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Monday, 4 September 1989
Page: 912


Senator COULTER(9.58) —In relation to the first amendment, to delete the words `negotiate and', I cannot accept that amendment, and Senator Baume has not advanced any good reason why those words should be deleted. It seems to me that the deletion of those words leaves one with an impossible situation in that the Commission will have powers to cooperate with various bodies. The natural question, of course, is what happens if those bodies refuse to cooperate. The Commission has no powers whatsoever. It is quite appropriate to include the words `negotiate and cooperate' so that in the event that the body concerned refuses to cooperate, at least the Commission has the technical facility, the legal facility, to negotiate with that body and attempt to bring it into a more cooperative situation.

In relation to the other amendments, which are far more substantial, it seems to me that this is another example of the double-edged sword nature of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), to which Senator Baume drew attention earlier. He drew attention to the fact that the commissioners will be both a representative and an executive body. That creates a very difficult situation for them in relation to the discharge of both of those duties when one of them may be in conflict with the other. Indeed, both of them could be in conflict with the direction they are getting from the Minister, so one could really have a three-way problem emerging there. I think the Minister is aware of that and certainly the Senate Select Committee was aware of it.

The clauses in front of us now create another double-edged sword in that if ATSIC is going to discharge properly its responsibility with respect to getting the best administration of Aboriginal affairs, it is appropriate that, if it sees that money is being distributed unwisely, it have the potential ability to correct that. What I have just said anticipates a situation in which eventually one might see all money going into Aboriginal affairs flowing through ATSIC and part of that may, in the wisdom of the ATSIC be distributed through State bodies, be they government or whatever. The obverse of that, the downside of that, as Senator Boswell has pointed out, is that we may then finish up with a relatively small grant to ATSIC from an impecunious or tight Federal government, the States having washed their hands of Aboriginal affairs.

The potential for self-management and self-determination is what lies behind these clauses and I would be very interested to hear from the Minister as to how he sees the balance between the upside and the downside of those clauses. I see that there is an upside and a downside; it could be quite disastrous, as indicated by the Opposition. On the other hand, it is a desirable power for ATSIC to have if it is going to direct properly the whole range of Aboriginal services in the way in which Aboriginal people themselves determine. The Senate Committee became aware of the large amount of money that currently flows through from the Commonwealth to the States into Aboriginal affairs and that totally avoids reviews, control or direction by Aboriginal people. I think the Committee saw that as an undesirable thing. I guess these clauses are in here to correct that, and if they are properly administered that would be to the advantage of Aboriginal people. I certainly would like to hear the Minister's comment on the flip side of that situation, which is the one to which Senator Boswell has drawn our attention.