Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 10 Hansard (Tuesday, 23 August 2005) . . Page.. 3066 ..
wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT. Although the opposition may not always agree with the crossbench, I am certain we do agree on one of the most important responsibilities that opposition and crossbenchers have: to hold a government accountable for its announcements and to ensure it converts rhetoric into positive actions.
In relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs in the ACT, the Stanhope government is moving way beyond its scope of responsibility and committing far too much energy on what practical initiatives and changes in policy direction are occurring at the federal level. Let us look at one of these issues, the abolition of ATSIC. To place things into perspective, I will highlight just how far the Stanhope government has shifted its focus away from local indigenous policy and social issues. Rather than concentrating efforts on local decision making, it sadly appears that the ACT government is sustaining an obsession with how the federal government continues to consolidate its commitment to garnering support on a national level to achieve solid and practical outcomes for indigenous communities across Australia. I ask: does the Stanhope government really want to constructively contribute to the indigenous debate in Australia and in particular the ACT? Is the Chief Minister categorically focused on improving upon indigenous affairs with respect to our local indigenous community? In relation to the abolition of ATSIC, Mr Stanhope indicated in the Assembly on 30 June 2005 that he felt:
… 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 …
Perhaps Mr Stanhope has forgotten that it was indeed his federal Labor colleagues who realised that, as a white man’s initiative, ATSIC was perhaps never really going to achieve its purpose and is this silence because of the fact that the Chief Minister is so out of step with reality? The reality is that ATSIC simply failed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In the Canberra Times on 3 March 2005, Mr Stanhope said:
ATSIC has not always been an exemplar of indigenous self-determination or probity. Personality has frequently overshadowed program delivery, particularly in recent years.
What point, political or otherwise, is Mr Stanhope trying to make there? ATSIC had, in all probability, outgrown its usefulness and original purpose. He also made reference in this same article to a commonwealth review of ATSIC in 2003 suggesting that, rather than abolishing ATSIC, it called for a “profound structural change”. This had already been tried with the establishment of ATSIS, which could not fulfil all of its specified objectives. So to suggest that we seek to maintain a peak representative body in the form of ATSIC at a federal or state level is simply unworkable. It is arguable that the Chief Minister of the ACT is standing alone as the only politician, at a state or federal level, who believes there should now be a state, territory based commission. In the Canberra Times on 4 June 2005, he implies that he has consulted widely in order to come to the conclusion that a new commission will provide a:
… fundamental expression of a commitment to self-determination ... and all the indications I have is that indigenous residents of the ACT desperately want to elect their own representatives.