Page 1425 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 6 May 2008

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I am not going to speak for long; I will just explain the reason for the amendment. You have all got it in front of you. It is extremely straightforward, because I do not believe that the ability for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are members of the body to speak as representatives of the body is clearly enshrined in the bill. So my amendment is purely directed at addressing that shortcoming.

The amendment ensures that the elected body is able to speak freely with the media and the public, thereby giving it some teeth. I must note that these are people speaking as representatives of the body, not in their individual and private capacity as citizens of the ACT, and I am sure the body will have rules in place to ensure that that occurs.

Despite an assurance from the government, the bill as it stood, or as it stands unamended, is not clear as to whether the advice of the body to the minister could be made publicly available. So I have amended the functions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Elected Body, as listed in the bill, to add a provision which allows it to make its advice public. This way, if the body gives the government some advice it would rather not hear, or if it does not take action on advice the body has recommended, the elected body can discuss the matter publicly and require government to justify its stance on the issue.

Democracy in Australia allows, creates, creates the room for, and encourages, debate. Bodies are elected to express the views of their constituents and to make informed decisions. They are expected to justify their decisions, and decisions are made public so that other groups can comment on them. Giving the body the enshrined independence to release and discuss its decisions publicly enhances accountability, both for government and for the elected representatives. It expands the representatives’ accountability to their electorate and it provides a mechanism for the choices of the ACT government to be scrutinised. Even elected officials make mistakes so, if the decisions and their reasons are in the public domain, people can name the mistake and propose ways forward, and in the end this is a win-win situation for everyone.

The provision to give public and private advice, as advised by ATSIC, has been suggested by some as the best way of ensuring some level of clout. Indeed, it may be a challenge for this and future ACT governments to hear it. But I trust that this government is committed enough to empowering Indigenous people, to take any criticism on the chin, to hear it and to respond to it. I commend the Chief Minister for agreeing to the amendment and I trust that this government or any future government will not do a John Howard and abolish the body simply because the body criticises government.

With this amendment I seek reassurance from the government that the body’s ability to contribute to, enhance and initiate public debate will be guaranteed.

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) (12.09): The government is more than happy to accept the amendment and notes and acknowledges the points that Dr Foskey makes, which really are about openness and accountability.

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