The suspended head of the Australian and Torres
Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), Geoff Clark, has criticised
Labor and the Democrats for not speaking out against his standing-down
by the Government.
Mr Clark says it is unacceptable that Aboriginal
people were not consulted over his suspension.
He says his suspension
by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Philip Ruddock is an attack on Aboriginal
"It's for Aboriginal people and Aboriginal
people alone to remove me from my position," he said.
was not over the travel rort claims made against him but his conviction
over a brawl in a hotel in Warrnambool, in south-west Victoria.
Clark says it is ironic the charges came about because he was opposing
discrimination at the hotel and he is confident he will win on appeal.
is also angry at a lack of support from the Opposition parties.
"I'd call on the Democrats and Labor Party
to show some principle and to disallow this motion, to restore some
dignity to the Aboriginal cause in this country," he said.
Clark says he has been demonised and vilified by the Federal Government
at a great cost to himself and his family.
He says he would fight
his suspension in court but does not have the resources.
"This process of the continued demonising
and vilification of the chairman of ATSIC for their own ill-intended
gains has taken a very, very personal financial cost on me and my
family and I find myself unable to defend myself against this current
attack," he said.
Meanwhile, ATSIC's Central Zone commissioner
Alison Anderson says she and her fellow commissioners must concentrate
on restoring public faith in the organisation.
She says the standing
down of Mr Clark gives ATSIC leaders a second chance to drag the
Indigenous organisation out of controversy.
"I think it's about us as leaders now moving
on and like I said earlier Geoff wouldn't want us to be sitting
here thinking about what's happened to him," she said.
"He's going through a process and he's only
just been stood down and I think it's about us now moving forward
and encouraging government and the whole of Australia to put that
faith back in ATSIC."
An international Aboriginal
action group claims the suspension of Mr Clark is politically motivated.
international desk coordinator for the Foundation for Aboriginal
and Islander Research Action, Les Malezer, says the decision is
convenient for the Government.
"Quite clearly Geoff Clark does have the support
of the community, he was re-elected last year after these charges
had been laid by the police, he has the confidence of the board
of commissioners, but has been subject to a media campaign which
has attacked his reputation," he said.
"The Prime Minister is running his own agenda
which is taking us back to the days of the 60s when the government
runs the programs and Aboriginal people don't.
"The decision by Minister Ruddock is just
a convenient thing for the Government to implement its policy.
"It's unacceptable to have an Aboriginal elected
body and then have the minister step in because the Government's
got a political agenda and the Minister should know he's acting
irresponsibly on that."
Prominent Aboriginal magistrate Pat
O'Shane says the suspension is a diversionary tactic by the Government.
O'Shane says John Howard is using the ATSIC furore to take media
attention away from issues like the ethanol debate.
She says Mr Howard
has had a long-running vendetta against ATSIC and she questions
the entire suspension process.
"Some years ago I remember very distinctly
hearing Howard talking about how ATSIC was not accountable," she
"And ATSIC is accountable, one of the most
accountable organisations in the country.
"I just wonder what procedures have been followed
and if they haven't been followed, why not?"