Page 1421 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 6 May 2008

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The facilities out there, whether it be the nursery they are developing to teach young Indigenous people—and they do not exclude non-Indigenous people, which I think is a very, very good step—nursery skills, whether it be to teach them in the commercial kitchen they wish to establish, whether it be to teach them how to drive so that they get vehicle licences, whether it be a car or a truck, so that they develop a system of independence and of being able to support themselves, are first rate. But Billabong are held on such a short lead by this government and have so much uncertainty hanging over them and have had hanging over them for a period of time. You do not seem to be able to get answers from the government.

It is well and good to have a consultative body where people can sit around and talk the talk but the reality for many Indigenous people is that there is uncertainty coming out of the behaviour of various arms of the ACT government that lead them to have problems about their own future. If, for instance, Billabong have a million dollars worth of development on that property and they were asked to remove that, they would have to do that at enormous expense to themselves, without any certainty of where they could go. Why would we want to lose that? Here is a group that has done a great job by themselves, for themselves, for their community, with the support of both the federal and the ACT governments but they live on a quarterly licence, not even a lease over the land; it is a quarterly licence to use the land.

I think there are some serious issues in their relationship with some of the departments. Perhaps the Chief Minister could enlighten us on how he sees the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body assisting groups like Billabong have a better relationship with the government because ultimately, if on the ground this does not lead to better outcomes for Indigenous people, this bill will be a waste and the body will be a waste and the Aboriginal community, indeed the entire community of the ACT, will be worse off at the end.

I will close by asking the Chief Minister whether he might elaborate when he closes the debate on what he sees is the future of the arrangements for Indigenous people in the ACT. I know many have difficulties in understanding which arm of government they go to. Part of that confusion is the fact that there are two ministers who represent and look after Indigenous issues and services within the ACT. Perhaps it is time that they came back under bailiwick of one minister—ideally the Chief Minister. I think it raises the level of importance that we attach to Indigenous issues by saying, “I, the Chief Minister, will look after this.”

It would be interesting to hear from the Chief Minister as to whether he will consider that option and, indeed, it would be interesting to see, when the elected body first meet and if that suggestion was made, what would happen. As he concludes, the Chief Minister might tell us how this process will work. If the elected body makes a decision, is it binding on the government? What degree of responsibility will the government take for the policies and recommendations that the elected body puts up to the government? Indeed, will there be a devolution? Will it become more like the former ATSIC and have its own budget? Will there be some discretion that this body may have in terms of directing the government’s efforts in assisting Indigenous people?

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