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Tuesday, 5 September 1989
Page: 966


Senator BOSWELL(4.38) -Last night Senator Coulter quite correctly picked up a problem which would confront State departments of Aboriginal affairs. If I am not incorrect, we were seeking to find some common ground or a form of words that would allow these amendments to be carried. Senator Peter Baume proposed that, even if the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) were to make the allocations, those allocations of Commonwealth funding should go through the Federal Government to the State Minister. That is about where we were last night before the adjournment debate took place. I pointed out, and Senator Coulter picked it up, that if the Government were to allocate money only through ATSIC to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the down side would be that State governments that run effective, and in some cases very good, Aboriginal affairs departments would abdicate their responsibilities in Aboriginal affairs. They could well say, `The Constitution was amended in 1967 and Aboriginal affairs are now for the Federal Government to run'.

I do not think the people of Australia really knew they were giving that power to the Commonwealth. I think they voted on whether Aboriginal people should be allowed to vote. Any right-minded person could not but support that proposal. Now Aboriginal affairs have been handed over to the Commonwealth, but most State governments have stayed in the ring and have their own departments responsible for Aboriginal affairs. But some States are working only on the funding they are getting under section 96 grants. That is not the case with my State, as I said last night. It has allocated $38m of Queensland taxpayers' money to Aboriginal communities. We run a very grave danger of removing the power of State governments over Aboriginal affairs-and the States have developed great expertise over a number of years-if we allow these grants to be allocated from ATSIC to State governments. The Committee should not think that this provision will not be used as a tool to control State governments. Deals will be done-`We'll give you this if you do this'. Sovereign State governments will not put up with it. They will walk away from it. That is where we were last night. I think Senator Coulter had those fears. I think Senator Peter Baume is coming up with a form of words that will be acceptable to Senator Coulter. I do not know whether he has worked out those words yet, but perhaps we could start from there.