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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (25 September) . . Page.. 3706 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

long and slow recovery, but nature, as I think we all know, moves inexorably but surely. The reserves will recover. We will monitor and assist that to the extent that we can

COAG meeting

MR PRATT: My question is to the minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, Mr Stanhope. Yesterday, in response to a question from Mr Stefaniak about criticism by Lionel Quartermaine, the acting chairman of ATSIC, of you and your Labor mates for your stunt at the COAG meeting, you said,

In relation to that, I think it is relevant to acknowledge-but I wonder what those public servant appointees of the Commonwealth's are doing engaging in, essentially, a political stoush with heads of government from around Australia. I guess there is an issue there to be addressed as well. Talk about politicising the public service! Talk about unleashing your public servants to do your political dirty work.

In fact, of course, Mr Quartermaine was democratically elected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to represent their interests. Why do you arrogantly consider that you should be above criticism by the acting chairman of ATSIC, who was representing the interest of his constituents, those you let down so badly in the COAG meeting?

MR SPEAKER: Before you rise, the proper title for the minister in respect of this is the Minister for Community Affairs.

MR STANHOPE: Yesterday, in response to the question that I did receive from Mr Stefaniak on this matter, I do confess that I did understand Mr Stefaniak to have been saying that the criticism-which I did also acknowledge I had not seen, and the record will show that, because I was actually not in town at the time-came from the head of the department-and I accept that I may have been wrong-and not from the acting head of ATSIC. To that extent, I apologise. I had the wrong person in mind when I made the comments that I did.

The thrust of the comments remains valid, though: that Mr Quartermaine was making comments about what he alleges the Labor heads of government, the heads of the states and territories, did or did not do in relation to a particular agenda item at COAG. The criticism I made yesterday of Mr Quartermaine, which I thought I was making of the head of the department and not the acting head of ATSIC, remains the same: Mr Quartermaine, in his criticism, was simply wrong. He misunderstood the actions that I and my Labor colleagues had taken at COAG.

Certainly, we made a significant and, I think, valid protest about the decision of the Liberal federal government to cut a billion dollars from the health budget. We did take a particular stand and take certain action in relation to that outrageous abandonment by the Liberals of the health care of the people of Australia. That determination of the Liberal Party to continue on with its ideological pursuit of the establishment of a two-tiered health system or structure for the people of Australia-a health system that, at one level, meets all the needs of those who can pay and to hell with the rest-was the reason the Labor states and territories did take a stand.

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