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The Senate must act to stop the erosion of Indigenous representation

By Robbie Williams - posted Tuesday, 18 May 2004

From the moment the ATSIC Review was announced and its subsequent report released, the key test always was and remains whether and how Indigenous people’s circumstances, rights and representation were to be improved and advanced.

The government has failed that threshold test.

What we are seeing from the Howard government is the most comprehensive and discriminatory “white-outs” of the limited democratic rights to representation and a say in the decisions that affect them ever effected against a particular group of Australian citizens since colonisation.


They are a set of actions by government that demands to be challenged in the High Court.

It is unacceptable that a democratically elected national Indigenous representative body is abolished by government fiat, without consultation, without a replacement, without informed support or consent, without even cabinet submission, by hand-picked representatives.

It is not in the national interest. It does not reflect good public policy in Aboriginal affairs - nor is it best or even usual practice.

It is contemptuous of the interests as well as the right of Indigenous Australians to more effective public policy outcomes in Aboriginal affairs, and the right to have a say and place in its construct and determination.

How would any elected MP, Senator, or political party react if this were perpetrated on them?

This saga that passes for public policy development by this government is as flawed and unacceptable in intent as it is in process.


The public record shows that the government has breached its own best – and usual – practice in this matter. They have defied a principle that, ironically, was enunciated only few days before the PM’s announcement by his own Departmental Secretary, Peter Shergold: the primacy and importance of the Cabinet submissions process in this country.

Not only was there no Cabinet submission but the PM’s announcement was apparently not even supported by the Indigenous Affairs Minister, who appears to have been sidelined and then subsequently and comprehensively rolled in the Cabinet room.

The reality is that the brave new bureaucratic world of mainstreaming is being made up on the run. So much for the government’s claim of a considered response to the ATSIC Review.

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About the Author

Robbie Williams is ATSIC Commissioner for Brisbane and SEQ.

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