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Clark lashes Labor, Democrats for lack of support

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 14 August 2003


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 people.

"It's for Aboriginal people and Aboriginal people alone to remove me from my position," he said.

The suspension 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.

Mr 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.

He 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.

Mr 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."

Political motivation

An international Aboriginal action group claims the suspension of Mr Clark is politically motivated.

The 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.

Ms 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 said.

"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?"


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