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Indigenous leaders lament ATSIC's demise

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 17 March 2005

Indigenous leaders say Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have lost their voice with the formal scrapping of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).

Legislation to wind up the peak body was endorsed by Federal Parliament last night.

ATSIC will be abolished once the bill is given royal assent, although the regional councils will not be dissolved until the end of June.

Labor had earlier argued for the regional councils to be given another six months to operate, but dropped the demand so that the bill could pass through Parliament.

ATSIC commissioner Robbie Williams says it is now up to Indigenous communities to be more pro-active.

"Because there won't be those national or state bodies available to be able to be a representative voice for people," he said.

Mr Williams says it is the end of an era.

"It'll be a sad day but hopefully it'll be a better tomorrow," he said.

"Hopefully the responsibility lies in the lap of the Government and they need to stand and be accounted for that now."

Mr Williams says Indigenous people will be looking to the Government for results in areas like health and education.

ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark was more forthright, accusing the Government of pandering to the interests of big business.

Mr Clark says big business, pastoralists and the mining sector have the most to gain from the commission's demise.

"They're the major contributors to the major political parties, the political parties have now repaid the favour," he said.

Mr Clark says Indigenous people can never be properly represented by white politicians.

However, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone says she is confident the changes will improve services for Indigenous people.

"Obviously I'm very pleased that the bill has passed," Senator Vanstone said.

"I'm pleased this sorry saga has come to an end. I'm pleased that it means the Government can get on working positively, directly with communities, giving individual communities a real voice about their future."

Senator Vanstone says the ATSIC commissioners will receive four months' redundancy pay.

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