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Tuesday, 15 August 1989
Page: 7


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(2.14) —The Opposition does not oppose the motion which has been moved by Senator Coates. It is our understanding that there is still further work to be done on that report and we regard the inquiry which the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration is undertaking as an important one. However, I want to speak on this motion because I think it would have been desirable if this report could have been available in time for the debate which the Senate will shortly undertake on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission legislation and other legislation affecting the administration of Aboriginal affairs.

I would just like to remind the Senate that at the time this reference was sent off to the Committee, it was pointed out that there were some rather odd features of the report and some rather odd omissions from it. No doubt the Committee will be doing its best to obtain an explanation for those omissions for the edification and information of the Senate. However, since that reference we have seen nothing to reduce our concern about the administration of Aboriginal affairs. Only yesterday Warwick Smith, the Opposition shadow Minister for Aboriginal affairs, released a draft Cabinet submission which had been provided to him and which relates to the Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC). I take this opportunity to say to the Government that I trust that it will not use its financial power over the ADC to anticipate the eventual outcome of the legislation before the Senate.

What is proposed in this draft Cabinet submission is a series of options which would involve using the appropriation power effectively to deprive the Aboriginal Development Commission of its functions. While it may be due to the legislative process that will occur at the end of the day, it is not a process which, in the view of the Opposition, should occur using this underhand administrative and financial tool. I seek leave to table the press release issued by Mr Smith yesterday and the attachment, which is a draft Cabinet submission. That submission makes it quite clear that currently, within the bureaucracy, if not within the Government, the means that could be adopted to short-circuit the legislative process are being canvassed.

The Aboriginal Development Commission was established after an extensive legislative process in which this Senate was prominently involved. It involved the introduction of draft legislation which was then extensively discussed with the Aboriginal community, using as the source of communication a working party of public servants, not politicians. I believe it was a thoroughly successful consultative exercise. It resulted in a substantial number of amendments to the legislation after Aboriginal input had been received. In the view of the Opposition, the Government is pursuing a course without the support of the Aboriginal community, after a Clayton's form of consultation which the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration has indicated did not leave the Aboriginal people with the understanding that the Bill would proceed without further consultation with them. The public evidence of the consideration of the undermining of the whole legislative process, which is contained in this draft Cabinet submission, should be of concern to all senators and, indeed, all members of the House of Representatives.

On what is a busy afternoon, I do not wish to prolong the debate, but I trust that the Government will not use the Budget to make the debate which we will be having over the next couple of weeks about the future direction of the administration of Aboriginal affairs in this country a nullity and a farce. If the Government chooses, prior to obtaining the legislative sanction of the Parliament, to denude the ADC of all resources other than the internal resources generated by it, largely because of the grants made through the previous Government, I think that would be a real abuse of the legislative process and the process of government.

I ask Ministers who are present to consider the implications of this matter: I would have thought that, when he was in opposition at least, a Minister like Senator Evans would have been concerned at this subversion of the process. I hope that in Cabinet, Ministers have defended due process and made sure that this technique is not used to undermine the Aboriginal Development Commission further. I seek leave to continue my remarks.


The PRESIDENT —Is leave granted to table the press release?

Leave granted.


Senator Coates —Mr President, Senator Chaney is seeking leave to continue his remarks, but this is a motion which really ought to be carried today because the report was due to be tabled today. I have sought leave for an extension of time to table it.


Senator Chaney —I do not seek leave. I am sorry, I do not wish that to be postponed.

Question resolved in the affirmative.