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Thursday, 31 August 1989
Page: 734

Senator TAMBLING(8.12) —Prior to the adjournment of this debate at lunchtime today, I was drawing very important comparisons between the annual reports of the Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC) for 1986-87 and 1987-88. I believe that I demonstrated to the Senate the very deliberate and nasty work of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Hand) in July 1987 when he took over the portfolio and the very radical and different changes that have been made since that time. I spent some time in the debate earlier today pointing out various issues and quoting various facts that, while perhaps unpalatable to the Government, certainly give those of us who represent Aboriginal people in our electorates, and people like Senator Peter Baume and Senator Chaney who have had ministerial responsibility in this area, a great deal of concern.

I draw the attention of the Senate to Senator Peter Baume's speech on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Bill on 17 August. I commend this speech to anybody doing research on this area. Senator Peter Baume has spent a great deal of time developing a very principled and detailed argument. In his speech Senator Peter Baume said:

. . . we shall oppose the emasculation of Aboriginal self-management and the nobbling of the Aboriginal Development Commission, and we vigorously oppose any attempt that might be made actually to dismember the Aboriginal Development Commission ahead of ATSIC arrangements being put in place.

Further on in the same speech Senator Peter Baume said:

My objective, and the objective of the Opposition, remains the achievement of better outcomes. Our objective remains the achievement of outcomes such as less illness, fewer Aboriginals in prison, more effective Aboriginal participation in education and the education system, greater Aboriginal longevity, more people housed, better housing, more people in employment, more Aboriginal people in senior administrative positions, fewer alcohol and drug problems, and so on. The question before the Senate now is whether or not ATSIC is the vehicle to achieve the outcomes. Sadly, it is not. This proposal is more likely to remove Aboriginal Australians from the mainstream of Australian life, to emphasise Aboriginal separateness, to require Aboriginal people to operate in a system different from other Australians and to make them into welfare recipients forever. If ATSIC proceeds, they will be the victims of a new paternalism. The damage which ATSIC will do to Aboriginal Australia may be irremediable; at the very least it will take a generation to fix.

I do not believe that any senator could make more profound or correct statements than those made by Senator Peter Baume when the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) debate was first brought on. As I said earlier today, in drawing out the differences between the operating years of 1986-87 and 1987-88, we are able to see that a very deliberate and political ploy was brought to bear by Mr Hand and the socialist Left which has a very different agenda in Australia. We need to recognise that there are many people working in the Aboriginal industries, if I can call them that-that is a correct term to use. Many fine Aboriginal leaders and many outstanding public servants in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the Aboriginal Development Commission and other statutory authorities serving Aborigines and people in State and Territory governments around Australia have a very strong commitment to this cause.

In my ATSIC speech I quoted Charles Perkins, the former Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, who drew attention to the change in advice that the Minister, Mr Hand, gave when he came to the portfolio in July 1987. I again quote what he said, because it is most important and well worth restating. Charles Perkins was quoted in the Canberra Times of 15 August as follows:

The Minister had surrounded himself with advisers all of a similar character to himself. They knew what was going on. They were in constant contact and discussions with the Central and Northern Land Councils.

What we have now is a most unsatisfactory situation in terms of some of the people ripping off Aboriginal affairs . . . vagabonds and hooligans, self-elected and self-seeking, and pretending to represent Aborigines here and overseas.

Senator Peter Baume —Who said that?

Senator TAMBLING —That was said by Charles Perkins in August of this year when he was reflecting on the administration of the portfolio since July 1987.

Senator McKiernan —Has he reflected on you yet?

Senator TAMBLING —It certainly has not reflected on anything that I have done. It is also important to remember that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), in commenting on the Menzies report, said that he was of the view that Mr Menzies had found `some cases of questionable practice' and that the final report `brings out some further shortcomings in administration in the area of Aboriginal affairs'. The Prime Minister further went on:

. . . there were deficiencies in systems and procedures going well beyond the realm of Mr Perkins' personal responsibility.

If they go beyond the realm of Mr Perkins's personal responsibility, they can only at that time have been sheeted home to the Minister, Mr Hand. The Prime Minister has caned Mr Hand in terms of the words that I have just read to the Senate.

I mentioned in the debate this morning that the Minister, Mr Hand, chose to sack the Aboriginal commissioners of the Aboriginal Development Commission in May 1988 because they had had the audacity to prepare an alternative strategy for Aboriginal self-management. The document that they prepared in March 1988, presented to the Minister very openly and publicly as part of this debate, makes most interesting reading. Of course, it has been hidden by the Government ever since. It has never been referred to; there has never been a critique made of it; there has never been any discussion; and it has never been put on the table.

Let me just refer to some of the points made in that document. This, I remind the Senate, was the considered document of the commissioners at that time, March 1988-all Aboriginal people working for the Government-reflecting on both the successes and the weaknesses of the system. They, of course, were responding to the ATSIC proposal that had been floated by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Hand. Let me quote the limitations of the ATSIC proposal that were outlined in the executive summary of this report:

The proposal creates a clumsy bureaucracy that will overly complicate the decision making process.

It offers no improvement in economic development or Program development.

The relationship of ATSIC to the Minister will be like that between a Minister and a Department. The autonomy, presently existing in the ADC, to decide upon philosophy, policy, procedures and funding will be lost. The Minister has a far reaching role in ATSIC.

Decision making powers of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders under the ADC Act, Aboriginal Hostels Limited and AIAS will be limited and replaced with advisory powers.

Although involvement for Aboriginal people at the local level is most desirable, the Regional and Zone Councils as proposes would be a recipe for destructive conflict. Their roles would be merely advisory.

Objectives of self-management, Aboriginal controls over program delivery and effective promotion of economic independence which are vitally important to Aboriginals and Islanders will not be achieved through ATSIC.

Social Welfare and Economic Development Programs will be integrated and lumped together in the same organisation thus creating a situation where the dissimilar objectives of each are likely to become confused at all levels.

Economic Development Programs will only be partially separated between the AEDC and ATSIC. This will fragment resources. Also, it will not allow the responsible integration of the program to the long term goals of financial self-sufficiency and self-management.

The proposal will create additional administrative expenditure which would be at the expense of Program funds.

The proposal has been created without the benefit of an overall strategy for the long term advancement of Aboriginal people.

The document `Foundations for the Future', which described ATSIC, is short on detail and long on generalities. It does not offer Aboriginal people a real choice in the creation of a structure that will affect their lives for years to come.

They were the criticisms that were so embarrassing to Minister Hand.

Senator McKiernan —From whom?

Senator TAMBLING —They were from the commissioners of the Aboriginal Development Commission, who were all Aboriginal people, in March 1988. Because they had the audacity to put that on paper and to distribute it as part of the ongoing debate that the Minister had invited, they were sacked. They were wiped out and replaced with a bunch of stooges, all of the Minister's own deliberate choosing.

Of course, this document did not concentrate just on the limitations of ATSIC. It also went to develop, very properly, an alternative strategy which, as I said earlier, the Minister has hidden. This came from the Aboriginal Development Commission. That strategy that it put down outlined and was calling for: a new Aboriginal Services Commission; an Aboriginal Ombudsman; regional councils which are popularly elected; a national congress to replace the National Aboriginal Conference; retention of the ADC and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies as specialised agencies; increased self-management and control; a larger Aboriginal and Islander affairs portfolio; greater administrative efficiency and economies of scale; and improved program delivery and rationalisation. They were the positives.

This particular document was used by Mr Hand as the knife to get rid of properly effective commissioners of the Aboriginal Development Commission because he did not like it and it did not suit the political agenda of the socialist Left. The socialist Left did not like the fact that Aboriginal people had the audacity to come out with such a constructive document as part of the open debate. It may well not have been the final result, but the Minister was not even prepared to read it. He merely wiped these people off the face of the earth without even saying thank you. Certainly, as we have seen several times today, both in the debate on the ADC report and in my contribution earlier this morning, the 1987-88 annual report is a disgraceful document because of its omissions, because of the way in which Mr Hand has chosen to get into bed with so many different people with a very different agenda.

If we look at the Budget for this year we will see that once again the Minister has kept up this vendetta against the ADC. The budget for the Aboriginal Development Commission in the current financial year has been very heavily changed and constrained. Of course, even the new commissioners-the hand-picked commissioners-did not like this particular action and were proposing to put out a critical press statement on this. Word of it got through to the Minister's office, and the Minister's office called for the details. Maybe even his new group this year are under threat. He asked to see the draft press release that was to be put out and he summoned officers of the ADC to his office. He instructed them that they were not to go ahead in those particular terms-that the press statement could go out only if it was amended to acknowledge that the ADC was responsible for the error in the Budget paper, not the Minister's office nor the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, with whom the full and direct responsibility would then come back to the Minister's desk. It is interesting to note that the ADC did not put out a press release under such terms and conditions as this particular situation.

Senator McKiernan —How do you know about it?

Senator TAMBLING —I have got pretty good sources, as you know, Senator. They certainly are good. Get your mate to come in here and deny that is the way in which it would go. I am concerned that in this particular debate we have not heard a contribution from the Democrats, and I am hoping that Senator Coulter later will show us where he believes that the proposals now before us are consistent with the stance and the views that he took in the Senate Select Committee on the Administration of Aboriginal Affairs last year and that the proposals with regard to the Aboriginal Development Commission are in line with the representations that Aborigines have been making to the Australian Democrats.

I find it very surprising that the Democrats have been seduced by the Minister with regard to this particular legislation at this time. I would never suppose to think for a Democrat or think as a Democrat. My politics are far too removed from that. But I am surprised, because if I were a Democrat and were looking at this issue tactically, let alone anything else, and wanted to achieve outcomes that were better for Aboriginal people, there is only one condition on which I would agree to any of this particular legislation going through. That condition would be that the Government change the Minister, because all of the problems in this particular regard since July 1987 have been compounded by Mr Hand. How can any Democrat sit there and not believe that the ATSIC legislation is going to produce a dreadful umbrella and is going to be open to such manipulation and control by Mr Hand, as he has shown across this portfolio for the past two years? In all of the evidence that has come out in the Estimates Committee, in the Senate Select Committee last year, and in all of the inquiries that the Prime Minister and the Government instituted-and read every one of the recommendations of those reports-the responsibility comes back to the deck of one person, that is, the Minister, Mr Hand.

Senator Collins —So it should.

Senator TAMBLING —So it should, in some sense, but he is still there, and ought not to have been since October 1988. I cannot understand what control the socialist Left has over the Prime Minister in the time that he has retained Gerry Hand as Minister, because nothing is going to achieve any objective change of emphasis for Aborigines in Australia whilst Mr Hand remains in the position of Minister. If the Prime Minister has not got the sense after all of this time and all of this debate and all of this proof to realise that, then God help Aboriginal Australians.