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Thursday, 25 November 1993
Page: 3669

Senator REYNOLDS —I address my question to the Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services. What is the Australian Electoral Commission doing to maximise the participation of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the forthcoming ATSIC regional council election on 4 December?

Senator McMULLAN —This is an important question because an important election is being held on 4 December for ATSIC. This is building on the important step of establishing ATSIC and, in that way, increasing the empowerment of the most disadvantaged in our society. It is important to use every opportunity to encourage a high rate of participation in these elections because, for very good and obvious reasons, information on racial origin is not recorded on the Commonwealth electoral roll and, therefore, we need to take steps to encourage people to seek to participate in these elections.

  I am pleased to report that preparations for the second round of elections for the ATSIC regional councils is progressing smoothly. The signs are that there is increased support for these elections. The Australian Electoral Commission, as everybody knows, is the agency responsible for the conduct of these elections and it is working very closely with ATSIC in making available to those eligible to vote information about enrolment, nomination and voting procedures.

  An additional 40 staff have been recruited for the duration of the election to work closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in urban, rural and remote areas. Information is being distributed in video, print, radio and poster form to a very large number of groups, communities and individuals throughout Australia.

  I have been advised by the Electoral Commission that there appears to have been a considerable increase in enrolment activity by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the lead-up to the close of the rolls. Those involved in preparing for the ATSIC elections are confident of a larger turnout across Australia than in the 1990 election.

  The strong interest in these elections is evidenced too by the over 2,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are standing as candidates for the 573 vacancies. This is a considerable increase on the number of candidates for the 1990 election, and I think something that everybody who takes a genuine interest in the success of this democratic process within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community would welcome.

  These elections provide all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a very valuable opportunity to have their say in electing people to represent them at the local level. The people whom they so elect will have the power to make important decisions in a number of areas of great importance to their communities. I welcome the opportunity to raise this matter here; I would urge all honourable senators to do what they can during the next week to further encourage a high participation level at these elections.