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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2019

Senator REYNOLDS —My question is addressed to the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Senator Herron. Minister, you would be aware of the widespread offence which has been taken in the Aboriginal community at the suggestion in Professor Geoffrey Partington's book that Australia should return to the policies of assimilation and abandon Aboriginal self-determination, the core aspiration of indigenous Australians. Given that you unwisely launched this book, will you now assure the Senate that the Howard government has no plans to abandon Aboriginal self-determination? Will you also admit that, given your position and the general level of distrust that your government has generated within Aboriginal Australia, your launching of this book was, to say the least, woefully ill advised.

Senator HERRON —Mr President, I am happy to launch any debate where it is a valid debate—

Senator Bob Collins —Oh, really?

Senator HERRON —Yes. I am not into burning books; I am into promoting knowledge. I believe that books should be read, and they should be discussed and debated. I think it is very important that that should be so. I was invited to be present at Nonie Sharp's book launch, too—unfortunately, I was unable to be there—and that has another connotation in relation to that which Senator Reynolds is discussing.

I am happy to encourage debate in relation to all matters because they are very important matters affecting the future of this country. Specifically, in relation to self-determination, yes, the government does support self-determination. We have made that perfectly clear in our policy and I think it is important that it be pursued. Of course, it is interpreted in different ways, as I found going around in the community. I think it is important to realise also that, out in the communities, there is often a very different perspective from that which one gets from within Canberra. That should not surprise you, Senator Reynolds, because that is often said about other matters as well.

I have been consulting as much as possible right around Australia. I am going to continue that during the next few weeks because one gets a different perspective in relation to the attitudes, particularly of remote communities and the larger communities that are well distanced from the major centres. I unequivocally state our support as a government for self-determination and all it implies in that regard.

Senator REYNOLDS —Minister, you have said that you wish to take part in any valid debate. Did you read Geoffrey Partington's book before you launched it so that you would know the parameters of that valid debate?

Senator HERRON —Yes, I did. In fact, I read it twice, and I did not, as you know, support the thrust of the book. The book itself contrasted the viewpoint put by Coombs with that of Hasluck—Hasluck's assimilation and Coombs's very opposite separation. As I said, I did not endorse the contents of the book. If you had been present at the launch of the book, I made that perfectly clear, and in the reports that occurred subsequent to that. As I say, I am happy to stimulate debate. I believe that the more that is understood in relation to the Aboriginal community within the wider community, it will be to the betterment of both sides.