Jenny Macklin dashes Mick Dodson law plan for new ATSIC

The Australian
20 December, 2008
By Patricia Karvelas, Political correspondent

JENNY Macklin has slapped down ambitions for a new indigenous representative body to have legislative powers, declaring the Rudd Government has no intention of creating "another ATSIC".

Expectations that the new indigenous representative body - promised at the last election by Labor - could be granted powers to legislate on behalf of Aboriginal people and provide program funding were fanned by the appointment of Mick Dodson to a key advisory panel.

Mr Dodson, who has raised in a research paper the option for a national indigenous body with legislative powers, was appointed to an 11-member steering committee headed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma.

The paper, researched by Mr Dodson and presented by Mr Calma, argued that one of the constraints on ATSIC was its "limited power to compel the commonwealth, state or territory governments to act on its policy advice". ATSIC's lack of "executive authority" to persuade governments had hampered its effectiveness.

The committee headed by Mr Calma and established this week by Ms Macklin, the Indigenous Affairs Minister, will play a key role in selecting delegates to design the new body at a meeting of 100 Aboriginal leaders early next year.

Expectations about the powers that the new body may acquire were further fuelled when Mr Calma said he had an open mind on all proposals.

But Ms Macklin yesterday ruled out giving the soon to be established national indigenous body any legislative powers.

She said such a move would be unconstitutional and the federal Government would not pursue it.

"Under the Australian constitution, there is one parliament, so legislative authority is not an issue," she said.

"Lessons learnt from past indigenous representative bodies have shown that there are some aspects of a representative body that do not work well. "The Government has communicated some broad principles for this body. The Government will not create another ATSIC. There will not necessarily be separate elections for the body. The body will have urban, regional and remote representation."

Ms Macklin also indicated she did not envisage the body having a service delivery role. "The Government accepts that there is going to be a lot of different ideas and discussion during the consultation process," she said.

Mr Calma yesterday initially denied there was any agenda for the body, saying all options "were on the table".

"We don't know what people are going to offer up in those consultations," he said. "We don't want to stifle any sort of initiatives at this stage. We are trying to have a very open process and people should be able to express what they want to express. This is a democracy we're living in. We don't have a position as a steering committee."

Asked if he believed the body should have legislative powers, he said: "If that's what the majority of people are expressing, then that will be the case. There have been a few people mention it, but there's been people mentioning a whole lot of different models."

But Mr Calma later contacted The Weekend Australian echoing Ms Macklin's views that the body would not have such powers. "First, legislative authority is not even a question. We have only one constitution and one parliament. Of course no representative body besides the parliament will have legislative powers," Mr Calma said last night.

"Second, the consultations on the body will be taking place within the parameters set by the minister. The minister has already made it clear that the new representative body will not be another ATSIC."

Ms Macklin's intervention came after Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Tony Abbott this week accused the Rudd Government of stacking the 11-member steering committee with people who wanted a body with legislative power. And former ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark said all the models under consideration were too weak.

Last night, Mr Calma said there was a long consultation process to go through to reach any concrete proposal for the structure of a national representative body.

"Membership of the steering committee has been based on experience and the calibre of the members and not on their views. My intention in formulating the committee has also been to ensure a robust engagement with indigenous peoples," he said.

"To date, the process of consultation has been based on the issues paper that I released in July 2008. That paper states in the introduction that 'We should resist the temptation to slip back into old habits. This is not about reviving ATSIC' and states that any new representative body should 'not exercise the service delivery responsibilities of government'."

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