Indigenous policy over the past 30 years
has been a crazy quilt of varying and
inconsistent laws, failed attempts at
Indigenous "consultative" bodies
and mismatched administrations divided
between the bureaucracies of Federal,
State and Territory governments.
It was hoped the overwhelming "yes"
vote in the 1967 referendum would signal
a new approach by federal governments
to overcome the endemic social problems
in Aboriginal communities left in the
wake of crude acts of governments to dispossess Aboriginal people of their land, culture
The recent decision by the current Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Philip Ruddock,
has a sense of deja vu about it.
It takes us back to a time 30 years ago
when the first clumsy steps were taken
towards setting up an elected national
Indigenous consultative structure.
Have we have learned anything from the
failure of the two national consultative
bodies - the National
Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC)
and the National Aboriginal Congress (NAC)
- or are we bound to repeat history?
ATSIC's role combined consultation, advocacy
and policy development, monitoring of
other government departments' performance
and administration of some of the programs
in the Indigenous affairs budget - such
as CDEP (the Work for the Dole scheme),
community housing and infrastructure and
later areas like native title.
All other services concerned with improving
the lot of Indigenous people, especially
in the areas of education, health, domestic
violence and high rates of incarceration
remain with their various federal departments.
The problem, as I see it, is that government
administrators, mission managers and now
bureaucrats have continued to be the dominant
players in the lives of Indigenous Australians
and the problems in Indigenous communities
are largely the result of failed federal
ATSIC was a flawed model from the very
start. First, it was created as an agency
of government and second, it has never
enjoy cross-party support - even before
it was established.
Our current Prime Minister argued rabidly
against the creation of ATSIC in 1989
saying, "…that if the government
wants to divide Australian against Australian,
if it wants to create a black nation within
the Australian nation, it should go ahead
with its ATSIC legislation and its treaty.
In the process, it will be doing a monumental
disservice to the Australian community".
The heavily amended legislation ensured
- and time has shown - the creation of
ATSIC has done nothing of the sort.
There are many still in public life today
who rail against Indigenous Australians
exercising their right to have a say in
their lives in any way.
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