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Wednesday, 9 October 1996
Page: 3782

Senator FAULKNER —My question is directed to the minister for Aboriginal affairs, Senator Herron. Minister, I refer you to remarks that you made during this morning's censure debate when you said:

. . . I will introduce them—

I interpolate, Senators Margetts and Brown—

to these people so that they can meet the true leaders of the Aboriginal community who are working towards economic dependence—

I assume he meant `economic independence'—

and who are not locked into the politics and rhetoric of the past.

Minister, don't you understand that Aboriginal leadership is a matter for Aboriginal people themselves: that it is not for you to tell them who the true leaders are or who the true leaders should be? Your comments are again a gross insult to the entire current leadership of the Aboriginal people. I ask the minister: will he now either clarify or retract these ill-judged and totally inappropriate remarks?

Senator HERRON —I have great pleasure in answering that. It is a pity that Senator Faulkner was not here—nor was Senator Collins—when I spoke this morning.

Senator Bob Collins —I heard every word you said, Senator.

Senator HERRON —You were not here, and I want to have that on record. I said that we are not locked in the politics and rhetoric of the past. I said:

We believe in economic independence and pride in Aboriginality and protection of culture, not in government dependence—

I also said:

We are not going to function in the loony left paradigm of the past. This government is working to the empowerment of Aboriginal people and their recognition as equals in a just society. Equality of opportunity, equality of education and equality in health care and housing is the emphasis of this government.

Madam President, I would like to tell you about the legacy of 13 years of Labor: I refer to the state of health of Australia's Aboriginal nation. It is a national and international disgrace.

Senator Faulkner —I take a point of order on the basis of relevance. I asked three specific questions of Senator Herron in relation to comments he made in relation to Aboriginal leadership. I ask you, Madam President, to direct Senator Herron to answer the questions that I asked him a moment ago.

Senator O'Chee —On the point of order: standing order 73(2) precludes questions of this nature, given that this is in the middle of a debate which is currently unresolved. Given that, Senator Faulkner is very lucky that Senator Herron has condescended to take the question at all; he is not obliged to. The question is strictly out of order. I think that Senator Faulkner is really pushing his luck to bring these spurious points of order.

The PRESIDENT —On the point of order, it certainly is the case that the censure motion is still before the Senate, but Senator Herron has spoken, Senator Margetts is in the middle of her speech closing that debate and Senator Herron will not have another opportunity to speak in the debate. It has not been the practice in recent times to totally comply with that standing order, and it is a motion that is not on the Notice Paper in any event.

Senator Faulkner —Thank you, Madam President. You goose!

Senator Vanstone —Madam President, could you clarify what you are actually trying to intimate to the Senate in your answer?

Senator Faulkner —It is a ruling.

Senator Vanstone —Are you intimating that, if Senator Herron had chosen to rely on that standing order to point out that the matter is still on the Notice Paper and that the question was, therefore, out of order, you would have nonetheless required him to answer it; or are you indicating that it is, as Senator O'Chee indicated, largely a matter of discretion these days, rather than being an absolute rule, and that the discretion is one to be exercised not by the chair but by the minister to whom the question is directed?

The PRESIDENT —The matter, in fact, is not on the Notice Paper . It was a censure motion that was brought up by Senator Margetts this morning. The minister can answer the question as he pleases and is free to deal with the question if he wishes to do so. I do not intend to rule the question out of order. The point of order originally raised by Senator Faulkner was to draw attention to the three parts of his question which he had raised. On that, I point out that the minister still has two minutes and 44 seconds remaining if he wishes to use that time to deal with the matters that Senator Faulkner has raised.

Senator HERRON —Madam President, I am happy to respond, because the point I made this morning is that the real leaders are those who are leading the Aboriginal community into equality of opportunity and economic independence. I refer to the good news that is occurring. The Chairman of Yirrkala Business Enterprises has a $60 million contract.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator HERRON —They don't want to hear this, Madam President. It doesn't suit the loony Left over there; they don't want to hear it. The Chairman of Yirrkala Business Enterprises has a $60 million contract over 20 years to transport bauxite to Comalco mines at Nhulunbuy. That is leadership. He is employing 150 Aboriginal workers in that community. He is also the Chancellor of Batchelor College where there are 1,400 Aboriginal students of an average age of 30 who are getting an education and becoming economically independent.

I attended an economic conference at Marysville in Victoria where there are 120 Aboriginal leaders working on becoming economically independent by getting into small business and wondering how they can achieve that. They would never have achieved it under your government. We are sponsoring them and helping them.

They are the Aboriginal leaders that I am referring to—people who are leading their community and getting away from economic dependence on government, dependence which you tried to keep them on because of your political philosophy. That is not our political philosophy. We want them to become equal, to have self-empowerment. They will not have self-empowerment unless they have economic independence, and that is what we are working towards—economic independence and then self-empowerment and equality for Aboriginal people. Don't be locked into the politics and rhetoric of the past which you have just demonstrated.

Senator FAULKNER —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, weren't your remarks nothing less—

Senator Alston —On a point of order, Madam President: I thought Senator Faulkner had just asked a supplementary question. Is this a second supplementary question?

The PRESIDENT —Order! The previous interruption was a lengthy point of order.

Senator FAULKNER —You just stick to being Mr Howard's doormat. Thank you, Madam President. Minister, aren't your remarks nothing less than a direct attack on people like Lois O'Donoghue and other leaders of the Aboriginal community? Will you at least, Minister, now take this opportunity to acknowledge that it is up to the Aboriginal community to determine their own leadership?

Senator HERRON —Obviously, Senator Faulkner is not aware of the ATSIC elections this Saturday. I thank him for the opportunity to point that out to anybody who is listening in this regard, because this is the opportunity for Aboriginal people to pick their ATSIC leaders. I thank Senator Faulkner for the opportunity to bring that to the attention of the Senate so that that can be widely disseminated. Certainly, I have the highest regard for Lois O'Donoghue. We speak frequently on the telephone and meet regularly, as I do with the Chief Executive Officer of ATSIC. And I have the highest regard for ATSIC. They are doing a wonderful job.

Senator Bob Collins —What? What?

Senator HERRON —They are doing a wonderful job and I am happy to support them. I have been around the ATSIC offices right throughout the nation and I am pleased, Senator Faulkner, that you have suddenly realised that there are ATSIC elections on this Saturday. I encourage every indigenous person to vote in them.