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Monday, 4 September 1989
Page: 900


Senator TATE (Minister for Justice)(8.41) —The Committee can look at various words, and I am happy to talk about those, but the overall purport and intention of clauses 7, 8, 9 and 10 need to be looked at as a whole. If one says that the Commission `has the following functions', all one means is that certain capacities are vested in it, are available to it. These are the sorts of things that it may undertake. Then again, of course, obviously, when one says that the Commission `has power to do all things', one merely asserts that the Parliament intends that it actually have the mechanisms available to it, the actual ability, to undertake those functions which are outlined in clause 7.

I think what lies behind the Opposition's amendments in this area of our debate is some fear that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission can usurp or override or have some sort of paramount functions which displace the legitimately constituted State or local government organisations or voluntary bodies or associations constituted perhaps under State law or simply community groups that come together in a voluntary way. That is not the case at all. There is no intention in the words, certainly no intention on the part of the Government, but certainly not in the words, to have that sort of overriding displacing power which Senator Boswell, in particular, seems to fear.

I have already indicated that it is quite clear from the objects clause that the Bill is drafted in the intention that State and local government bodies retain their responsibilities and remain answerable to their electorates for the discharge of their proper responsibilities towards their citizens, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who fall within their boundaries. Given the fact that we have a federal system, quite clearly when we have a national body such as ATSIC established, it will be important that it work in harmony with-by way of assisting, advising and cooperating with-all those various bodies at the various levels peculiar to the federal system.

I would just reiterate that the power given in clause 10 (2) (a) is simply to negotiate and cooperate with other Commonwealth bodies and State, Territory and local government bodies. It is in no way an overriding power; it is one which depends on the ability to sit down and discuss with a view to securing the ends and objects which are set out in the functions of the Commission. The functions are, for example:

to assist, advise and co-operate with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, organisations and individuals at national, State, Territory and regional levels.

To carry out that function, it may require the power to negotiate and cooperate with governments at the State and local government level. As I say, the powers clause, clause 10, indicates the real effective capacity, the way in which the functions may be truly exercised for the ends which are set out there.

The Government is not further persuaded by anything that it has heard and we will therefore vote against all the amendments except for the two which I have indicated we can live with if Senator Coulter so indicates.