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Monday, 4 September 1989
Page: 915


Senator COULTER(10.18) —I am interested to hear the sort of metaphor that Senator Baume uses. One might say, `Never make love unintentionally', or something like that. It might be better than waging war or battles unintentionally. Senator Baume has not understood the point that I was making. Moreover, the Minister has not answered the question that I asked him. I agree with the Minister and with the drafters of the Bill that it is appropriate that these clauses should be included, but I was drawing attention to the fact that they do, however, contain a danger. I think Senator Boswell drew our attention to that danger.

The Minister used this example: `What happens if, say, the State of Western Australia wants to put a sewer into an Aboriginal settlement?'. It might approach the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and say, `Could you provide us with some financial assistance to do this? It is, after all, going into an Aboriginal community.' It seems to me absolutely appropriate that ATSIC, as a representative body of the Aboriginal people, might say, `We don't agree with the way in which the Western Australian Government is distributing its funds. It is not in the best interests of Aboriginal people.' The Government, on the contrary, might say that it is in the interests of Aboriginal people to establish a mine in an area in which Aborigines do not want a mine. The Government might say that it was in Aboriginal interests. It might try to impose something the Aboriginal people did not want and it might use some of its State moneys for Aboriginal affairs in a way which was anathema to Aboriginal desires and not in Aboriginal interests.

So it is appropriate, if we have the courage of what this legislation is about, to give to ATSIC the ability not only to determine policy-that is one of the areas we debated earlier-but also to give effect to that policy by being able to administer money, to make grants and to enter into agreements. In this part that encompasses the ability to make agreements with the States, et cetera.

But Senator Boswell raised the issue-this is what concerns me somewhat-of what happens if we go down this desirable road, if most of the money into Aboriginal affairs flows through ATSIC and is being administered, perhaps quite wisely, by ATSIC, but an Aboriginal community in Western Australia requires a sewerage system or something of that nature and the Western Australian Government says, `Sorry, we are not going to provide that to you because that should come through ATSIC'. I understand that is the point Senator Boswell was making. The down side of what we are doing here, which I see as desirable, is that it may lead to State governments and other bodies withdrawing funds which would otherwise go into genuine Aboriginal welfare, but which may not be funded through ATSIC. So some Aboriginal people might fall through a hole, as it were, for that reason. I would like the Minister's comment on that because, while I see these clauses as desirable for the reasons that I have stated, we really are dependent upon the continuing goodwill of the States to continue their functions also in this area.