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Beyond welfare.

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Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs


NB- Strict embargo 1pm Canberra Time- Senator Herron will be available for comment at the Darwin office of Senator Grant Tambling at 3/80 The Esplanade at 1.30 pm today Darwin time)




Senator Herron said today that the Coalition’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs policies during a second term would continue to work towards addressing indigenous disadvantage. A second Howard/Fischer government will a lso continue to assist Indigenous Australians to move beyond welfare.


He said the Coalition would continue targeting the key areas of health, housing, education, employment and economic development. “Improvements in these key areas are essential if Indigenous Australians are to escape the permanent welfare dependency Labor consigned them to,” he said.


“The complete failure of Labor’s approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs during its 13 years in government is highlighted by the fact that despite the expenditure of $16 billion, sixty percent of Indigenous Australians remain dependent on welfare.


“Unless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are given the same health, housing, education and employment opportunities as others in the community, they and their children face a bleak future, continuing to rely on welfare handouts.


Senator Herron restated the Coalition’s commitment to the reconciliation process. He said that, in Government, the Coalition would continue to work with the Reconciliation Council in developing a written understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians that recognises the prior occupation of this country by indigenous people and their place in the Australian community. He said he would also actively encourage community involvement in programmes promoted by the Reconciliation Council.


Expanding the ATSIC/Army Project

As part of the Coalition’s commitment to addressing the basic needs of indigenous people in a practical and effective way, there will be a $40 million extension to the ATSIC/Army project. Senator Herron said the use of the army in remote communities to provide essential services such as clean water, sewerage and electricity had been an outstanding success.


“Importantly the project involves providing training for people in remote communities so that they can maintain the basic infrastructure being provided.


“The Coalition in government will commit $20 million over four years with ATSIC asked to continue its support for the project by contributing a similar amount.”


ATSIC - Continuing Evolution

Senator Herron also announced that the Coalition would accept the recommendations of the ATSIC Board in relation to providing greater regional autonomy. The recommendations are contained in the Board’s review of ATSIC (S26 Review) which was presented to the Government earlier this year.


Over the past two and a half years the Coalition has consistently argued for greater autonomy at the local level and has already provided financial autonomy to the Torres Strait region.


“It is clear from my visits to over 150 indigenous communities and organisations and from ATSIC’s own review that there is a strong desire for greater decision making at the local level,” he said.


“Clearly people at a local level can best judge what their needs and priorities are and I am pleased that the ATSIC Board also acknowledges this in the recommendations they have presented to me.


“The Coalition is committed to working with the indigenous community and ATSIC to develop appropriate regional models and to devolve, where possible, decision-making and management to the local level.


“Naturally ATSIC will remain the Government’s principal source of advice on indigenous matters,” Senator Herron said.


Indigenous Business Development

The promotion of indigenous business opportunities is an important part of the Coalition’s commitment to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders escape welfare dependency. “Indigenous business success will mean greater job opportunities for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders,” he said.


“Local and overseas experience clearly demonstrates that, to be successful, economic programmes must be operated on a purely commercial basis and distinct from social considerations. This has effectively been acknowledged by ATSIC in their recent paper Getting on With Business .


“The Coalition proposes to establish a new organisation called Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) by amalgamating the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commercial Development Corporation and the business programmes currently administered by ATSIC.


“The new organisation, IBA, will remain under the ATSIC umbrella in a similar way to Aboriginal Hostels Ltd, and will have its own Board.


“The Board will consist of eminent indigenous and non-indigenous members with expertise in bus iness. A majority of the Board, including the chairperson, will be indigenous and ATSIC will be represented on the Board,” he said.


Better Outcomes and Needs Based Funding

In a second term the Coalition will work with the indigenous community and ATSIC to develop and adopt appropriate arrangements to improve the allocation of funding.


“To ensure funding is delivered on a needs basis, the Coalition will ask the Commonwealth Grants Commission to develop measures of relative disadvantage which will be used to target resources more effectively to the areas of greatest need.


“Program funding will, where practical, be allocated on the basis of open tender, thus ensuring that service delivery is undertaken by the most efficient and effective provider.


“The Government will also encourage partnerships between the indigenous community and local government to assist with service delivery, programme management and training.”


Torres Strait Autonomy

“In recognition of the distinct identity and culture of Torres Strait Islanders, the Government has given the Torres Strait Regional Authority financial autonomy through its own budgetary allocation.


“The process of moving towards greater autonomy in the Torres Strait will continue in consultation with Torres Strait Island communities and the Coalition will give the region administrative autonomy with legislation separate from the ATSIC Act.


“Over the past two and a half years the Coalition, working with indigenous communities, has achieved a great deal in indigenous affairs. Attached is a paper outlining these achievements and Labor’s failures,” Senator Herron said.



23 September, 1998


For further information or to arrange an interview contact Greg Hunting on 0419 675590




Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs






A Special Auditor, appointed by the Coalition Government in its first year in office, expressed serious reservations about 292 of the 1,200 ATSIC-funded organis ations examined. In their last year of funding under Labor, these organisations received a total of $172.4 million. As a result of the Special Auditor process, a wide range of ATSIC procedures have been substantially improved.


The Coalition has continued to impose a tough accountability regime. The Coalition has ordered a review of spending by ATSIC on conferences and in the past two and a half years 56 matters have been referred to the Federal Police for investigation.


The Army in Remote Communities


The Government has involved the Army in providing urgently needed housing and infrastructure including water and sewerage systems in 7 remote indigenous communities.


The programme ensures skills in construction and ongoing maintenance are transferred to comm unity members. The community response has been very positive and the programme is being extended.


Deaths in Custody


In July 1997 the Government convened a summit on deaths in custody and issues related to indigenous over-representation in the criminal ju stice system.


Agreement was reached with all states and territories to develop strategic plans, in partnership with indigenous people, for the co-ordination of funding and service delivery aimed at reducing indigenous over-representation in the criminal j ustice system.




Improved education is one of the keys to assisting people to move from welfare dependency into employment. To assist Indigenous Australians, the Coalition has increased funding in this crucial area.


The Coalition has introduced programmes such as the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Programme (IESIP) which assists literacy, numeracy and education programme retention rates.


As a result of these programmes there are now 40,000 indigenous students in secondary and TAFE education, 9,000 at university and 5,000 on apprenticeships and traineeships.


Employment and Economic Development


Indigenous people have an unemployment rate that is over four times higher than that of the general population. The Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme, under which indigenous people voluntarily work for the dole on community projects, has been expanded. This year 30,000 Indigenous Australians are working for the dole.


The Coalition has also actively promoted small business development wit hin the Indigenous community. It is another way of assisting people move from welfare dependency to genuine employment and self sufficiency. The Government has introduced an Indigenous Business Incentive Programme (IBIP) to assist the development of small businesses.




During the first term of the Howard / Fischer Government, funding on indigenous health programmes has been increased by $73 million to improve primary health case.


Extra funding has also been provided for the establishment of 35 new o r expanded health services, with priority being given to rural and remote communities.


In a landmark achievement, a set of national performance indicators and key performance targets for indigenous health was agreed by Commonwealth, state and territory he alth ministers. Targets include a 20% reduction over 10 years in both the overall death rate and the rate in comparison with non-indigenous deaths.


The Prime Minister, during his visit to aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory also announced add itional funding of $4.8 million for a programme to tackle the long-standing problems of eye health, including trachoma, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


Heritage Protection/Hindmarsh Island Bridge


In line with a commitment given duri ng the 1996 election campaign, the Coalition has introduced a new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Bill into the House of Representatives.


This Bill will reform the current Act and ensure there are no repeats of Labor's wasteful H indmarsh Island Bridge debacle which cost taxpayers more than $4 million.


Housing and Infrastructure


The Commonwealth has entered into bilateral agreements with the states and territories to provide better housing outcomes.


The Government, through ATSIC , also operates a Housing Infrastructure Priority Programme which addresses remote communities in the greatest need of essential services such as clean water, sewerage and basic housing.


Land Rights/Native Title


The Coalition's Native Title legislation h as been passed. It provides a fair and workable solution that rectifies many of the problems in the previous unworkable Act. It also reflects the Government's desire to ensure a fair outcome for all interests - security for farmers, certainty for miners and protection of native title rights of Indigenous Australians.


The Government commissioned an independent and comprehensive review of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act. The review has just been completed and is being considered. It is the first major review since the Act was amended in 1987.


Law and Justice


There has been a complete review and reform of Aboriginal Legal Services in New South Wales which has seen the legal sex-vices regionalised, and the introduction of a tendering process . Additionally we have ensured that Indigenous women now have greater access to Aboriginal Legal Services.


The reform process will be extended to all States and Territories and will result in the implementation of national standards for ALS's.


Separated children


In December 1997, in response to the Bringing 7hem Home report, the Government unveiled a $63m package of initiatives aimed at addressing family separation and its consequences, focussing on family reunion and counselling.


This package includes an extra $11.3 million to establish a national network of Link-Up centres and an extra $33.3 million for counselling and related services.


Torres Strait Region


In recognition of the distinct identity and culture of Torres Strait Islanders, the Government has give n the Torres Strait Regional Authority financial autonomy through its own budgetary allocation, separate from ATSIC.


23 September, 1998




Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs




During its thirteen years in government. Labor spent almost $16 billion on indigenous specific programmes without any real commitment to accountability or outcomes. Despite this massive expenditure, conditions for Indigenous Australians showed no real improvement under Labor.


When the Coalition came to government -


* Life expectancy for Aboriginal people was 15-20 years less than the general population


* Infectious diseases were 12 times higher than the Australian average


* The indigenous infant mortality was 3 to 5 times h igher that that for other Australian children


* Only 33% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children completed schooling compared to a national average of 77%


* 120 remote Aboriginal communities were identified as not having an adequate water suppl y; 134 communities lacked appropriate sewage disposal; and 250 communities were without electricity


* The unemployment rate for indigenous people was 38% compared with 8.7% for the general population


Labor made a mess of the Native Title Act and the Coal ition was left to make it workable. Labor continually obstructed the governments efforts in the Senate to achieve a fair and equitable outcome on native title. Labor also produced the Hindmarsh Island debacle which cost taxpayers more than $4 million.


Lab or spent $400 million addressing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Despite this significant spending the number of deaths in custody continued to rise.


Labor let Indigenous Australians and all Australian taxpayers down by this failing to improve the lives of Indigenous people and by failing to address the question of accountability.


We cannot afford to go back to Labor's policies for Indigenous people. Labor will just throw more taxpayers' money at the problems without achieving any real improvements in the lives of Indigenous Australians.


23 September, 1998