Page 3069 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 23 August 2005

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community towards positive outcomes or, worse still, continues to attack the federal government for taking such a positive and sensible approach.

It appears that the local Stanhope government fairly well stands alone in its protest on the closure of ATSIC. It is all over the place when it comes to making sensible statements and really assisting the Aboriginal community. Lip service simply will not do; actions speak louder than words. Cheap and politically opportunistic attempts to belittle the federal government’s efforts do nothing for the often complex needs of indigenous people in the ACT.

I acknowledge that action has already begun in some areas in Canberra. This Assembly and its members have the opportunity to promote and encourage ACT and regional indigenous heritage and culture. It is the belief of the Liberal opposition that we can confidently leave the policy decision making on a federal level, squarely at the federal level and let us concentrate on what matters most in the ACT.

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs) (4.19): I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter of public importance today. My government has long regarded indigenous affairs not just as a matter of public importance but as one of the most important issues confronting society and our community today. Our actions, actions which include record levels of funding to address disadvantage, a commitment to consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on establishing an elected body in the ACT and the creation of Australia’s first Aboriginal justice centre, reflect this.

I had very much hoped that the raising of this matter was a signal that the opposition intends to take a more bipartisan approach to tackling indigenous disadvantage in the Canberra community but, having just listened to the shadow spokesperson from indigenous affairs, that is certainly not the case. We have just been treated to 15 minutes of a very, very partisan attack by Mrs Burke on the government and, indeed, on the issue of addressing indigenous disadvantage at all of its levels. It would have been a very welcome and very overdue signal from a political party that, as Mrs Burke has gone to great lengths to illustrate, essentially, at a national level, has introduced arrangements that may well breach not only the ACT Human Rights Act but most certainly our international obligations as well.

It would be a very welcome gesture of reconciliation from the Liberal Party—a party that, through the shadow spokesperson on indigenous affairs, Mrs Burke, has provoked a predominant Ngunnawal elder to seek an almost unprecedented right of reply in the Assembly because of the claims made by Mrs Burke that the most significant of the indigenous leaders at the time of white settlement within this area, Onyong, either did not exist or, if he did exist, he had no connection to existing Ngunnawal. A prominent Ngunnawal elder has responded by seeking a right of reply in this place to debunk what she regards, I think, as an inherently racist attack on her very existence, on her Aboriginality, on her relationships and on her status as a Ngunnawal person, a person with a direct link to Onyong and the original inhabitants of the Ngunnawal area.

I have to say, and it has not been expressed to me by that elder, that I have no doubt her angst, in relation to that attack on her and on her very existence as an Aboriginal person,

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