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Media Release




Telstra sale must benefit indigenous communities


Indigenous leaders should ask for a commitment of $5 billion for indigenous housing and infrastructure projects as a share in the “ social dividend” resulting from the sale of Telstra, the ATSIC Chairman, Gatjil Djerrkura, said today.


“I personally oppose the sale of any further part of Telstra,” Mr Djerrkura said.


“However, I do recognise that the sale of such community assets does provide a chance for government to invest in new major development projects without increasing taxes.”


Speaking at a breakfast seminar on innovations in regional development, Mr Djerrkura said a commitment to an “infrastructure Olympics” leading up to the Year 2000 and beyond would also benefit regional Australia in general.


“In many parts of Australia, regional economies survive only because of the involvement of indigenous people,”  Mr Djerrkura told the Western Australian Technology and Industry Advisory Council.


“Most of the money that goes to Aboriginal communities stays in the region.  By contrast, most of the money invested by big business leaves in the pockets of contract workers.


“This is an economic fact of life that needs some though.  In the year just ended, ATSIC spent close to $210 million in WA - our biggest expenditure in any state.  This was distributed to local Aboriginal communities for housing projects, work -for - dole schemes, cultural activities and native title.  In turn, this money was spent on food, clothing, fuel, building supplies, vehicles, legal fees and other services. 


“I am amazed that people who criticise the so-called Aboriginal industry don’t realise that they are insulting the small businesses that rely upon ATSIC.”


Mr Djerrkura said the regional Australian community “is feeling great hurt and anxiety” because of the pace of economic change.  Indigenous communities share the concerns.


“When Governments and the private sector pull out, they take jobs and services away from us.  Like other Australians, we worry about these things.”


Yet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities suffer from the further disadvantage of lacking the state-funded housing and infrastructure services that other communities take for granted.


Based on current estimates of needs, ATSIC estimates it will take more than $4 billion to provide all the housing and infrastructure needed in indigenous communities.  At the current rate of expenditure, it will take 20 years or more to meet those needs.


“But the indigenous population is growing quickly and ATSIC will not be able to keep up with the demand,” Mr Djerrkura said.


“I fear that ATSIC’s ability to fund local projects will shrink - along with our contribution to regional economies.”


The refore, if the Telstra sale proves inevitable, benefits must flow to all sectors of the community.


“I think it would be fair to ask for $5 billion out of a possible $45 billion to fix the housing problems of indigenous Australians - once and for all.


“T his is really our last chance unless the federal, state and territory governments can provide another way of ensuring social equity.


“The right housing makes a big difference to the health of Aboriginal communities. Instead of looking for improvements over generations, we could see big improvements in 10 or 15 years.”


Mr Djerrkura said a $5 billion investment in infrastructure leading up to the Sydney Olympics would help reverse the loss of rural jobs and incomes.


“It would also help ensure that Australi a is not embarrassed during a period of intense international scrutiny.  There would be plenty of scope for innovative partnerships between communities and old and new businesses.


“Let’s join together in this ‘infrastructure Olympic’.  Aboriginal communities will get housing and non-indigenous communities will enjoy improved incomes.  Together, we will develop new skills and industries to revive towns that are fading away.”


Mr Djerrkura added that native title will play an important role in developing regional partnerships between indigenous groups and others.


“ATSIC has been saying for months that native title works where there is the political will to make it so.  Here in WA, industry bodies such as the Chamber of Mining and Energy have been working on win-win outcomes for miners and Aboriginal people.”


A jo int venture between Pilbara Aboriginal people and Hamersley Iron, due for launch tomorrow, is an example of such partnerships.  ATSIC recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rio Tinto to encourage further relationships. 


“The key to innovative partnerships means moving on from old ideas,” Mr Djerrkura said. 


“ATSIC is committed to the concept of agreements - agreements on land use, agreements on infrastructure, agreements on how our regions should develop.”


Media contact through the Office of Public Affairs:

Brian Johnstone    02 6289 3307