fixing australia human rights sustainable earth sustainable shelter terror australis association site archives

Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Howard's way with The First Australians: shame, shame, shame

Welfare for showering yourself with soap

So - today is Howard's day for Howard's way with indigenous people. The PM is quietly, bit by bit, announcing his hardline welfare policy for indigenous people, he raids the only Indigenous newspaper we have, the National Indigenous Times.

Wedge into small population groups, Mr Howard, that won't hurt your ratings. Manipulate the information, choose your wording carefully, so even some of the Indigenous groups welcome your policies, and soften up any resistance amongst some groups of the population. Well done, Mr Howard. The Indigenous Council is in place - and nobody cares anyway when Geoff Clark states his fury with that council - they don't represent me!

"The fact that this is an imposed structure takes this system back to, you know, early 1800s where the colonisers appointed tribal leaders." - former ATSIC Chief Geoff Clark on ABC Radio

Let's compare the Council with the interim government in Iraq, shall we - lackeys of the US Government. We're waiting the next chapter of Howard's way. I reckon unemployed people will be next. We're on the way to a unemployment benefits system, that's like the system in the US - after a time you loose your payouts. Now, where was that guy again who makes cardboard houses for homeless people?

Skeletons and kitchen cabinets

From Black voice, deaf ears, Sydney Morning Herald 12 Nov 04:

"The Australian political landscape is littered with the skeletons of indigenous advisory bodies discarded or ignored. I respect the people who have been selected but their task is impossible. For 8 years many indigenous people have tried different ways of engaging with this Government but it fails to understand the need to involve indigenous people in decision-making." - Aden Ridgeway, former Democrat Senator

"We've had many kitchen cabinets in indigenous affairs over the past 30 years and the idea that we're going to make some progress with an advisory body, I think, is entirely incorrect." - Noel Pearson, Cape York leader

Howard's 'sit-down welfare'

Welfare plan reeks of 'apartheid' (SMH 12 Nov 04):

The acting Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma, said he would be deeply concerned if conditions were to be introduced placing restrictions on access to services for one part of the community defined by race. "It would be unacceptable for indigenous peoples to be denied basic citizenship services that all other Australians take for granted," Mr Calma said.

Howard orders police raid on Indigenous paper

Thursday, November 11, 2004. 5:50pm (AEDT)

Federal Police have confirmed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet ordered a raid on an Indigenous newspaper which published leaked cabinet documents.

The search warrant was executed this morning at the Canberra office of the National Indigenous Times.

The secret Cabinet documents allegedly related to the consequences of abolishing ATSIC.

The newspaper's editor Chris Graham has defended the decision to run the stories.

"We're not critical of the Australian Federal Police at all, they're just doing their job," he said.

"But it is mind-numbingly stupid, or breathtakingly arrogant for the Government to believe they can raid the offices of a newspaper and not spark the interest of a great many journalists, and that's precisely what they've done."


Newspaper raid followed complaint from PM's office: AFP

National Indigenous Times
Wednesday, 27 October 2004

CANBERRA: Police today raided the offices of the National Indigenous Times (NIT) in Canberra after a complaint from Prime Minister John Howard's department.

A team of five Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers raided the NIT office in suburban Garran just after 8.30am (AEDT).

"The AFP received a referral from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet relating to the unauthorised disclosure of commonwealth documents," an AFP spokeswoman said.

"Today the AFP executed a search warrant on the work address of the Indigenous Times newspaper and as this is an ongoing investigation it is not appropriate for me to make any further comment."

Newspaper editor Chris Graham said the officers held a warrant to seize two documents, but left with six in total after being on site for about two hours.

Among the documents seized was a cabinet submission on a tougher government approach to Aboriginal welfare, Mr Graham said.

"They got what they were after and more," Mr Graham told AAP.

A spokesman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone said he was unaware the raid had taken place.

"That's the first I've heard of it," he said.

The paper has run a series of stories in recent weeks critical of the government's handling of Indigenous affairs, relying on a string of leaked cabinet and departmental memos and letters.


National Indigenous Times

Editor says more damning stories to come

The Age - AAP
November 12, 2004 - 7:09AM

An Aboriginal newspaper which had leaked cabinet documents later seized in a police raid had more embarrassing papers ready to publish, its editor said.

Federal police on Thursday raided the offices of the National Indigenous Times in Canberra, seizing six documents, including a cabinet submission on a plan to shake up Aboriginal welfare.

Editor Chris Graham said the Prime Minister's Department ordered the raid because the documents, which the newspaper published, were embarrassing to the government.

But the newspaper had more secret documents it was preparing to publish, he said.

"I can assure you there's more to come and it's not pretty," he told ABC radio.

"This government has been dishonest in the way it's dealt with Aboriginal people and Aboriginal affairs generally.

"And I can understand them not wanting it to get out, but I can't for the life of me understand how they thought raiding our offices would have assisted their cause."

Among the documents seized was a controversial submission from the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) discussing the introduction of requirements for Aboriginal people to receive welfare.

The leaked document made its way into major newspapers this week and while no immediate timeframe has been given, the government has confirmed it was looking at changing indigenous welfare.

Another document was a letter from former indigenous affairs minister Philip Ruddock to Prime Minister John Howard in April 2003, saying that nearly all government ministers had failed to undertake a major review of how services could be better delivered to Aboriginal people.

There was also a cabinet submission dated April 7, 2004, which revealed cabinet had been misled about Cape York Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson's support for the government's new National Indigenous Council when he actually opposed it.

Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance federal secretary Chris Warren condemned the raid.

"The only crime that's potentially been committed is a bit of embarrassment for the government and a bit of embarrassment for some of the bureaucrats," he told ABC radio.

"To turn that into this sort of assault on press freedom, to take that embarrassment to that stage of raiding newspaper offices with police, is an extraordinarily serious step."

2004 AAP

Link to The Age

The real story behind the abolition of ATSIC

National Indigenous Times
Wednesday, 10 November 2004

Five days after ATSIC formally lodged a High Court challenge to the federal government's removal of its powers to make funding decisions, Prime Minister John Howard was warned the abolition of ATSIC had now become "a matter of urgency".

The revelations are contained in a leaked cabinet-in-confidence document, dated April 7, 2004, which was written to brief the government on the proposed abolition of ATSIC, a copy of which has been obtained by NIT.

The federal government has always maintained the creation of ATSIS on July 1, 2003, which removed the power of the ATSIC Board to decide who receives its money, was legal and that ATSIC's legal challenge was a "frivolous waste of taxpayers' money".

But the leaked document reveals a less confident federal government which was caught out by a series of strategic errors made by the Prime Minister and the former Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Philip Ruddock.

It reads: "Action in relation to ATSIS is urgent in light of ATSIC?s decision to challenge the establishment of ATSIS.

"It is therefore proposed that the government?s decisions be announced immediately and that legislation be drafted as a matter of urgency with a view to passage before July 1, 2004.

If the legislation is not passed by July 1, action could be taken to abolish ATSIS administratively and to move staff functions and programmes to relevant agencies..."

But a second, far more explosive cabinet-in-confidence document obtained by NIT reveals the government?s fears were well-founded.

In April 2003, the Prime Minister was strongly warned against the creation of ATSIS by his most senior bureaucrat, cabinet secretary Peter Shergold (see full story page 8).

Mr Shergold was responding to a letter Mr Ruddock wrote to the Prime Minister on April 10, 2003 in which he urged the government to remove ATSIC's powers to control its own funds - the first time the plan to gut ATSIC had been floated (the letter, ironically, was written three days after Mr Ruddock informed the Prime Minister that every government minister "almost without exception" had failed to properly undertake a major review of government programs to see if they could be better tailored to Indigenous needs - see previous edition of NIT).

Mr Shergold's advice was also based on a legal opinion provided by the Australian Government Solicitor's office (AGS), a copy of which has also been obtained by NIT.

Robert Orr QC, the government's most senior legal adviser, agreed there was a "reasonable argument" that agencies other than ATSIC could spend ATSIC's money, but he warned ATSIS was not the best way to achieve it.

Stripping ATSIC's powers through the creation of ATSIS "would be unusual, and involve some risk" he wrote, adding that the move could be subject to a High Court challenge and if that were to occur, the government's entire $1 billion Indigenous Affairs budget could be frozen while the court ruled on the matter.

In layman?'s terms, that means no Aboriginal communities or organisations previously funded by ATSIC would receive any money until the issue was resolved.

The leaked April 7, 2004 cabinet document also reveals:

* The federal cabinet was mislead about the nature of support for the National Indigenous Council. It claimed that influential Cape York leader, Noel Pearson was in favour of ATSIC being replaced with a government appointed body. Mr Pearson has publicly advocated for an elected chairman (see full story page 9).

* The National Indigenous Council was intended as a replacement to ATSIC, despite recent claims by Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone to the contrary (see full story at

Other leaked federal government documents reveal:

* ATSIC commissioners were threatened with legal sanctions and financial ruin if they did not take immediate steps to abandon the legal challenge (see timeline, page 7).

* The government was provided with information from within ATSIC which was designed to damage ATSIC's legal challenge (see timeline, page 7).

At the time of press, the Prime Minister's office had not responded to NIT's requests for comment.

Amanda appoints without a mandate

National Indigenous Times
Issue 68

The NIC has been named. That's the National Indigenous Council or the No Idea Committee depending on where you sit on the political spectrum.

To those who support the Howard Government's decision to abolish ATSIC, turn its back on 30 years of Aboriginal self-determination and replace the democratically elected body with a self-elected one, it's the National Indigenous Council.

To those who don't it's the No Idea Committee.

A body composed of Aboriginal people with no idea what damage their decision to self elect, ie accept an appointment to it, has done to the aspirations of those Aboriginal people who aspire to progress self-determination and those who fought for it.

It was no surprise that the story was leaked to The Australian, the American-owned national daily which has led the sustained mainstream media mugging of ATSIC.

The story announcing the make-up of the Council appeared on the front of The Weekend Australian which hit the streets across the country on Saturday under the headline "PM's Blacks not that sorry".

I'll repeat that... "PM's blacks".

The rest of the headline was in reference to a statement by the head of the NIC, Sue Gordon, a magistrate from Western Australia, who was taken from her parents as a four-year-old.

She told The Australian she was not interested in an apology to the stolen generations, nor did she see herself being used for political purposes against other Aboriginal leaders.

"I don't believe I'm a sell out to any community. I belong to an Aboriginal organisation and they won't think I'm a sell out."

I'm not sure what Aboriginal organisation she was referring to but I know at least a couple that think she is... and anyone else thick enough not to know they are... the PM's blacks.

Is there anyone other than The Australian's Aboriginal Affairs reporter who believes an apology from Howard was higher on anyone's agenda than fixing the practical problems bedevilling Aboriginal Australia?

This is almost as laughable as the claim, deep in The Australian story that Labor "heavy" Warren Mundine's acceptance of a place in the PM's blacks "is expected to send shock waves through the Labor Party".

If it does then they clearly know little about Mr Mundine, the national junior vice president of the party.

His decision to accept the offer of a spot on the NIC does raise some interesting questions though.

The first: just how "heavy" is a political gadfly? The question has no doubt occurred to the other "heavies" in the Australian Labor Party, particularly the newly appointed Federal shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Kim Carr.

His initial public reaction to the announcement of the NIC was that federal Labor was opposed to the concept of an unelected body "no matter who was on the council".

"I disagree in principle with the concept of a hand-picked group of experts, no matter how prominent or respected they may be individually," he said.

Mundine was not mentioned by name but the statement does raise the question: who now speaks for federal Labor on Aboriginal Affairs?

The PM's blacks or the party's shadow Minister?

How can the shadow Minister oppose a body which contains one of the party's vice presidents?

Who did Mundine consult before he accepted the appointment?

When was he invited and when did he accept?

Basically, what the hell is he doing there?

You might recall that federal Labor announced its Aboriginal Affairs policy during the recent federal election in Darwin through its then Shadow Minister, Kerry O'Brien.

Despite L-plate Latham's prior announcement that he intended to abolish ATSIC, O'Brien made it crystal clear that Labor, in Government, would replace it with another elected body.

He made it clear Labor opposed Howard's plan to replace ATSIC with the NIC.

Sitting beside him was, you guessed it, Mr Mundine.

At about the same time Howard's Indigenous Affairs Minister, Amanda Vanstone announced that the NIC had been selected but no announcement would be made until after the election.

One assumes that Mundine must have known at the time he sat next to O'Brien in Darwin knocking the NIC that a Howard victory would see him appointed to it.

At the very least he must have received his invitation to be a part of it.

Unless I'm mistaken opposition to the NIC is still Labor Party policy.

Mundine?s participation on the NIC is even more curious given he's the Chief Executive Officer of Native Title Services in New South Wales.

It is funded by ATSIC, an organisation he's now helping the Howard Government destroy, by fair means or foul.

He's also largely come to public attention in New South Wales by assisting the Sydney Morning Herald in a relentless campaign to have the democratically-elected New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council dismissed.

The newspaper succeeded in pressuring the Carr Government to dismiss the Council in one of the sorrier chapters in the history of Aboriginal Affairs in that State.

The campaign was at its height when Mundine was endorsed as an ALP federal presidential candidate by delegates to the 2003 annual conference of the ALP in NSW.

That vote came on the same day Mundine moved and had endorsed an Aboriginal Affairs policy that gave lip service to the principles of self-determination inside the conference while seeking to bury a duly elected Aboriginal council through the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald.

If you are getting confused, spare a thought for those Labor Party members who used to think their party officials and elected members were meant to abide by the party's principles and policies.

According to my arithmetic, Mundine is due to assume the national presidency of the ALP in the run up to the next federal election.

Cynics in the Howard camp would suggest it'll just be in the NIC of time.

But back to Ms Gordon, a West Australian Children's Court magistrate who headed, according to The Australian, "a watershed inquiry" into domestic violence.

She said her focus as chairwoman of the National Indigenous Council would be on stamping out child abuse and domestic violence in Aboriginal communities.

One can only wish her luck.

She might begin by asking Minister Vanstone why, as Justice Minister, she sat on a watershed report on violence in Indigenous communities for 18 months before publicly releasing it?

She might also ask why the federal government ignored the "watershed" work done by ATSIC on domestic violence in the early 90's and began claiming in its first years in office that the Commission had done nothing about the crisis.

She might also ask why, after spending hundreds of million of dollars in this area, a new report commissioned by the federal government says services for victims of domestic violence are in a "tragic" state and getting worse.

The report's author, Julie Oberin from the Women's Services Network, said last week that in some states refuges are turning away as many women and children as they are taking in.

Ms Oberin said that while governments were encouraging women to seek help from domestic violence, many were forced to return home because help was not available.

"Research tells us that post-domestic violence separation is actually more dangerous for women and children up to 18 months after that separation, and we set them up to fail, or set them up for further danger if there's no appropriate response there for them," she said.

The federal Family and Community Services Minister told the media when the report was released that she and state ministers responsible for women's affairs would use the study to lobby for more funds from their Cabinet colleagues.

Ms Gordon might ask Ms Vanstone what happened to the report she sat on and why the need to "lobby."

Is there a crisis or not?

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty thinks so.

He said the statistics were shocking, and many men and teenage boys still regarded violence against women as acceptable.

"The statistics show that mostly women will allow themselves to be assaulted something in the order of 35 times before they actually initiate a phone call to police," he said.

"Sixty per cent of these domestic violence situations are witnessed by the children themselves and if you look at most police shootings, the majority of them have come out of domestic violence situations."

This is nothing new to all of the Aboriginal women who have lobbied for years through ATSIC to have something done about the scourge of violence in their own communities.

The more they lobbied, the more they were ignored.

I have many memories of the five years I worked at ATSIC.

One of the most enduring was a meeting in Brisbane on the Ministerial Council of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (MCATSIA).

The council comprised the federal and all state Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs.

If you followed the mainstream media at the time, particularly the Brisbane Courier Mail, you would be forgiven for thinking domestic violence existed only in Aboriginal communities and ATSIC had done nothing about it.

ATSIC organised a delegation of Aboriginal women to travel to Brisbane for the meeting.

It was the first time Aboriginal women had ever addressed the Council.

Their submissions were heart-wrenching.

I'll never forget sitting behind the then Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Philip Ruddock, watching him earnestly flicking through a thick folder of ministerial briefs he'd hauled to the meeting from Canberra.

Not once did he look up at the women.

I'm sure he heard not a word.

When the women stopped talking, the politicians started squabbling.

It was all about responsibility, territory and money.

Nothing came of it. It never does.

Good luck, Ms Gordon. You?ll need it.


* Brian Johnstone is a fortnightly NIT columnist and a former Media and Marketing Director of ATSIC. He is currently also employed on a contract basis to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.

A great leap forward for 14 chosen ones, a disaster for everyone else

National Indigenous Times
Issue 68

What can you say about the announcement of the National Indigenous Council, other than it's a great leap forward for 14 chosen blackfellas, and a massive step backwards for the remaining 399,986 (or thereabouts)?

The abolition of ATSIC and its replacement with a government advisory board sets the fight for Indigenous rights back decades.

There's nothing wrong with the composition of the NIC, per se. Indeed it's staffed by some very impressive people. West Australian magistrate Sue Gordon is undoubtedly an eminent Aboriginal woman and will bring strong and relevant advice to the government. Similarly, Brisbane-based lawyer Tammy Williams is an immensely talented young woman. John Moriarty, Joseph Elu... the list goes on. The NIC looks good on paper, no dispute.

The problem is not who is on the NIC - Jesus Christ himself could preside over quarterly meetings and it would still be an unmitigated disaster - the problem is the NIC itself. It can never and will never speak for Aboriginal people. The fact that it replaces a body that could - ATSIC - dooms it to failure.

NIC members may be able to convince themselves - like Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone seems determined to do - that the NIC is not a replacement for ATSIC.

But they won't convince anyone else.

NIC members might also be able to convince themselves that, in spite of nine years of remaining deaf to Aboriginal disadvantage, this government will listen to them. After all, why would they go to so much trouble to appoint an eminent body of people, only to ignore their advice?

Two words. Mr Djerrkura.

He was the last appointed head of ATSIC and he was comprehensively sidelined when he started saying things the government didn?t want to hear.

Two more words. ATSIC Review.

It cost Australian taxpayers $1.5 million and was similarly staffed by three eminent Australians - Jackie Huggins, John Hannaford and Bob Collins.

The ATSIC Review found that the future for service delivery of government programs to Indigenous people lies with a strengthened ATSIC model, not an abolished one.

The NIC might like to ponder that thought when it sits down to meet in December.

It might also like to ponder its 'no win' position.

If the NIC provides the government with frank and fearless advice - as it should - it will be sidelined. Irrefutable fact. But even worse, if it works 'effectively' with the government, the NIC will be accused of only providing the advice the government wants to hear.

There can be no other outcome because to believe otherwise means believing this government does want justice for Aboriginal people.

It doesn't. All it wants is to get re-elected. Period. And you don't achieve that by 'pandering' to two percent of the population.

While they're at it, NIC members may also like to ponder how some might view it as the height of arrogance to believe that abolishing a full-time, democratically-elected body which boasted 406 representatives and replacing it with a part-time, hand-picked council of 14 people - eminent or otherwise - could possibly be considered a better outcome for Aboriginal people.

Countless international studies have shown that self-determination is the only way way to beat Indigenous disadvantage.

How the new NIC members rationalise their part in its demise is a matter for them.

But how the Howard government - in the absence of a black scapegoat in the form of ATSIC - explains away the inevitable failure of its Indigenous Affairs policy in three years time is a matter for us all.

Our early forecast? They'll blame the states ... and the Australian media will swallow it hook, line and sinker.

Chris Graham


Post a Comment

<< Home