Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 05 Hansard (Tuesday, 6 May 2008) . . Page.. 1422 ..
I think it is very important that these matters are resolved before the bill is voted on. It is quite clear that the Chief Minister has the total support of the Assembly for this bill going forward but, if we are truly to make this an effective tool in lifting the burden that has rested for way too long on the shoulders of Indigenous people, then some of these questions need to be answered. With that, the opposition will be supporting the bill.
MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Business and Economic Development, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Minister for the Environment, Water and Climate Change, Minister for the Arts) (11.56), in reply: I thank members for their contribution to the debate. Today’s debate and what seems will be the unanimous passage of this bill mark a signal, perhaps even a seismic, shift in the relationship between this legislature and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who make the ACT their home.
The government firmly believes that the establishment of an Indigenous elected body will play two functions, symbolic and practical. Firstly, we hope that it will help this community, black and white, move closer to true reconciliation. Secondly, we believe it is practically significant for the degree of self-determination that it will offer Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in our Canberra community.
Too often, and with frequently tragic results, through the two centuries black and white have jointly occupied this continent, policies and programs affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been dispensed in a top-down fashion. White Australia has tended to assume it knows best when it comes to black Australia—what is best culturally, what is best linguistically, what is best economically, educationally and medically. We are still, as a nation, doing it, deciding what is best and then imposing it. We are doing it in the Northern Territory, most pointedly. But the same decision-making processes are followed elsewhere, everywhere, and by default because, since the abolition of ATSIC and its regional councils, there has been no representative body chosen from within the community with which to consult.
Here in the ACT we have relied, when we can, on consultative committees. We have tested our ideas on the United Ngunnawal Elders Council. We have engaged in a COAG trial in the wash-up of the ATSIC abolition. What we have not had is confidence—confidence that those to whom we speak truly speak for and on behalf of their communities, confidence that we are kept as accountable as we might be. How do the voiceless articulate their grievances? How do the disenfranchised feed their ideas into the political process?
There may be some who will argue that Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in our community are as fully enfranchised as anyone else, that because they can vote in general elections their voices will be heard as stridently as any other individual’s. To argue thus ignores the reality that intergenerational disadvantage and dispossession bring with them, including alienation from the political processes.
The bill before the Assembly today gives Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in our community a direct voice in the scrutiny of policies and programs that affect them and a direct role in formulating those policies and services. This bill gives Aboriginals