Page 2545 - Week 08 - Thursday, 30 June 2005

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The name itself indicates that it would probably be not a profit-making enterprise but an enterprise or organisation that would contribute to the community, maybe provide an additional avenue for communication to the community, and may well enrich the community, but whether it fits under business enterprise is a question that we would have to look at, and as to whether it should be referred to one or other of my confederates here, I can only look at that when I check the details of the application.

Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders

MR GENTLEMAN: Mr Speaker, members will be aware that today marks the last day of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. Is the Chief Minister able to inform the Assembly of arrangements to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of the ACT have a continuing voice in determining their own affairs?

MR STANHOPE: I thank Mr Gentleman for the question. It is an extremely important one. I think that today marks a day of great shame in Australia’s history. The abolition of ATSIC has sent an unmistakable message to this country’s indigenous Australians—a message written on paper signed by our Prime Minister, John Howard—that they cannot be trusted to make wise choices for themselves. It tells them that they lack the wisdom to cast a vote in their own best interests. It tells them they lack the capacity to nurture from within their own ranks the sorts of leaders acceptable to white Australia. This is not so much a message as a kick in the face. Not even in the darkest days of the infamous Queensland gerrymander did anyone think of blaming the voters for the failings of the system. Even the commonwealth government’s own review of ATSIC in 2003 did not recommend abolition. It called for profound structural change and recommended the devolution of power to the regional level but it did not call for abolition.

Recently, I had the honour of speaking at the national reconciliation planning workshop hosted by Reconciliation Australia. In my speech, I lamented the fact that the abolition of ATSIC had been met with virtual silence from black and white leaders alike. This is to be regretted across the political spectrum. I am, for instance, personally deeply disappointed at the deep silence from my colleagues in the federal Labor ranks. I also wonder at the silence on the part of many of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders—though I greatly fear that their silence is not the result of apathy or lack of care but the consequence of a deep sense of despair at the future of reconciliation while the Howard government remains at the helm.

At the Reconciliation Australia forum, I was interested to note that Lowitja O’Donohue, the first chair of ATSIC, put it to Mr Peter Shergold, the chief executive of the Prime Minister’s department, that ATSIC had been abolished after 15 years on the basis that it had not succeeded in achieving its goals. Ms O’Donohue pointed out to Mr Shergold that we white leaders had had more than 200 years to get it right but that we had failed on a far greater scale. Yet no-one is talking about abolishing white dominated federal, state or territory governments, no-one is suggesting dismantling the commonwealth departments that have equally failed in their endeavours to combat indigenous disadvantage. The department of health and the department of education seem immune from blame, while ATSIC loses its very right to existence.

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