comprehensively across the board decade after decade, it is in our approach to Indigenous Australians. This inquiry and the committee itself will be a big test of whether we have managed to evolve beyond that and whether we are mature enough to do our jobs responsibly. I hope whoever serves on the committee is able to do that. One way of improving the chances of it doing that is to pick the best person for the job of chair—it is a bit of a novel concept, I suppose—rather than just handing it automatically to a coalition member.