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Wednesday, 11 September 1996
Page: 3250

Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(12.39 p.m.) —I would like to respond to some of those comments because I do not think we should let them stand without saying what ATSIC does. Someone has to say what ATSIC does: ATSIC reviews. It does not sit back and think everything is working perfectly. It is required to review regularly. You may have a disagreement about the success of the manner in which it communicates with its communities. Many communities are critical of that and the lack of balance in the two-way process. I think that is a legitimate concern. I do not think it is fair to say that ATSIC has not tried to address it, because it has.

I have been part of a joint committee which investigated, by travelling to many Aboriginal communities, the difficulties experienced by indigenous Australians in taking part in the electoral processes of this country. The recommendations from those committees have been followed through. Some of this has been made difficult because funding to indigenous representatives who facilitate the processes to involve indigenous Australians in various elections has also been cut.

Senator Bob Collins —The electoral education program has been closed down.

Senator KERNOT —It has been cut; it has been closed down. So that makes it difficult.

In structural terms, I do not think it is necessary to keep saying that we have to have another review and another review. In my view, the systemic failure is this: we have hugely insufficient funds to redress the disadvantage of indigenous people in this country. The previous government, this government and a proportion of the Australian population support the kind of ceiling that is on funding for this matter. While ever that decision is there in terms of the level of resourcing, it then requires, through the regional council process, Aboriginal communities to bid against each other in the most odious way for a very small pool of funds, and so many of them are disappointed time after time. This leads to division within communities and between communities, and that is a problem. It is the structure that causes that to happen, and the lack of adequate resources exacerbates it. That is the problem.

Unless this Senate can appropriate so many more hundreds of millions of dollars for indigenous matters, I do not think a review can address what Senator Margetts's concerns encapsulate. We have to acknowledge that there is a level of self-determination that was not there before in the control of the regional councils over the budget. My problem is that the budget is woefully inadequate.