Bills Digest No. 146   1997-98 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill 1997

Numerical Index | Alphabetical Index

This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.


Passage History
Main Provisions
Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Passage History

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill 1997

Date Introduced: 3 December 1997

House: House of Representatives

Portfolio: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

Commencement: The substantive amendments described below commence on Royal Assent.


The Bill amends provisions in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989 (the Principal Act) relating to the disposal of interests in ATSIC funded property. The Bill also provides that certain of the Commission's ancillary powers can be delegated to Regional Councils.


The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (the Commission) is the principal Commonwealth agency concerned with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. It is responsible for policy-formulation and for administering a wide range of Commonwealth programs for Indigenous Australians.

The Commission also has a representative arm. In 1996-97, this arm consisted of 35 Regional Councils around Australia. Regional Councillors are elected by Indigenous Australians. Regional Councils formulate regional plans to improve the social, economic and cultural life of local Indigenous people and make decisions about ATSIC expenditure in their regions. Regional Councillors elect 16 Commissioners-one for each ATSIC zone.(1) Another Commissioner is elected from the Torres Strait and two Commissioners are appointed by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs.(2) The Commissioners make up the ATSIC Board which is the main policy-making body in Indigenous affairs and the main source of advice to government. The Board also allocates funding according to national priorities and budgets.

Main Provisions

Section 21 of the Principal Act deals with restrictions on the right to dispose of an interest in land or certain other property which has been acquired using finance or other assistance from the Commission or under the Aboriginal Development Commission Act 1980. At present, an interest cannot be disposed of without the written consent of the Commission.(3) A disposal effected without such consent is ineffective.(4)

Item 2 of Schedule 1 replaces subsections 21(2) and (3) of the Principal Act with proposed subsections 21(2)-(11). Proposed subsection 21(2) provides that an interest cannot be disposed of unless the Commission has consented in writing to the particular disposal or kind of disposal. Proposed subsection 21(3) provides that this consent must specify the person or class of person to whom the interest is to be disposed. Without a written consent, any purported disposal of the interest is ineffective [proposed subsection 21(5)].

A written consent may be subject to conditions [proposed subsection 21(6)]. However, contravention of a condition will not invalidate the disposal of the interest. Proposed subsection 21(8) provides that, in certain circumstances, if a condition requires that all or some of the proceeds of the disposal be applied for a purpose specified by the Commission and that condition is contravened, then the Commission can require the individual or body to pay it a specified sum of money.

Section 45 of the Principal Act deals with the delegation of certain of the Commission's functions and powers to its Chief Executive Officer, a Commission staff member or the Director of Evaluation and Audit. At present, the Commission cannot delegate its power to consent to the disposal of property interests.(5)

Item 5 of Schedule 1 repeals and replaces paragraph 45(1)(a) of the Act. Under proposed paragraph 45(1)(a), it will be possible for the Commission to delegate its power to consent to the disposal of property used for residential purposes.(6)

Section 45A of the Principal Act provides that the Commission can delegate to Regional Councils any or all of its powers under sections 14, 15 or 16 of the Principal Act.(7) These sections relate to the making of grants and loans to individuals, corporations and unincorporated bodies, giving guarantees, and to making grants and loans to State and Territory Governments and authorities. Grants, loans and guarantees can only be made for the purpose of furthering the social, economic or cultural development of Indigenous people. The Minister's Second Reading Speech remarks:

There is some doubt that ATSIC's power of delegation to Regional Councils includes the delegation of ancillary powers.(8)

Item 7 amends subsection 45A(1) of the Principal Act to enable the Commission to delegate '... any or all of its other powers ... so far as they relate to a grant, loan or guarantee under section 14, 15 or 16.'(9)

Item 11 deals with the application of the amendments to section 21 of the Principal Act. It provides that the amendments apply to disposals of interests made on or after the date on which the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill 1997 receives Royal Assent. However, a consent given before the date of Royal Assent will continue to be effective.

Item 12 provides that the changes to paragraph 45(1)(a) and subsection 45A(1) of the Principal Act will not affect delegations made before the Bill receives Royal Assent.


  1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Annual Report 1996-97.
  2. Ibid.
  3. See subsection 21(2).
  4. See subsection 21(3).
  5. See paragraph 45(1)(a).
  6. A prohibition on the delegation of the power to consent to the disposal of non-residential property will remain.
  7. The power of delegation in section 45A was effected by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Act (No.3) 1993. One of its original purposes was to empower Regional Councils by enabling the Commission to delegate certain of its powers to them.
  8. Second Reading Speech, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Bill 1997, 1.
  9. The amendment to subsection 45A(1) does not extend to section 20 of the Principal Act. Section 20 provides for procedures and consequences when a person or body breaches the conditions of an ATSIC loan or grant.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Jennifer Norberry
6 March 1998
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

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ISSN 1328-8091
© Commonwealth of Australia 1997

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1997.

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