Page 4564 - Week 14 - Wednesday, 23 November 2005
I take the point that the minister has done a lot in the last four or five months to talk to and build bridges with a range of ethnic communities, but the fact is that we have this council which has a very important role to play in the ACT multicultural landscape and it has to be made to work and needs to be fixed. I think the multicultural council has been marginalised and now, sadly, we have this process of defunding under way.
As I said before, I understand the difficulties the government has, but there are very significant organisational problems and we know that the council simply has not performed. Its energy and its performance have been focused totally on internal affairs, internal matters. Frankly speaking, the council has played only a minor role in anything constructive to do with multicultural affairs in the ACT for at least three years. Today, we had the Chief Minister, in answer to my question without notice seeking confirmation or denial that he has moved to cut funding, saying that it is essentially because of Mohamed Omari’s rather extraordinary reports, perhaps questionable reports, about radical behaviour in the ACT that he is calling for a cut in funding. I wonder about that. He will not deny the concern that we have raised that it may be simply some sort of payback, because we know that Omari has been a major critic of Mr Stanhope.
Mr Omari’s claims have to be tested and he will have to answer to the authorities rapidly as to the veracity of those very serious claims. Yes, he is at loggerheads with the government over the poor functioning of the council, but the answer is not to defund the council. I think that attacking one man by defunding an organisation is very poor leadership. I think that we need to have better leadership exercised by our Chief Minister in going in there and sorting out this council. Clearly, the existing committee needs to be looked at. How they build rapport with the rest of the ethnic communities is a major challenge. I do not decry the difficulty of that, but the Chief Minister will have to find that leadership. An act of bastardry of attacking funding simply because he is at loggerheads with one man is not the answer. We expect more of our Chief Minister.
MR HARGREAVES (Brindabella—Minister for Disability, Housing and Community Services, Minister for Urban Services and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (6.24): Mr Speaker, I need to address some of the points that Mr Pratt has made because I think he is slightly off track. I welcome his understanding of the dysfunctionality of the council. I have to challenge his comments about us providing leadership. Such is not the case. We have provided leadership but not put it under public spotlight. I will take some time now to explain to the house some of the things that we have been putting in place and then some of the reasons behind the decision may be a bit clearer.
Firstly, we need to understand the entity itself. It is a democratically elected council of independent organisations and individuals in the community. It has no relationship in its governance or its structure to the government. We cannot march in there and say, “Fix this or else.” We do have a responsibility, however, to the multicultural community and, indeed, the rest of the taxpayers to make sure that the money we give to that council is used properly.
My pronouncement to the multicultural council, and this conversation preceded the Chief Minister’s announcement of the last couple of days by a number of months, was that, in my opinion, it was not delivering to the people in the multicultural community