Page 1414 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 6 May 2008

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I think it would be hard to take issues with those comments. Mr Mundine also recently raised the example of ATSIC as a demonstration that a problem arises when you have a number of poor quality candidates being elected by a small number of votes. I am sure that is something the Liberal party can relate to because it is a similar problem to what they are facing here in Canberra where, according to media reports, you only need two votes to get preselected, or in the case of a sitting member, seven.

Tony Mundine said:

We don’t want to be getting into a whole lot of bureaucracy that supports these people, because it is taking the resources away from the scarce resources that we have got in the first place.

I share this concern on a national level and express some caution about the establishment of an ACT body. I do support the establishment of an Indigenous body to advocate on behalf of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in the ACT. However, it is imperative that the lessons of the past should be learnt. We have to take great care that this does not become a bureaucratic mess. It should act as a bridge between government and the Indigenous community. There are those that might question whether a bridge is needed. However, the government has decided that it is and I am happy to support this legislation.

It has to be recognised that Australia-wide significant numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are living in standards that are not acceptable. I have spoken on occasions, I believe, in this place about my past interest in these matters. It extends back almost 30 years to when I sat on Michael Wooldridge’s alcohol advisory council national advisory committee. It used to intrigue me how much interest there was in urban alcohol issues, but the then rather less fashionable plight of Indigenous communities in Australia seemed to be of low level interest to the academics and the Canberra based officials.

I took it upon myself to go into those communities in the Northern Territory and meet with those leaders and hear about the problems they were facing, particularly the prevalence of wine casks and the like that were inflicting enormous damage on those communities. I have talked to others in the Indigenous community about the problem of petrol sniffing and the changes that have been made nationally to try and impair that activity through a new product. But I share—as I am sure members do—the overall concern about life expectancy in those communities.

As one official from Canberra and a leader in the Indigenous community said to me, to improve life expectancy is going to take many, many years. It will certainly not be something that is fixed overnight by a few quick political decisions. But that should be no basis on which we defer or hold back on our efforts. This is a problem that should be addressed, and whilst I do not believe that the creation of this body is a solution in itself, if this new body goes some way to improving the lives of members of the local Indigenous community, then I will be happy to support it.

There are good things going on in this town in this regard. There is good work in the sporting area. There is work with people who have had dependency problems. I have talked to those who are working with them and I think that if this new initiative can do

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