Page 1423 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 6 May 2008

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and Torres Strait Islanders living in the ACT a new forum at which to speak, a new conduit to government, and the opportunity to select every three years those individuals they wish to speak on their behalf.

A primary function of the elected body will be to transmit to government the community’s views about which services and programs ought to be funded, which programs and services ought to be discontinued, how best to meet the express priorities of the local Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders—priorities set and articulated by themselves. Another will be to keep the government, this government and future ones, accountable, along with the government agencies that will continue to deliver services into the community.

Since the abolition of ATSIC there have been few opportunities for aspiring Indigenous spokesmen and women, aspiring leaders, to develop their skills and increase their capacity to effectively advocate on behalf of their people. There are almost 4,000 people living in the ACT today who identify as Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders. Most do not trace their family roots to this land at all. They have come from all over, an experience only too familiar to a dispossessed people.

I hope that the body established by the bill before the Assembly will be a place for capacity building and skill development, in addition to its other functions. I hope it will be a place of empowerment, a place where Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in our community can feel free to speak, free to explore ideas, and emboldened to participate more fully than ever in the political life of this city.

There is a momentum building nationally to redress the wrongs of the past in relation to Indigenous Australians. It was building some weeks ago when our Prime Minister issued a national apology to members of the stolen generations. It has been building through the COAG processes where Indigenous matters have been elevated and made a priority in all aspects of COAG’s work plans.

We in the ACT can again lead the nation on a social justice issue through our actions in the Assembly today. We can again show that symbolism and practical advancement are possible and appropriate and that we have nothing to fear from holding out to members of our community the opportunity to engage more fully in the life of that community.

The elected body that this legislation seeks to establish will shoulder a significant responsibility in articulating the views and ideas of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community on a range of sensitive and substantial issues. It will have a meaningful role to play in advising and guiding government agencies on ways to reduce the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canberrans in relation to the basics of life, literacy, employment opportunities, health outcomes—the very span of life we can hope to enjoy.

The government has spent three years consulting on and preparing this legislation. The form takes into account suggestions made by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultative Council. I hope and believe it will be embraced and owned by the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and that its work will be respected by all other Canberrans. The solutions will not, of course, come quickly.

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