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Minister needs to rebut his own myth



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edia Reieas

July 31, 1998

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M IN IST E R NEEDS TO REBUT HIS OW N M YTH

A l (—

The Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has been called upon to “properly acknowledge," the economic and social gains made as a result o f Commonwealth spending on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs during the past 15 years.

The Acting Chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Mr Ray Robinson, said today it was time the Minister, Senator John Herron, stopped “trying to fudge the figures for political gain and acknowledged the facts."

Commissioner Robinson was responding to claims by Minister Herron in a statement this week that the Howard Government, in its first 28 months, had “laid the foundations for real benefits for indigenous people.”

Senator Herron claimed in the statement that the former Labor Government had spent “$16 billion over 13 years throwing money at the problems yet there was no marked improvement in the lives o f Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.”

The Minister continued: “W e’ve stopped the waste. The days o f Labor’s handout mentality and wasteful ways are over. We are working on real issues o f health, housing, education, employment and economic independence.”

Commissioner Robinson said the Minister ought to stop “trying to perpetuate the myth that no good work was done in the area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs before he and his Government arrived on the scene.”

“The Minister appears to believe that if he continues to peddle this sort o f disinformation it will become a self perpetuating myth,” Commissioner Robinson said.

“It is plain wrong. It’s an insult to all o f the dedicated people who have worked for decades to improve the social and economic well being o f Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“and, the minister’s own words put the lie to it.

Commissioner Robinson said the facts could be found in the document, < * i!U ^ Commonwealth Programmes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait People 1994-95, which v ' /as circulated and tabled in the Federal Parliament by Senator Herron early last year.

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In his introduction, Senator Herron described the document as “an important instrument o f accountability to the Parliament, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the Australian community generally.”

The Minister went on to say that references in the paper to the Commonwealth Government were to the former Labor Government which was in office throughout 1994-95.

Commissioner Robinson said page 19 o f “this important instrument of accountability” contained the following paragraph, under the heading Major Programme Strategies:

While the Commonwealth's programmes specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people covered a very broad spectrum o f activities in 1994-95 around 2 dollars in every 3 went to programmes in the areas o f health, and infrastructure, employment and education.

Commissioner Robinson said the document went on to point out that policies and programmes in the health, education and employment areas had all been under review during the reporting period.

The reviews showed there had been relative improvements in major programme areas such as education and employment but much work still needed to be done.

Commissioner Robinson said an evaluation o f the National Aboriginal Health Strategy was completed in December, 1994 and showed the strategy was never effectively implemented by Commonwealth, State and Territory Government’s.

The document said the evaluation showed all Governments had grossly under-funded NAHS initiatives and “as a result, ATSIC had been a convenient scapegoat for inaction and the failure o f Governments to deliver ”

Commissioner Robinson said ATSIC had no particular brief for any political party or Government but was sick and tired o f the Minister continually misrepresenting the true situation.

“Statements such as those he made this week simply feed into the Hanson agenda and perpetuate the myths peddled by a host o f ill-informed talkback hosts around the country.

Commissioner Robinson said ATSIC had shown the good grace to acknowledge any good work done by the Federal Government in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs.

The M inister “ought to have the grace” to extend the same courtesy to ATSIC.

Media contact through Office o f Public Affairs

Brian Johnstone 02:62393307 0419 010 687.