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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 68

Senator MOORE (5:02 PM) —I present the report of the Select Committee on the Administration of Indigenous Affairs entitled After ATSIC--Life in the mainstream? together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator MOORE —I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator MOORE —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This report comes from a committee that has actually operated in two parts, as a result of the October 2004 election. On 16 July 2004 the Senate resolved to appoint a Select Committee on the Administration of Indigenous Affairs to report by 31 October 2004. The committee naturally ceased activities upon the end of the 40th Parliament in September 2004 and was reconstituted on 17 November with the terms of references unchanged and a new reporting date of today. There were some amendments to the membership of the committee and we duly continued the work.

This committee is most honoured to have had the opportunity to meet with people across most of Australia to hear their views about what is going to happen or is proposed to happen with changes to Aboriginal affairs in our country. We received over 250 submissions from people who truly cared about these issues and were able to meet with them in public meetings across four states. I want to say this afternoon that, on behalf of the committee, I apologise to those states which we were unable to visit to listen to their concerns because of the tight time frame. However, your voices have been heard. Indeed, a message from our committee must be that the voices must be heard. No longer can Indigenous people in our country feel that when we are talking about the administration of Indigenous affairs they are silent or invisible—a complaint that was made often to our committee.

In terms of the structure of the report, it is in five chapters with a preface. Firstly, we do a background to the whole inquiry—why it was called and how it is going to operate. Chapter 2 is about the evolution of ATSIC and the history of the review and also contains some indication of the disadvantage which everybody agrees Indigenous people live through in our country. There is no disagreement that there is disadvantage and there probably is little disagreement about the need for change, but there is disagreement about how the voices should be heard.

Chapter 3 talks about what is actually happening—the effects of the legislation. In this chapter we make very clear as a committee that in many ways our work has been done. We have legislation coming before this place soon talking about legalities of ATSIC. In reality, the government has already put in place a range of administrative changes which have taken the resources, tasks and projects of ATSIC and mainstreamed them into other government departments. They have also taken the people of ATSIC and spread them out to other government departments and in some cases out of the system altogether. So a real issue is exactly what effects the legislation will have on the community, the government and the way Indigenous affairs are seen across Australia.

Chapter 4 looks at the absolutely key issue of how representation is achieved by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our country. This caused significant comment and debate across all our submissions and our hearings. There is no right answer, but there is one key point: the Aboriginal people must be part of this process. It is their representation and really should not be imposed in any way by other people who think they know best. Chapter 5 looks at the issue of mainstreaming, which is the core element of the government’s approach to how services will be delivered in the future. We heard from people about the difference between the new mainstreaming and the old mainstreaming. But it is a core issue for everybody to have that leap of trust to ensure that people will have their voices heard, will be part of the delivery of services and will have faith in what is going on. There are 12 recommendations in the report. Not all are agreed.

However, at this stage, I really want to thank the members of the committee, who have been so supportive, so patient and cooperative. I particularly want to thank the secretariat, some of whom are sitting in the gallery this evening. I want to thank Jonathan, Alison, Tim and Ian. Thank you for your help and support. Maybe now we will be able to achieve what Alison Anderson, ATSIC commissioner, hoped for, which was to have real representation. But her real concern was that, ‘Once again, we may be experimented on and that in another five to 10 years we will come back and discuss exactly what went wrong.’