Wednesday, 12 October 2016
Tasmania: Indigenous Affairs
(1) With regard to Indigenous recognition in Tasmania, the Senate notes that the Premier of Tasmania made an historic Australia Day speech on the 21 January 2016 where he disclosed that something was very wrong with Indigenous policy because:
(a) the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that, from 2014, there were 25,845 Indigenous people in Tasmania while yet the Tasmanian Government estimated that there were only 6,000 Indigenous Tasmanians;
(b) there are Tasmanian families who identify as Tasmanian Aboriginals, yet the official statistics indicate that, potentially, only one in three members are actually recognised as such by this state;
(c) Federal Government funding represents the greatest proportion of support received by Tasmanian Aboriginals, contributing almost half a billion dollars in funding to Aboriginal Tasmanians, compared to about $8 million from the state government; and
(d) Tasmania's existing Indigenous policy is a long way from aligning with the Commonwealth's process; this means Tasmanians can be recognised as an Aboriginal in a national context, but not in their own home state.
(2) The Commonwealth funding of Indigenous Tasmanians be referred to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee for inquiry and report by 28 November 2016, with particular reference to whether hundreds of millions of dollars in Commonwealth funds over the last decade were unfairly, unjustly, or illegally allocated to, and spent on, only 6,000 Indigenous Tasmanians, rather than almost 26,000.
I note the notice of motion that Senator Lambie has put forward. I fully comprehend the issues that the motion seeks to address, but I cannot support it in its current form. The history in this country of identification and definition of who is and who is not an Aboriginal has been a vexed and challenging issue for our people for many generations. In my state of Western Australia, the authority to define and identify who was an Aboriginal led to binding laws that said who could marry whom, who could live with whom and how much a person should be paid for work.
There have been many people who identify in their families as being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent and who are known in their community as being Aboriginal, but who have not been endorsed by the authorities as being Aboriginal. Families have been separated on this basis. Children have been taken from their mothers on this basis as well. In its current form, the motion prejudges the inquiry and is overly inflammatory— (Time expired)
Similarly, the Greens will not be supporting this motion. I will not go over the same points as Senator Dodson, who has just so eloquently described them. We understand where Senator Lambie is coming from on this issue in trying to look at the expenditure of funds. We could support something along the lines of 'examines the allocation of funding and expenditure to Aboriginal Tasmanians to ensure that they are best targeted to continue to close the gap,' or something of that nature. I indicate that we would be prepared to support something along those lines, but we cannot support this particular motion.
I thank Senator Nigel Scullion and the Liberal Party for their support on this motion. They have recognised that there has been a systemic cover up and an abuse of federal funds intended to support all Tasmanian Indigenous and a need for a forensic audit into how the abuse was allowed to occur for the many years that it has. I am deeply disappointed that Labor has indicated they will not vote for this motion. Amendments suggested by Labor were pedantic and lacked substance. What is important here is the essence of the motion, which is the abuse of federal funds for many, many years and the refusal of support and Indigenous identity to almost 20,000 Indigenous Tasmanians for many, many years. Labor has been aware of this issue for a long time, and it should not have taken me to fix it.