– additional comments
The Australian Greens support the comments
and recommendations in the committee chairperson's report. However, we wish to
make additional comments and recommendation on several matters.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Amendment Bill 2004 
The Greens do not support the government's
proposed abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission
(ATSIC). The government has failed to genuinely consult those people affected
by the proposal, Indigenous Australians. The government has failed to propose a
suitable alternative to ATSIC. We acknowledge that there are varying views
among Indigenous communities about ATSIC but there is widespread support
throughout Indigenous Australia for a national representative body chosen by
Indigenous communities. The government has failed to address this issue.
The government also has failed to adequately
explain how its new model involving consultation at local and regional level
will operate once the ATSIC regional councils are abolished, as provided for in
the bill. Nor has the government committed to fund new representative bodies at
regional and community level.
The government will deny Indigenous input to
important forums and processes, such as the National Health and Medical
Research Council, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act,
the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and international forums, in
particular those that seek to advance the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Further, the government has set up a most
undesirable potential conflict of interest by transferring ATSIC's authority to
determine which bodies to fund for advancing native title claims to a federal
A government selected advisory panel is no
substitute for the representative voice of Indigenous people and their direct
participation in the affairs of government that affect them. Effectively muted,
particularly at a national level, Indigenous Australians will be relegated to
the sidelines of decision-making about their lives and future.
The deeply-rooted disadvantage that
Indigenous Australians endure and the rightness, both morally and in
international law, of redressing this disadvantage and ensuring the survival and
flourishing of Indigenous culture demands a genuine commitment to
self-determination. The government's proposals on representation and
'mainstreaming' of service delivery run counter to what is required.
For all these reasons, the Australian Greens
reject the abolition of Indigenous Australia's national representative body.
Recommendation 1: That the Senate not pass
the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill 2004
National representative body
A robust and well funded national
representative Indigenous body is critical to self-determination and efforts to
redress Indigenous disadvantage. The government has failed to propose a
replacement representative body for ATSIC. The Greens believe that the
government must facilitate the establishment of a national representative
Indigenous body which it will respect as an authoritative voice.
One of the important roles that ATSIC
undertakes is to advance the rights of Australia's Indigenous peoples in
international forums. The abolition of ATSIC and the absence of an alternative
national representative Indigenous body means this vital role will cease. The
main report recommends (recommendation 4.2) government support and funding for
a national representative Indigenous body but does not mention a role for the
body in international forums. The Australian Greens consider it essential that
a new national representative Indigenous body play a role in international
forums to advance the interests of Indigenous peoples.
2: The government commit to acknowledging a new national representative
Indigenous body as the appropriate body
to represent the views of Indigenous Australians at international forums.
Regional Partnership Agreements
Regional Partnership Agreements (RPAs) are to
be negotiated with local communities about services for those communities. The
main report notes (paragraph 5.38) that the government has failed, however, to
explain exactly with whom it will negotiate these agreements. There can be no
genuine participation for Indigenous people in this process without adequate
representation. It is critical, therefore, that regional representative
Indigenous bodies be involved in these negotiations. Given the relative
disadvantage of Indigenous communities, that requires a government commitment
to fund such regional representative bodies. This is one reason for continuing
the regional councils and guaranteeing them public funding to undertake this
These bodies may or may not be legislated but
they must be backed with Commonwealth funding. One potential funding source is
the appropriations no longer allocated to ATSIC and not required for IBA and
Recommendation 3: The government retain the
ATSIC regional councils and guarantee them funding that is adequate to
undertake their tasks. These regional councils should be involved in
negotiating Regional Partnership Agreements.
In the event that local communities seek to
replace their regional councils with another representative model, the
government facilitate the establishment of local and/or regional representative
bodies which are to be funded by the Commonwealth. The functions of these
bodies shall include negotiating Regional Partnership Agreements.
Shared Responsibility Agreements
The main report (paragraphs 5.98 -5.126)
deals with a number of problems about Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRA)
and the evidence of several witnesses who raised concerns about them. While the
committee says the distinction between fundamental rights and discretionary
benefits is nebulous and must be monitored, the Australian Greens are deeply
concerned about the concept of these agreements, what they might entail, and
the consequences for communities and individuals of entering into them.
We note the statement by the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma in November 2004
in which he said:
'It would be unacceptable for Indigenous
peoples to be denied basic citizenship services that all other Australians take
He added that the proposed introduction of
coercive measures to achieve creation of sustainable improvements in the
circumstances of Indigenous peoples will not work and may, in fact, exacerbate
the extent of poverty, marginalisation and powerlessness.
Given the entrenched disadvantage of
Indigenous people, and their extreme material poverty compared to other
Australians, it is extremely difficult to imagine how agreements of this nature
might be negotiated by two equal parties.
We have already witnessed an agreement which
linked two essential requirements that have nothing to do with each other. The
much publicised Mulan agreement ties essential health services and parental
behaviour to fuel for transportation, which is not a luxury in a remote area.
There is no doubt that redressing Indigenous
disadvantage while respecting the right of Indigenous people and communities to
self-determination is an enormous challenge. It is made particularly
challenging by the remoteness in which some communities live. Regardless of
these difficulties, the Australian Greens are of the view that these kinds of
agreements are not the answer. They have about them a tenor of paternalism
which has no place in the management of Indigenous affairs in this nation.
However, recognising that the SRAs are being negotiated, the Australian Greens
making the following recommendation about them.
a) Shared Responsibility
Agreements must not contain any coercive requirements;
b) Shared Responsibility Agreements must not
relate to the provision of essential and other services which are provided by
government to non-Indigenous Australians;
c) Shared Responsibility Agreements must not
place unrealistic expectations on Indigenous communities to redress past
failures of governments or service delivery agencies;
d) Every Shared Responsibility Agreement must
be inconformity with the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975;
e) Guidelines for developing Shared
Responsibility Agreements are to be developed and reviewed in consultation with
the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, the Race
Discrimination Commissioner and a new national representative Indigenous
f) The Minister must table in
the parliament guidelines for developing Shared Responsibility Agreements;
g) The roles of the Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and the Race Discrimination
Commissioner be expanded to cover oversight of Shared Responsibility
Agreements, with additional funding provided to enable this.
ongoing failure of mainstreaming
The Greens are not as positive about
mainstreaming as the government or the bulk of comments in the main report. We
acknowledge the distinction between 'old' and 'new' mainstreaming that the
government is seeking to make but believe that it is clear from the evidence
received that both the problems of 'old' mainstreaming continue to exist and a
new set of problems around the co-ordination of 'new' mainstreaming must now be
The 2003 Review of ATSIC rejected
mainstreaming as an option and international experience shows that the best
outcomes for Indigenous people occur when they exercise control over those
decisions in culturally appropriate institutions. (Mr Glendenning, Australians
for Native Title and Reconciliation, Proof Committee Hansard, 2 February 2005,
p60.) These problems of 'old' mainstreaming will continue to exist in the
government's new model.
The new problems of the government's model of
'new' mainstreaming centre on the difficulties of co-ordination, and central to
this appears to be the role of the Indigenous Coordination Centres. The
committee heard evidence about the difficulties for ICCs in creating a
cohesive, common vision because each lead agency has a different purpose and
function. These difficulties are exacerbated by staff from different
departments being paid different wages, working under different conditions and
answering to different ministers and performance requirements.
Witnesses spoke about the difficulties that
the new managers of ICCs were having in learning about both the communities
they were now to advocate for and work with as well as learning to find their
way through a maze of government departments and Indigenous specific or other
relevant programs. South-East Queensland zone ATSIC Commissioner Robbie
Williams told the committee:
The OIPC manager Shane Williams, who is the state representative, has
just come over from education to the old ATSIC. Shane is trying to come to
terms with how it works, and he has to negotiate with all these other
government departments. He is virtually walking from the pot into the fire, and
he is trying to restructure all this stuff and negotiate and work with all
these other government departments – and he comes from an educational
background. You virtually need a community development background now to be
able to develop those skills, especially when working with diverse groups like
those in Queensland. In south-east Queensland alone you might have forty
traditional clan groups, and Queensland has one of the strongest, most vocal
black communities in Australia. (Committee Hansard, Brisbane, January 31, 2005,
Another difficulty for the operation of ICCs
is the level of delegated authority that ICC managers are given. This issue is
discussed in the main report.
There appears to be a lack of clarity in the
role of ICCs. The government contends that ICCs are not to be direct service
delivery shopfronts. Clearly a different impression has been given to the
committee as on seven occasions during the public hearings and in the main
report Senators, predominantly government Senators, have referred to ICCs as
one-stop shops. If the government Senators on the committee inquiring into the
government's new arrangements are left with a different impression from the
government about the central role of ICCs then how can Indigenous community
members be expected to comprehend the government's intentions?
The committee has not heard evidence to
suggest that the government is sufficiently prepared to deal with these and
other potential difficulties.
The Greens believe that the government needs
to acknowledge the failure of mainstreaming in Australia and overseas, and
commit to a genuine process of self-determination where Indigenous Australians
are the primary decision-makers in the decisions that affect their lives,
especially the delivery of services.
Senator Kerry Nettle
Australian Greens Senator for NSW
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