Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 19 May 1993
Page: 865

Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (5.00 p.m.) —The Australian Democrats have listened to the arguments of the Minister for Transport and Communications (Senator Collins) but we are going to go ahead and support these 10 amendments. I repeat that I am walking that tightrope between being portrayed as paternalistic because I am saying that I do not believe that ATSIC can yet elect—

Senator Panizza —Maternalistic.

Senator KERNOT —I do not think that fits. I do not believe that ATSIC can elect its own chairperson. Acknowledging the reality of the many comments that many Aboriginal people have made to me—including experienced ATSIC commissioners—whatever else we might say, many people believe that ATSIC is not quite ready for this yet. Senator Collins used the comparison of the Liberal Party and talked about structures and elections. ATSIC is three years old; the Liberal Party is 50 years old. There is a lot of difference and there is a lot of fine-tuning to be done.

Senator Collins —The difference is the Liberal Party hasn't learnt a thing in 50 years.

Senator KERNOT —Okay, ATSIC will learn it in four years instead of 50. There is so much fine-tuning to be done. We do not have the electoral system right yet and we are being asked to make these wholesale changes.

  I am very mindful of the fact that ATSIC has come into being following many raised expectations of indigenous Australians and many spectacular failures—not on their part, but on our part. We have not given them sufficient resources and we have put the concerns of indigenous Australians aside while we pursued other political agendas. I do not want to be part of anything which, however well-intentioned, sets up an opportunity for ATSIC to fail. I acknowledge that there will be an incredible amount of politics involved in the manoeuvring that is going to go on when a list of nominees for the appointed chairperson is put forward, but that is no different from manoeuvring to get into Prime Minister Keating's Cabinet; it is exactly the same thing.

  We have listened to many representations but they have not been exhaustive. I readily concede that as well. I expect that the next ATSIC elections will be very keenly fought because the activists who are opposed to the establishment of ATSIC now understand that, through the devolution of power to the regional councils, ATSIC does have real power over its budget. At the regional council level, indigenous Australians have the right to make important decisions as to their priorities for spending the funding that is available. We are arguing about the appointment of the chair; I would argue that the election of a regional councillor is very important as well.

  I wish to congratulate Lois O'Donoghue, a great Australian and a great chair of ATSIC—she is not supported by everyone in the Aboriginal community, and we would not expect her to be—and Mr Sol Bellear, the deputy chair of ATSIC. In their administration of ATSIC I have been able to observe a commendable command of detail and an absolute commitment to the principles of accountability, not just because we imposed them but because they believe in them. I have seen Lois O'Donoghue make some incredibly tough decisions which have made her very unpopular with particular Aboriginal communities around Australia. She is a strong and effective chair of ATSIC and she will be hard to replace; there is no doubt about that.

  I conclude by repeating some of the remarks of Terry O'Shane because, again, they point to the way in which we assume so much about Aboriginal structures when we draft legislation. He said:

In Aboriginal Affairs we don't join local political branches and seek nomination to the State executive and then the national executive or run in local elections and do time on the back bench before we challenge for the leadership, but you are saying that it will be alright for us to come in off the street, get the vote for regional council challenge for the commission and if successful challenge for the Chairpersons job. . .

Senator Collins —That's how it works.

Senator KERNOT —It does not work like that.

Senator Collins —Not thanks to you.

Senator KERNOT —No, maybe Senator Collins thinks it ought to, but it does not yet work like that. I understand the concerns that Terry O'Shane and many other people have raised over our assumptions about how it will work. Notwithstanding the Minister's comments, I understand why he feels as strongly as he does. When there is an opportunity for another review, I hope that I can join him in the comments that he has expressed this afternoon. But in a sincere desire not to do anything to undermine what is still, I would argue, a transitional period in the evolution of ATSIC, the Democrats will support the Opposition's amendments this afternoon.