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Coalition dashes indigenous hopes: no commitment to a social justice package

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The Hon. Robert Tickner, MP


15 Feb. 1996

Coalition dashes indigenous hopes: no commitment to a social justice package

Yesterday's release of the Opposition Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs policy document does nothing to change the Liberal and National Parties' shoddy reputation on indigenous issues, the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Robert Tickner, said today.

"Fifteen months after the Coalition promised to release its new policy on indigenous affairs, yesterday's launch has dashed the hopes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"Regrettably, the Coalition has wasted a golden opportunity to regain the credibility they lost in indigenous affairs when they described the passage of the Native Title Act as 'a day of shame'.

"Indeed, the Opposition policy leaves no doubt that they intend to amend the Native Title Act to extinguish native title on pastoral leases as foreshadowed by WA Premier, Richard Court, earlier this year. Mr Court claimed at the time that John Howard had given him an undertaking that a future Coalition Government would act in this way.

"Disappointingly, the release of the policy gives no tangible indication of Opposition support for indigenous programs or reconciliation and raises serious doubts about the future of Commonwealth assistance to local projects.

"Of particular concern is the failure of the Opposition's policy to give a commitment to a social justice package as the third stage response to the High Court decision in the Mabo case.

"The Coalition policy document fails on so many fronts to:

. commit the Opposition to a social justice package;

. reverse the commitment Mr Howard gave to Premier Court to extinguish native title on pastoral leases;

. give any guarantee that the Coalition will not proceed with threatened funding cuts;

. offer a single practical initiative to reduce the numbers of Aboriginal people in custody. The Coalition has promised nothing more than a politicians' gabfest with their so-called 'Deaths in Custody Summit'. In contrast Labor is committed to developing a $4.7 million national family conferencing scheme to divert young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from detention;

. give any support whatsoever to regional agreements following Deputy Opposition Leader Tim Fischer's recent comments that a Coalition Government may dump the Cape York Regional Land Use Agreement between Aboriginal people, pastoralists and environmentalists. Although the Coalition has mouthed the rhetoric of reconciliation, it has snubbed this tangible example of reconciliation in action; and

. scuttle the Indigenous Land Fund by reintroducing divisive amendments which would also lessen accountability and make the Fund unworkable.

"In August of 1994, the Coalition announced a consultative process to overhaul its policies on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues. Yet there is no evidence of any consultation, let alone negotiation, with indigenous people in this document. It has been cobbled together with negligible, if any, consultation with indigenous people.

"It is no co-incidence that the Coalition chose to release their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy on the same day as the ALP's major campaign launch. They were obviously hoping it would be buried beneath coverage of the launch.

"It is not surprising that in every opinion poll taken on public attitudes to the capacity of political parties to handle indigenous issues, the Government has outpolled the Opposition every time.

"However, in the cold light of day, the Liberal and National Parties will not be able to hide their policy from indigenous people and other concerned Australians. The Coalition policy will attract the wrath it deserves."


Gary Highland, 02 545 0398; 018 628 420