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Hundreds protest ATSIC scrapping

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 24 April 2004


A few hundred people have gathered in Brisbane, Queensland, to protest against the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).

The Federal Government has revealed a new national Indigenous advisory council will be established in its place.

Banners were on display with comments such as "Our Future, Our Say" and "Indigenous Rights are Human Rights".

A Queensland Indigenous leader says Indigenous Australians are entitled to some form of self determination.

Griffith University Associate Professor Bonnie Robertson says the Government's decision to abolish ATSIC will wind back the clock to a time when Indigenous Australians did not even have the right to vote.

"We either look at those elements within the organisation that aren't operating effectively and do something about it, or alternatively, if we put in another structure, make sure that that structure maintains self determination and self management of our people," she said.

"But just to put in place an advisory committee really takes us back to pre-1996."

Fellow Indigenous leader Col Dillon says the Federal Government orchestrated the demise of ATSIC.

Mr Dillon says there was little chance ATSIC was ever going to achieve its aims.

"ATSIC operates on a one point something billion dollar budget, however straight up the Government quarantined two thirds of that, leaving them one third of the budget to service the nation," he said.

"So you can imagine with something like 34 regional councils or perhaps 36, I'm not sure, around the nation there's not much of the cake left to go around."

He says the Government's plan for establishing an advisory council will not work.

"I'm totally against the Government's proposal of having an advisory board," he said.

"Again if anybody accepts the position they will be hand strung, they will be Government puppets."

Mr Dillon says mainstreaming has never worked for Indigenous people.

The Democrats have promised to oppose the abolition of ATSIC in the Senate and have called on Labor to do the same.

The leader of the Democrats, Senator Andrew Bartlett, was a speaker at the rally.

In other developments:

The Australian Democrats are urging the Federal Government to reconsider its plan to scrap ATSIC.

The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister has formally advised Indigenous organisations of the Government's plans to abolish ATSIC.


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