Page 3070 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 23 August 2005

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was compounded by the fact that the Liberal Party spokesperson for indigenous affairs, a migrant to Australia, a member of an ethnic community, a person who speaks with a foreign accent, who holds and travels on a foreign passport, was the person denying her Aboriginality, her existence as one of the original inhabitants of Australia. It does strike me as something of an irony that we have somebody so newly arrived in this country, a member of one of our diverse ethnic communities, attacking the very existence of an Aboriginal person and her Aboriginality.

Be that as it may, the status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our community is one of the most important defining of our time. The way our society treats Aboriginal people, those people who lived in and lived with the land in our region before European settlement, tells us everything we need to know about ourselves. It tells us about our capacity for compassion, for learning and for respect. It tells us whether we are able, with open minds and eyes, to look at the past and see what is really there, to make sense of it and to find the right way forward. If we cannot do that, then we have not come very far at all.

My government came to office with an absolute commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. We wanted to make sure all indigenous Canberrans have the opportunities they need to realise their full potential, which meant making a long-term commitment to meeting the health, education and cultural needs of indigenous people in the territory. It also meant addressing the very complex issues that arise when indigenous people come into contact with the justice system. This has meant looking after people before, during and after they come into contact with ACT government agencies. It has required a truly whole-of-government approach.

My government has a well-known commitment to protecting human rights and that means protecting everyone’s rights—their rights to equality, life, protection from cruelty, freedom of movement, freedom of conscience, of expression and assembly, and their right to take part in public life, to be safe, to have their children and their families protected. History tells us that, for too long, indigenous people did not enjoy these rights. During the dark days of the stolen generations, indigenous people were not able to protect their children. For decades, official government policy denied indigenous people basic equality. The first people of this country could not vote for more than 60 years after federation and, in the darkest chapters of our history, indigenous people were treated with outright cruelty and disrespect for the law.

Today, indigenous people still suffer the structural inequality of social disadvantage. Poverty, disease and lack of education make it difficult for indigenous people to realise their full potential. These problems are most visible in remote parts of Australia but they are alive and well in all parts of the nation including Canberra. Here in Canberra we have a hardworking and vibrant indigenous community. The ACT government is committed to democratic representation for indigenous people, which is why we propose to set up an arrangement in Canberra. Without elected representation, indigenous people speak with a diminished voice. The demise of ATSIC is a deeply regrettable example of this. Not only is it deplorable that the federal government abolished ATSIC, but it is outrageous that it has no plans to replace it.

The attitude reflected in this absolute disregard for the voice of indigenous Australian winds back the clock for reconciliation in this nation, to the point where I fear for its

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