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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission - Report - 1992-93

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It is intended that publication of this report will be preceded by tabling of an Interim Report in October to ensure timely feedback to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commu­

nity. Altogether, additional funding worth $64m was made available by the Commonwealth during 1992-93 for RCIADIC implementation.

State and Territory Governments have each agreed to report separately on recommendations that involve their responsibilities.

Also in response to Recommendation 1, Mr Mick Dodson, formerly of the Northern Land Council, was appointed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner in April 1993. This position was created within the

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Com­ mission. ATSIC sees this as a very positive step and Mr Dodson is assured of our full support.

Despite all the efforts to implement Royal Commission recommendations, the situation that gave rise to the Royal Commission still prevails. According to the Institute of Crimi­

nology’s Second National Police Custody Report, Aboriginal people make up 29 per cent of all custody incidents, a rate 26 times higher than that of non-Aboriginal people. The number of Aboriginal deaths in custody has remained

fairly constant, while the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners and their imprisonment rates are, in general, increasing.

These statistics tell us that the Royal Com­ mission report must not be allowed to become yesterday’s issue. Governments around Australia must be held accountable, in the long term, for

the promises and commitments they have made in response to the Royal Commission. ATSIC is committed to ensuring that they are.

International Year o f the Worlds Indigenous People 1993 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of the World’s Indig­

enous People (IYWIP). The theme of the year is ‘Indigenous Peoples — A New Partnership’.

The year was launched on 10 December 1992. On that day, I, together with other indigenous representatives from around the world, addressed the UN General Assembly in

New York. In my address, I observed that Aboriginal culture — the oldest surviving culture in the world — had one thing to celebrate in the

IYWIP: its survival. I remarked that Australia’s indigenous people sought to unlock the door to their history, and in doing so we hoped to show the world that there is, and always will be,

another side to the so-called discovery of Aus­ tralia that wrought havoc upon us. We do not wish to conquer or oppress. Nor indeed do we wish to retaliate for two centuries of injustice.

Rather we seek to create a new partnership based upon understanding, co-operation and goodwill.

The Australian launch was held in Redfern Park, Sydney, the principal speaker being the Prime Minister, Mr Paul Keating.

Mr Keating used the occasion to make a ground-breaking statement. He called for reconciliation between indigenous and non- indigenous Australians and an acknowledgment of white Australia’s history of injustice against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; he

equated national progress with the extension of ‘opportunity and care, dignity and hope to the indigenous people of Australia’. This speech raised considerable expectations in the indig­

enous community — expectations centring on the Government’s response to the Mabo judge­ ment, as well as on the Government’s, and the Prime Minister’s, commitment to Aboriginal

and Torres Strait Islander advancement.

Before and since the launch of the IYWIP, ATSIC has been active in facilitating events to mark the year, and in preparing and distributing information kits and a monthly newsletter. O f

funds set aside by ATSIC for the year, a large

20 A T S I C A n n u a l R e p o r t 1 9 9 2 — 9 3

proportion was allocated to Regional Councils to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the local level to develop their own IYWIP activities.

I can testify from my participation in inter­ national forums that Australia’s effort in observ­ ing this year has been at least equal to and, in my opinion, superior to that of any other nation. ATSIC has contributed extensively to funding domestic activities and has supported the international effort through secondment of a staff member to the Centre for Human Rights in Geneva.

It is imperative that Australian governments maintain the momentum of this important

Left: The Prime Minister, M r Keating, speaks at the Australian launch o f the IY W IP at Redfern, Sydney, on 10 December 1992.

Below left: On the same day, Miss O Donoghue addressed the U N General Assembly in New York.

international initiative, and build on the In­ creased awareness and goodwill that is being generated. Already there is talk of an 'interna­ tional decade’ focusing on the world’s indig­ enous peoples. ATSIC supports this and looks to other nations to contribute more generously

than has been the case during this year. Proper forward planning will be essential.


The Process of Reconciliation was legislated unanimously by the Commonwealth Parliament in 1991. This legislation set up a 25-member Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, compris­ ing 12 Aboriginals, two Torres Strait Islanders and 11 non-indigenous people. I am a member, as is Deputy Chairperson, Sol Bellear, and Yangenanook (Vic.) Regional Councillor

Esmeralda Saunders.

The Council, with administrative support from an Aboriginal Reconciliation Unit within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, will oversee a long-term process of reconciliation between indigenous and non - indigenous Australians, which will ideally conclude for the year 2001. The Council’s vision is o f ‘a united Australia, which respects this land of our, values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and provides justice and equity to all’.

During the year the Council refocused its public education and consultation programs around the Mabo judgement, and set up com­ mittees designed to promote dialogue between indigenous and non-indigenous interests in three crucial areas: rural industries, unions and

C h a i r p e r s o n ’s I n t r o d u c t i o n 21

wealth programs and activities that can make a contribution to IYWIP from existing resources.

To meet the UN’s objectives and to support the theme of the Year, another Interdepartmen­ tal Committee endorsed the following national objectives for Australia’s involvement in the


1. to enhance relations between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the broader community.

2. to increase knowledge and understanding in the domestic and international community about the world’s indigenous peoples, in particu­ lar Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

3. to identify activities through policy and program development to improve the socio­ cultural position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

4. to maximise the involvement of non­ government organisations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and community-

based individuals in the achievement of the national objectives.

During the two financial years, 1992-94, A I SIC has allocated $2.5m from its global allocation for IYWIP activities. Commissioners determined that a large part of these funds should go to Regional Councils for the develop­

ment of local initiatives. At a national level, the IYWIP Secretariat has produced information and promotional material; a regular newsletter; a commemorative medallion; and button badges, bunds were also allocated toward conference sponsorship and participation, including the Second World Indigenous Youth Conference held in Darwin in July 1993. A database has been established for monitoring and reporting IYWIP projects and activities carried out by Commonwealth departments and agencies. The IYWIP Secretariat staff were also called upon to speak to groups about IYWIP activities.

Royal Commission Implementation Monitoring

O p e r a t i o n a l Pl an

Monitor progress on the implementation of pro­ grams and activities developed in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The Unit will: • report annually to Parliament on the progress toward implementing the adopted recommen­ dations; • advise, as required, the Board of Commission­

ers and Regional Councils on the implementa­ tion progress; • provide policy and program directions to maintain a network between Commonwealth

departments to facilitate the development of a data base on the implementation of Royal Commission Recommendations; • establish a continuing consultative process with

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations needed to ensure that there is a broadly based community perspective on the implementation process; and • liaise with monitoring and reporting agencies

in the State and Territory Government structures to ensure the maximum possible co-ordination of approach to their respective monitoring and reporting responsibilities.

During 1992-93, the Commonwealth’s major responses to the recommendations of the Royal Commission were commenced. A total of 29 separate programs were funded, involving both supplementation of resources for existing programs (in areas such as legal representation, land acquisition and management, education and employment) and the establishment of a number of new programs (see page 18).

Also required was a range of initiatives by ATSIC and other Commonwealth departments and agencies to alter and improve policy and procedural arrangements in areas which affect

Component 3 .4

112 A T S I C A n n u a l R e p o r t 1 9 9 2 - 9 3

the life opportunities available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Many of these initiatives were primarily the responsibility of State and Territory Governments, especially

those concerning police and prison policies and procedures and the judicial system. Many responses, however, required Commonwealth agencies to initiate discussions with the States

and Territories on specific change — in areas such as research protocols, access to archival records, consideration of racial vilification legislation, expansion of pre-schooling, and

closer involvement of indigenous people in educational policy reform.

An integral part of this wide-ranging effort to implement responses to Royal Commission recommendations was a commitment to ongo­ ing monitoring of, and reporting on, progress in

the implementation. The Commonwealth and the States and Territories have accordingly agreed on arrangements for detailed reporting on an annual basis. The Commonwealth and each

State or Territory will publish a report annually on progress made in implementing those responses for which each has, or shares, responsi­ bility. Taken together, these reports will provide

comprehensive information on action related to each recommendation. The first reports, for the period to 30 June 1993, are expected to be available in December 1993. Arrangements will

be made to distribute the Commonwealth’s report to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and representatives, as well as to the wider community.

As 1992-93 was the first year of a five-year commitment to RCIADIC implementation, much of the activity during the year was neces­ sarily preparatory — preparing development

strategies, launching pilot programs, organising initial meetings for discussion of tasks, and so on. While ATSIC believes that real progress has been made across the very wide range of com­

mitments, the pace of change and the achieve­

ment of desired outcomes is expected to acceler­ ate over the next four years.

ATSIC has direct responsibility for eleven of the programs funded in 1992-93, arising from the ‘whole of government’ (Commonwealth, States and Territories) response to 338 recom­

mendations of the Royal Commission report. The implementation of these programs, and other initiatives arising from ATSIC’s responsi­ bilities within the Commonwealth response, are

reported on throughout this publication. ATSIC has the additional responsibility, arising from the response to Recommendation 1 (a) and (b), of co-ordination of the preparation of an annual

report on the implementation of responses by all Commonwealth departments and agencies.


In developing the Royal Commission response, Commonwealth, State and Territory Govern­ ments recognised the need to work together to develop a more co-ordinated approach — not

only in relation to the Royal Commission report, but also more generally in all programs and services operating for the benefit of indig­ enous people. The need to receive appropriate

input from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island­ ers to improve delivery of services was also recognised as vitally important. This had been stressed in the Royal Commission report.

In accordance with the acceptance by the Commonwealth of Recommendation 1 (para­ graph b) of the Royal Commission’s report, funds were approved for the establishment of a

separate Implementation Monitoring Unit within ATSIC. The specific objectives of the Unit are to:

• collect and collate data and reports which will form the basis of an annual report; • liaise with community-controlled organisa­ tions, Regional Councils and Zone Commis­

sioners to ensure community-based Aborigi­ nal and Torres Strait Islanders have the

P r o g r a m B : S o c i a l 113

The Office also monitors the development of programs and policies affecting Torres Strait Islanders by ATSIC, by Regional Councils and by other Commonwealth bodies, and evaluates the extent to which those programs and policies are likely to meet the needs of Torres Strait


The Office is required to pay particular attention to the needs ofTorres Strait Islander people living outside the Torres Strait region.


The Tripartite Forum on the Torres Strait has assumed the role of the former Interdepartmen­ tal Committee on the Torres Strait that reported to the Commonwealth Government in 1988. The Tripartite Forum comprises Common­

wealth, State/Territory and local authorities with an interest in Torres Strait Islander issues, including Torres Strait Islander traditional leaders. The third meeting of the Tripartite

Forum, this time involving a larger group of representatives, was held in Cairns on 29-30 March 1993.


I he Office ofTorres Strait Islander Affairs is involved in the monitoring of bilateral arrange­ ments between Australia and Papua New Guinea under the Torres Strait Treaty and similar such international forums relating to Torres Strait Islander people.


Events of special significance to Torres Strait Islander people during 1992-93 were:

• the participation of the Zone Commissioner, Mr George Mye, MBE, at the 10th session of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) in Geneva on 20-30 July 1992;

• a meeting held on Thursday Island on 13-15 September 1992 to discuss calls in the

Discussion Paper on the section 26 review of the Aboriginal and Toms Strait Islander Commission Act 1989 to abolish the special provisions for Torres Strait Islanders under the Act. This meeting was attended by the Torres Strait Islander Advisory Board, the

Island Co-ordinating Council, Torres Strait Islander members of the Council for Aborigi­ nal Reconciliation and the Torres Strait Islander member of the Council for Aborigi­ nal Health. Also discussed at this meeting were the International Year of the World’s

Indigenous People (IYWIP), the working party on Torres Strait Islander native title activities, the TSIAB Strategic Plan, the 10th WGIP session, and a number ofTorres Strait Treaty issues; • the 6th Festival of Pacific Arts in the Cook

Islands, 16-27 October 1992, where the Torres Strait Zone Commissioner led the ATSIC representation; • a meeting of the Joint Advisory Council on

the Torres Strait Treaty in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on 26-30 November 1992, attended by Commissioner Mye; • the official Australian launch of the IYWIP

at Redfern Park, Sydney, on 10 December 1992. Ms Dulcie Flower, TSIAB member for New South Wales and the ACT, delivered an address to delegates; • the international launch of the IYWIP at the

UN General Assembly in New York, also on 10 December, which was attended by Commissioner Mye; • the 3rd National Torres Strait Islander

Conference held in Townsville on 10-14 March 1993, with delegates attending from throughout Australia. Among the issues discussed at this conference were the creation of a new autonomous body to replace the Torres Strait Regional Council, self-govern­ ment for the Torres Strait Islands, legal recognition of traditional child adoption practices, and the demand for sea rights in

116 A T S I C A n n u a l R e p o r t 1 9 9 2 - 9 3



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the Torres Strait. The latter issue and, to a certain extent, the issue of self-government stem from the High Court’s historic ‘Mabo’ decision on native title which confirmed the traditional land rights of the people of Murray Island (Mer); and • the first anniversary on 3 June 1993 of the

Mabo decision.


The Torres Strait Islander Advisory Board provides advice to the Minister, the Commission and the Regional Council for the Torres Strait for the purpose of furthering the social, eco­

nomic and cultural advancement of Torres Strait Islanders. The Office of Torres Strait Islander Affairs provides secretariat services and support to the TSIAB.

The TSIAB consists of a Chairperson (who is also the elected ATSIC Commissioner for the Torres Strait Zone) and six other members, being Torres Strait Islanders appointed by the Minister to represent Torres Strait Islander

people. Members hold office on a part-time basis and are appointed for a term not exceeding three years. The current Board comprises:

• Mr George Mye, MBE, Chairperson and Torres Strait Zone Commissioner; • Ms Dulcie Flower, NSW and ACT; • Mr Rocky Gela, SA;

• Mrs Eleanor Harding, Vic. and Tas.; • Mr Belza Lowah, Qld; • Mrs Susan Murdoch, NT; and • Mr George Pitt, WA.

The TSIAB held the following meetings

during 1992-93:

• Meeting No.9: 19-21 August 1992, Darwin, NT; • Meeting No. 10: 28-31 October 1992, Port Hedland, WA;

• Meeting N o.11: 20-21 January 1993, Townsville, Qld; • Meeting No.12: 15-17 March 1993, Townsville, Qld;

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Top: The widow o f Eddie Mabo, Boneta, speaks at the first anniversary o f the historic High Court decision. Centre and bottom: The Third National Torres Strait Islander Conference was

held at Townsville in March 1993. Among the speakers was A T SIC Regional Councillor, Ms Genua Here.

P r o g r a m B: S o c i a l 117

supported by AHL provide accommodation support for government programs of assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in areas such as health, employment and train­

ing, education and aged nursing.

At 30 June 1993, AHL owned and operated 52 company hostels and funded a further 108 which were being run by community organisa­ tions under its Community Support Hostels C jrants Program.

The major source of funds for AHL opera­ tions was a government operating subsidy which came from ATSIC. The AHL allocation in the 1992-93 ATSIC portfolio budget appropriation was $29.189m.

During 1992-93 there continued to be increased liaison and co-ordination between A 1 SIC and AHL, with ATSIC providing a more supportive role in general.

ATSIC, through the Infrastructure Branch, has been closely involved in issues relating to the funding of aged-care hostels. It is represented on the Committee on Aged Care Facilities, which includes AHL, ATSIC and DHHLGCS.

A new Agreement between the Common­ wealth and AHL has now been finalised for signiature. It is a five-year Agreement with provision for annual review.

AHL will be providing its own annual report to the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs for the year ending 30 June 1993.

Component 4.2

Local Government

O p e r a t i o n a l Pl an

Enhance the opportunities for participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in local government and their access to funding and services by:

• establishing a National Reference Group with the participation of ATSIC and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives to further

take up issues stemming from the National Local Government Conference held in Townsville in 1991; • supporting public awareness campaigns

designed to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people taking part in local government elections; • participating in the Interdepartmental Local Government Task Force; and • negotiating with relevant Commonwealth, State and local government departments and agencies and Regional Councils the provision of appropriate funding for basic community services.

ATSIC’s role in the local government sphere concerns policy matters and co-ordination with other Commonwealth agencies and State/

Territory Governments to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities receive equitable treatment in the provision of essential

services, transport infrastructure and other facilities that are normally provided at the local level.


During 1992-93, ATSIC continued to employ strategies to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by:

• providing them with a knowledge of the functions and finances of local government; and

• encouraging them to stand for public office at the local level.

In 1992-93, six regional conferences were conducted, in Western Australia (Derby, Port Hedland, Kalgoorlie and Albany) and the Northern Territory (Darwin and Alice Springs). These conferences brought together representa­ tives from local government, Regional Councils and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and provided a forum for partici­ pants to open lines of communication and to exchange ideas and information. The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) was

124 A T S I C A n n u a l R e p o r t 1 9 9 2 - 9 3

The Alice Springs local government conference was one o f six regional conferences conducted during 1992-93-

funded by ATSIC and the Commonwealth Office of Local Government to facilitate the conferences. Further regional conferences are planned for New South Wales during 1993-94.

ATSIC is represented on the National Reference Group charged with improving the relationship between local government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The National Reference Group meets bi­ annually and also comprises representatives from the Department of Employment, Education and

Training (DEBT), DHHLGCS, ALGA, Re­ gional Councils, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, State departments of Local Government, State local government associations and local government authorities.

1992-93 also saw the employment by ALGA of an Aboriginal Policy Officer, Mrs Pat Dixon. The national position was jointly funded under an agreement between ALGA and the three

Commonwealth agencies, namely DEET, DHHLGCS and ATSIC. The creation of the position was a recommendation of the National Reference Group.

In June 1993, ATSIC funded two Aboriginal delegates to attend the 1993 International Union of Local Authorities Congress in To­ ronto, Canada. Mrs Pat Dixon delivered a paper to the congress and, along with Councillor

David Curtis of Tennant Creek, participated in most sessions of the congress.

Component 4.3

Broadcasting and Communications

O p e r a t i o n a l Pl an

Facilitate control by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of their own broadcasting — and television — services by: • providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

people with the capacity and capability to produce culturally relevant programs for use in their communities; • encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the general develop­ ment of remote area broadcasting and, in particular, programming; • assisting the preservation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages as a medium of communications; • funding independent Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander broadcasting groups to provide

P r o g r a m B: S o c i a l 125

their own programming — including programs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lan­ guages; • providing policy advice to Regional Councils

on the consideration of regional broadcasting and media projects; • utilising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media organisations to advance such programs

as reconciliation and understanding; and • funding broadcasting groups to begin produc­ tion and increase the number of hours of

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander broadcast­ ing throughout Australia.

1992-93 was another momentous year for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander broadcast­ ing and communications.


I he major achievements during 1992-93 were the preparation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Broadcasting Policy Review Report and the subsequent adoption by Commissioners of a new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

Broadcasting Policy, based on the recommenda­ tions in the report. This constituted the final stage ol a consultative process on indigenous broadcasting that had begun in 1988.

In January 1993, the Broadcasting Policy Review Report was sent to all ATSIC Regional Councils and Regional Offices, Aboriginal and I or res Strait Islander broadcasting groups and other interested parties such as the Department ot Transport and Communications (DOTAC), the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). A

plain English pamphlet was also distributed to enable the information to be more readily digested. This document was widely discussed by broadcasters.

I he final draft policy document, put before Commissioners at their meeting in April 1993, amalgamated and evaluated the various re­ sponses, including the response from the

indigenous broadcasting sector’s own recently established national umbrella organisation, the National Indigenous Media Association of Australia (NIMAA).

In their decision, Commissioners endorsed the Goal, Program Objectives, Strategies and Program Performance Indicators for ATSIC- funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander broadcasting. While recognising that broadcast­ ing and communications priorities will be generally determined by Regional Councils and State Advisory Committees, the Commission determined that, when funding submissions were being considered, priority should be given,

in the short term, to:

• initiatives in remote areas, followed by rural and then urban areas; • in rural and urban areas, radio over video and television; and • promoting greater Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander participation in community broadcasting.

The Commission also agreed to a series of short- to medium-term strategies. These include:

• promoting NIMAA as the major representa­ tive body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander broadcasters; • negotiating a framework for working ar­

rangements between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media organisations and Regional Councils which will recognise the function of indigenous broadcasting and promote the principle of independence of the media; • the development and implementation over

the next three years of a detailed strategy for the revitalisation of the Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme

(BRAGS); • the development of a national community broadcasting training strategy; • the development, with the Australian

Broadcasting Authority, of a more planned approach to the co-ordination and funding

126 A T S I C A n n u a l R e p o r t 1 9 9 2 - 9 3