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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4241

Senator IAN MACDONALD (7:23 PM) —I was delighted to hear Senator Furner’s address to the chamber tonight about the little town of Richmond up where I live and where I have been a visitor by road on many occasions. It is great that he enjoyed Kronosaurus Korner, a facility established with the assistance of the coalition’s Regional Solutions program which the Labor Party so roundly criticised. It is good to see that Senator Furner enjoyed that, as well as Lake Fred Tritton, which recognises a magnificent man, a legend in his own lifetime out there, who was mayor of Richmond for upwards of two decades, a councillor for more than three and the Liberal candidate for Kennedy in an election in the early 1990s. Richmond is a great little town and I am delighted Senator Furner enjoyed it.

It was not far from Richmond—in fact, it was in the almost twin town of Hughenden—that in early May I was attending a North Queensland local government association conference and I was approached there by Councillor Alan Wilson, the Deputy Mayor of the Cook Shire Council. Cook takes in most of Cape York Peninsula. He was distressed, because he is also associated with the Laura Indigenous Dance Festival. He told me in very glowing terms how great the festival was and how it did so much for Indigenous people to preserve their culture as well as to attract a lot of paying tourists to the Laura locality to build up the economy there. They had the dance festival last weekend, which I was particularly pleased to attend, and next weekend is the Laura races, an equally significant event which attracts equally significant numbers of people. At the dance festival I was delighted to meet Thomas George—‘TG’, as he is called—a delightful man and elder of the Aboriginal communities up there, one who has had a lot to do with the Laura dance festival over many years. When Councillor Alan Wilson approached me at Hughenden, he was distressed because for the first time for many years the Commonwealth government had failed to come good with funding for that Indigenous dance festival.

I got back to my office in Townsville and on 13 May 2009 wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Garrett, an urgent letter saying the previous Commonwealth government has funded them and, I suspected, the Labor Party in their first year also funded them, but this year there was no money. That was going to make it very difficult to have funds at the end of this festival to plan for the next one. I received no reply whatsoever from Mr Garrett. Last Friday, before I took off to Laura up in Cape York, I got my office to ring Mr Garrett’s office and ask: ‘Has the money gone since I wrote to you? You haven’t told me, but perhaps you’ve just sent it and that would be good. It would be a great way to go.’ We were told by Mr Garrett’s office that he was not there and that someone would get back to me, and I am still waiting for the phone call.

We went to the Laura dance festival, and there on stage was a bevy of Labor politicians including Mr Jim Turnour, the member for Leichhardt, and Senator Jan McLucas. Mr Turnour got up and said to everyone how supportive the government is of maintaining the Indigenous culture, what a great thing it is and how he is so committed, but there was not one word of help from Mr Turnour or Senator McLucas for these funds that were missing. As you know, I raised this matter in question time yesterday, only to have the Leader of the Government in the Senate belittle raising such an important issue—and all shame to Senator Evans for that. We got no answer from Senator Wong—and who could have been surprised about that? We never get an answer from Senator Wong even for questions directly in her own portfolio. But nevertheless she came back today with an answer confirming that no money had been paid. She had a series of excuses for that, some of which I am told by contact with people in the north—by a nephew of TG, the Indigenous elder up there whom I mentioned earlier in my speech—that the funding has not come. The Labor government knew all about the need for money and knew the request was there but had not done anything about it.

The department has said in the advice they prepared for Senator Wong that ‘the Australia Council is assisting the Laura dance festival in securing an alternative sourcing arrangement’. I take that to mean that the Australia Council now will pay for this current year’s dance festival. I hope that is right. I have alerted the organisers to that answer. It is a bit ambiguous. It is a bit of bureaucrat-speak. Senator Wong obviously had no idea what she was talking about when she read it, but obviously the department had written it out for her. While it is written in bureaucratese, I certainly hope that that does mean that the funding will again go to that festival for this year. I am told by the organisers that with the great numbers there and careful management of the money they will probably come out of this at a break-even point, but they need this funding which in other years has come from the Commonwealth, along with other support in kind from a lot of agencies appearing at the festival. They need that to be able to plan for next year’s festival. If the money does not come this year I think the future of that magnificent festival may be at some risk. I certainly hope that this answer means what I think it means. I urge Mr Garrett to ensure that the funding does go to this very worthwhile cause—a cause that attracts so many jobs and so much economic activity to a part of our country which is not as fortunate as some others and a festival that does a great deal to preserve the very unique culture of Australia’s Indigenous people.