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Wednesday, 8 November 2000
Page: 19405

Senator EGGLESTON (2:18 PM) —I have a question for the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Senator Herron. Given the Howard government's proud record on indigenous affairs, will the minister outline some of the major practical achievements which are making real improvements in the lives of indigenous Australians, and is he aware of any alternative policies?

Senator HERRON (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —I thank Senator Eggleston for the question, because it gives me the opportunity to outline the Howard government's commitment to practical reconciliation. It also gives me the opportunity to outline two significant achievements over the past few weeks. The most recent was the Prime Minister's display of leadership and commitment to overcoming the significant disadvantage faced by many indigenous Australians. At last week's Council of Australian Governments meeting, the Prime Minister ensured that reconciliation issues will be a continuing focus as a result of the most significant Commonwealth-state forum in the country. He obtained the strong commitment of all states and territories to work cooperatively with the federal government in overcoming disadvantage. This included an agreement to establish a national system of benchmarking to ensure improvements in service delivery and that outcomes for indigenous people remain a key focus.

These commitments followed the highly successful indigenous families and communities roundtable which Senator Newman and I held in Canberra on 24 October. That peak forum of influential Australians mapped a way forward to tackle the major issues impacting on indigenous communities. To ensure a practical edge to our discussions, the government has earmarked $20 million from the $240 million Stronger Families and Communities Strategy to fund indigenous specific projects to assist indigenous communities and families. The roundtable agreed on a range of key principles to govern the design and implementation of programs for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Among the many recommendations is urgent attention targeting the needs of children and young people, particularly in the areas of self-esteem building and leadership training, awareness of one's culture and family, and anti-violence training.

These are but two of many major initiatives which form the Howard government's record $2.3 billion spending on indigenous specific programs. These programs are making a difference. Many indigenous leaders have come forward to condemn welfare dependency, which is Labor's legacy of 13 years of mismanagement. It is not surprising that the latest indigenous leader to speak out is Tracker Tilmouth, the former Central Land Council director and a reported member of the Labor Party. Mr Tilmouth is scathing in his criticism of the Labor Party, and you cannot blame him. We all know what the Labor Party thinks of the indigenous affairs portfolio with the cowardly and disgraceful toilet brush comment. Madam President, you can understand Mr Tilmouth's comments in today's Australian. He said:

For the past 20 years we've all voted Labor ... to our detriment.

Senator HERRON —`To our detriment', Senator Cook. `To our detriment', according to Mr Tilmouth. He said that under the Labor Party he was `allowed to mow the lawns, but I'm not allowed on the veranda'.

Senator Cook —Have you said sorry yet?

Senator HERRON —Senator Cook should say sorry to Mr Tilmouth and the indigenous people of this country for what they led them into—welfare dependency for the last 30 years. Senator Cook should not point his finger at me, Madam President, because in the last four years I have done more for the indigenous community of this country than the Labor Party did in the previous 13. Mr Tilmouth also reportedly said that Aboriginal Australians were tired of voting for losers. He described the Northern Territory Labor Party as `weekend warriors' who failed to consult Aboriginal people on the ground.

Mr Tilmouth is not alone. Labor member for the Northern Territory, a friend of Senator Crossin's, Mr Warren Snowdon, admits that there were grounds for criticising his party's dealings with Aboriginal people in the Territory. Referring to Mr Tilmouth, Mr Snowdon said:

He has expressed a degree of frustration which is shared by others.

I wonder if it is shared by Senator Crossin. It is obvious that Mr Beazley's federal Labor Party is only interested in using indigenous people to play politics. As Senator Minchin said this afternoon, in relation to the disgraceful use by Premier Beattie of the Native Title Act in Queensland, the Labor Party opposition's spokesman resigned on a matter of principle. (Time expired)

Senator EGGLESTON —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister detail any other specific initiatives in the health, job skills, education and indigenous employment policy areas which the government has taken and perhaps inform the Senate of the views of Mr Noel Pearson on the question of welfare dependency in indigenous people?

Senator HERRON (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —I thank Senator Eggleston for the question because it is obvious to me, although not to the other side, that a sea change is occurring in Aboriginal affairs in this country. Indigenous leaders at our roundtable—and Mr Noel Pearson was at the roundtable—expressed the desire of the indigenous people to get away from welfare dependency and to get real jobs to get the practical reconciliation that we as a government are bringing forward. The Olympic Games showed the enormous goodwill that is occurring in the community towards our indigenous people. The state funeral for Mr Charlie Perkins, an icon of the indigenous movement in this country, brought out the goodwill the community feels. I plead with the Labor Party, as I have on previous occasions, to be bipartisan in their approach to indigenous affairs in this country rather than making it a football, as they seem to be doing. I plead with them: let us get a bipartisan approach to the indigenous affairs of this country so that we can improve the welfare of every indigenous Australian—it is their right to have equality in this country. (Time expired)