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Thursday, 13 May 1993
Page: 582

Senator IAN MACDONALD (4.28 p.m.) —Mr Acting Deputy President, I congratulate you on occupying, I think for the first time, the important seat in which you are now sitting. When I spoke before on this report I made some general comments. I congratulated ATSIC for much of the good work it had performed, whilst indicating that there is always room for improvement in the way it operates—the same as there is always room for improvement in the way we all operate.

  When my time expired, I was raising a note of warning to the Government and the commission. It related to a vote in the electorate of Herbert, based in Townsville, where an independent candidate, who ran on what I think most people would loosely describe as an anti-Aboriginal, anti-migrant, anti-welfare campaign, received some 14 per cent of the vote. That is a very substantial figure for an independent candidate and I might add that he polled third after the candidates for the Labor and Liberal parties.

  The warning I give to the Government and to ATSIC is that they really must explain very carefully the way they effect their programs for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There is a perception, which is reflected in that vote in the electorate of Herbert, that a lot of the money that is spent is wrongly spent. It has brought about a considerable hardening of attitude amongst many Australians who believe that they are being unfairly treated by comparison with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. It is a very complex question. I am not for a moment saying that I agree with or support that proposal; I am simply warning that there is that feeling around. It behoves the Government and ATSIC to more clearly define their programs and outline where the money is going.

  I am sure that 100 per cent of Australians would support the spending of money on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and any disadvantaged group in the areas of health, education and housing—I do not think anyone would argue about that—but there are many programs which people perceive as not being in the best interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and as really becoming an absolute waste of money and a wrong direction for the spending of money.

  There is a real problem with alcoholism in Aboriginal communities. That problem is a very debilitating one for the Aboriginal and, to a lesser extent, Torres Strait Islander races and it really needs to be addressed by the Government. But there is an enormous number of other programs which people cannot understand the benefit of and which I do think the Government and ATSIC should look at very carefully to ensure that money is not being wrongly directed in those areas and that all Australians are seen to be receiving a fair go.

  I do not want to elaborate any more on that except to raise the warning, and I do hope that the Government and ATSIC will become aware of it. I am sure they will also be analysing the vote of that particular candidate. I hope they will adopt strategies which will make all Australians understand the need for proper assistance for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and all other disadvantaged people.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.