Koori History Newspaper Archive

Equality backed for 'new ATSIC'

Australian April 25, 2009
Author: Patricia Karvelas, Political correspondent |

AN independent national indigenous body, which does not deliver services and has equal representation of men and women, has been agreed to by 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders from around Australia.

The decision to form a body which mandates equal representation for women comes after former ATSIC chief Lowitja O'Donoghue unleashed a furious attack on the disbanded body, claiming its male leaders were preoccupied with drinking, gambling and womanising.

At a closed-door meeting in Adelaide last month, where indigenous leaders were hammering out how the successor to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission should be constituted, Ms O'Donoghue said the organisation she headed for six years in the 1990s "supported the greedy, not the needy".

Last night she told The Weekend Australian that Aboriginal women wanted a body that included them properly.

"I think it's a good idea. I think that was a problem with ATSIC. We didn't have enough balance and our women are leaders in the community and they were missed by me anyway," she said.

But the meeting could not decide on whether the national representative body should use a delegate or direct election model, or on the role of merit selection in either model.

Ms O'Donoghue said she did not support a directly elected body because Aboriginal people would always want to support their own people. "My view is that we are not a democratic people, we want to vote for our own because you can influence how your own family are going to make decisions," she said.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin wants to see the new representative group established by year's end.

She has asked Aboriginal Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma to advise on an interim body that could run from the middle of this year until the permanent representation model was ready.

A summary of the meeting's conclusions reveals that while federal government money would be initially required to set the body up, ultimately indigenous people want a body separate to government that uses philanthropic and corporate money to operate. "Participants strongly expressed a view that while government funding would be required for the establishment period of the national representative body it needs to be able to operate independent from government," it says.

A substantial majority of participants said they wanted a fund established to give the body a capital base, and wanted the body to be set up through a future fund financed via a percentage of mining tax receipts. They also want the body to gain charitable status to receive tax-free donations. The national representative body would play over the next 20 years a leading role in achieving constitutional recognition and a treaty.

In a separate statement, Mr Calma said there was strong support for the representative body to primarily be an advocacy body and to focus on holding government to account for its performance in programs, service delivery and policy development.

"There was consensus that the representative body should play a unifying role among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and contribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people controlling their own destiny and being economically independent," Mr Calma said.

Workshop participants agreed that the new body should ensure the participation of young people, people with disability, members of the Stolen Generations and mainland Torres Strait Islanders.

There was also strong support for a body that represented the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in terms of geographical locations, relationship to country and cultural diversity.

Mr Calma said participants endorsed standards of behaviour for members and employees -- known as the Nolan principles -- which included selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, leadership and honesty.