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Thursday, 31 August 1989
Page: 685


Senator TAMBLING(12.32) —In addressing the second reading of the Aboriginal Development Commission Amendment Bill and the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Bill, I would like to concentrate my remarks on the Aboriginal Development Commission Amendment Bill. This Bill is designed to tighten up the ADC but we need to ask some very fundamental questions as to why it is seen that that tightening up has to take place. Unlike the honourable senator who spoke just before me, Senator McKiernan, I am certainly not here as an apologist for Mr Hand. Mr Hand's record through this whole sorry, sad saga will certainly mean, as Senator McKiernan said, that he will be remembered but he certainly will not be remembered in the way in which Senator McKiernan was rather hopeful that Aboriginal people in the Australian community would want to remember him.

A number of very significant events have taken place since July 1987 when Mr Hand became the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I am totally confused and bewildered by the way in which the Cabinet, the Labor Government Cabinet, has succumbed to the pressures of the socialist Left on this issue rather than responding to the genuine, the real, pressures, requests and demands of Aboriginal people throughout Australia. The Labor Government has run to the socialist Left agenda, not to an agenda that is set out to benefit Aboriginal people.

The fact that the Bill before us today is, in effect, complementary to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) Bill of course needs to be carefully considered. We need to look at the motivation for what has occurred. I would argue that much of what has happened in this Aboriginal political area has been vindictive. It has been vindictive against many Aboriginal people throughout Australia. I have read with interest the annual reports of the Aboriginal Development Commission for 1986-87 and for 1987-88-the last one available to us. They are very interesting. Every senator should take the time to put those two reports alongside each other and to draw some significant comparisons.

In the 1986-87 annual report, which was a full report, properly documented, properly set out, with good content from the Chairman and from many other people, it is interesting to note what the then Chairman of the ADC, Mrs Shirley McPherson, had to say in her introductory remarks. She acknowledged:

The Aboriginal Development Commission Act 1980 which established the ADC in 1980 is a unique piece of legislation, visionary in outlook and clearly recognising Aboriginal needs. It was only enacted after extensive consultation with the Aboriginal people and with the bi-partisan support of Parliament.

. . . .

My fellow Commissioners and I have worked hard and responsibly to ensure that the trust placed in us by both the Aboriginal people and the Parliament is fully justified.

Mrs McPherson talked about establishing in that year a corporate plan, a compilation of program procedures manuals and the ADC recognising clear goals, objectives and strategies. Sure, there were still many inherent problems in this whole portfolio area. But at least in 1986-87 Mrs McPherson and the ADC in their report had the good grace to recognise the contribution of other Aboriginal Australians who had participated at the Commission level. Mr Mick Miller, Mr Getano Lui Jr, Laurie Walna and Robert Tipungwuti had all retired during the year and were given proper acknowledgment in that report. The 1986-87 report was comprehensive. It acknowledged the problems, but it also highlighted all of the significant events that were taking place.

By comparison, the shocking annual report of 1987-88, which was tabled recently in this Parliament, is a disgrace. It was obviously compiled with obvious political interference and intervention in the recognition of it. As many honourable senators would know, it is currently under investigation by a committee of this Senate because of its inadequacies and because of the parts of it that are absolutely wrong. The introductory letter to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has the wrong date on it-1989 could not even be put in print, the year before was the date attached to the letter.

The former commissioners of the ADC were sacked by the Minister in the eleventh month of the financial year. They had given an 11-month contribution. But they were not even mentioned anywhere in the report, let alone recognised. I will come, in a moment, to why they were not recognised, to why they were completely overlooked and to the fact that the Minister replaced them. None of them is given any credit for the great contribution that he or she had sought to make. Certain other ADC Board members are inadequately described. The report fails to mention that Mr Charles Perkins was one of the Board members appointed on 13 May 1989. Therefore, he was there for six weeks at the end of the financial year; but he does not even get a credit, a photograph or a biography similar to the other potted biographies in the front section. Why? Because some six or eight months later he fell out of favour with the Minister too and he was obviously removed from any retrospective recognition of the role that he was to play.

There was also no chairman's comment. As we know, Mrs Shirley McPherson has been critical of much of the stance taken by the Minister in developing the ATSIC proposals. So, the chairman's comment was deleted, pulled out, not even acknowledged in the annual report. The photograph of Mrs Shirley McPherson that is printed can only be described as probably the worst one available on the ADC's files. She was put in the report with a snarl on her face and looking downwards. The psychology of the presentation is ridiculous. There is no foreword from the ADC Chairman at all in that year's annual report.

I refer also to the concern about the general manager's overview. This matter has been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration for investigation. I have been told by people who have spoken to Mr Mick O'Brien that he has indicated that the overview as published is not what he recalls writing in draft form. It was never submitted in its final form to him for signature. Therefore, the signature appearing for Mr Mick O'Brien is a forgery.

All of this leads me to the fact that it only highlights what Senator Teague so correctly pointed out to us the other day: the Minister, Mr Hand, in May 1988 set out on a vindictive and deliberate plan to undermine the Aboriginal Development Commission. It was a political matter of getting numbers for ATSIC without weighing up the decent arguments that were put forward. Minister Hand was using Aboriginal people, Aboriginal leaders and Aboriginal communities; he was seeking to convey a message for political purposes. Senator Teague pointed out in his comments in the ATSIC debate on 30 August 1989:

My criticism is reserved for the Minister, Mr Hand, who deliberately subverted the ADC to his own political line. The tactics of the Minister's men in the civil war were conspiratorial, secretive and dissembling, using every delegated power to the hilt for their own advantage and using the violence of numbers to bully a conclusion through.

. . . .

There is no evidence that the Minister has encouraged discussion built on trust, openness, free debate, the tendering of clear evidence or soundly established material.

Senator Teague tabled a transcript of a discussion in July 1988 between eight of the new Hand-picked and Hand-appointed commissioners of the ADC at a meeting, in which there are some very interesting comments. The comments from those Hand-picked commissioners include:

Stand Mick-

that is, Mr O'Brien-

aside and say that the Chief Officer of the ADC is now Mike Stewart and all staff answerable to him. That's it.

. . . .

. . . we have to override them. Now, that's utilising your authority. Right. Override them. And change their position.

. . . .

We should knock this into a resolution. Mike Stewart is now the position of the General Manager. Put Mick O'Brien on special duties, and if he can't come at those, we can put him aside. Mike Stewart will hone in on them and Shirley is not to leave Canberra.

. . . .

The other thing is we want to cover the political scandal. We don't want Mike Stewart getting involved with all the administrative matters. We've got to be careful about that. If we give him all O'Brien's delegations, he's going to be tied into knots. They'll make it hard for him. They'll just try and knock him off. What we want is a politician.

What disgraceful comments from the Hand-picked, Hand-appointed commissioners of the ADC! This situation comes about because the commissioners were specially appointed to do the job on the ADC-not to look after the interests of the Aboriginal people throughout Australia that the ADC had been struggling with since 1980 but to undermine the efforts and all of the other things that have been talked about by other senators today.

The ADC has had to walk through a minefield. But it is very interesting to note that in March 1988 the former group of commissioners put forward an alternative strategy for Aboriginal self-management. This was in response to the Minister's invitation to comment on Foundations for the Future-the preamble, the pre-discussion, to the ATSIC proposals. That alternative strategy needs to be looked at carefully. Mr Acting Deputy President, given the time, I will pursue that issue when the debate resumes.

Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.30 p.m.