Tom Calma 'ATSIC' replacement model

Cracks already in new indigenous council

Natasha Robinson | The Australian | August 27, 2009 + RELATED ARTICLES

Many of the nation's most recognised Aboriginal leaders have had no input into the creation of a national indigenous body, raising concerns that the new council will fail to bridge the divide between urban and remote indigenous communities.

Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma will today present a report to Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, compiled following extensive discussion among indigenous representatives over the form and scope of a new leadership body.

Mr Calma is expected to endorse a body that will elect its own representatives and will perform an advisory role to governments but, unlike its predecessor ATSIC, will not have a direct hand in service delivery.

Ms Macklin has previously expressed concerns about having elected representation and has also said the body should be drawn from "urban, regional and remote" areas.

But prominent Aboriginal leaders in remote Australia were either not invited to participate in the discussions on the formation of the national body, or declined to be involved in the process.

Two of the nation's most powerful indigenous leaders, Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Noel Pearson, have not been involved in the discussions at all.

In northeast Arnhem Land, the site of many of Australia's most intact traditional cultures, a federation of clan leaders recently established their own leadership group, the Dilak Provincial Authority.

The Dilak is made up of individuals recognised as clan leaders by their Yolngu communities - yet none were included in Mr Calma's workshops.

Instead the workshop participants were largely drawn from organisations such as land councils, homelands associations, shire councils and other advocacy groups.

One of the clan leaders on the Dilak's leadership committee, Djambawa Marawili, said yesterday he was concerned that the new body might herald a return to the tribal politics of ATSIC, where those elected to represent indigenous people were not necessarily recognised as leaders in their communities.

"ATSIC was supposed to represent all indigenous people around Australia but some of them, their homeland was not really represented properly at all," Mr Marawili said.

"When the decision comes to vote, the person that is elected is probably living in town and he is recognised because maybe he has got a good job, and he's probably speaking good English, probably he went through the university and all that sort of thing.

"But for us, the people have their own leadership in their clan and in that area."

The new indigenous representative body and the northeast Arnhem Land provincial authority both share a major common aim: to achieve constitutional recognition for indigenous people. In a wide-ranging discussion paper on the new body published last month, Mr Calma laid out the potential functions of the body, including advocacy, policy formation and advice to governments, review and evaluation of government programs, and research.

But Mr Calma made it clear that the mistakes of ATSIC, which was disbanded following widespread corruption concerns, would be heeded.

"Ultimately, a new national indigenous representative body must confront the ghost of ATSIC," the discussion paper said.

"ATSIC had difficulty in reconciling its functions in advocacy, forming policy, program/service delivery and review.

"The functions of a new national indigenous representative body should not include the delivery of government services."

Last December Ms Macklin said: "Lessons learnt from past indigenous representative bodies have shown that there are some aspects of a representative body that do not work well.

"There will not necessarily be separate elections for the body. The body will have urban, regional and remote representation."

The new body is expected to contain an equal number of elected male and female representatives.

Mr Calma's discussion report is also expected to recommend that the new body be substantially financially independent from government.

Probity check for 'new ATSIC' as minister fails to commit to seed money

Nicola Berkovic and Stuart Rintoul | The Australian | August 28, 2009

Members of a new national representative indigenous body would be subject to unprecedented probity checks to avoid the corruption problems that besieged ATSIC, under a blueprint handed to the Rudd government yesterday by Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma.

The indigenous body, to include an eight-member executive and 128-person national congress, would be charged with shaping policy and reviewing programs but not delivering services.

But plans for the body to be independent of the government hit an early stumbling block, with Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin declining to commit funding that would allow it to become financially self-sufficient.

Urging indigenous people to get behind the proposal, Mr Calma said Aborigines had suffered from the absence of a national body for five years.

"It is time to put our future in our hands," he said.

"What we are proposing today will be radically different from anything we have ever seen in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. It will certainly not be business as usual."

However, the proposal attracted a mixed response from indigenous leaders yesterday, with Mick Dodson welcoming it as a significant step forward but former ALP national president Warren Mundine giving it only lukewarm support.

Rejecting criticism that many prominent Aboriginal leaders had not had input into the new body, Mr Calma said they could have participated through submissions, consultations and workshops that began last December.

"What we have tried to do is have an open and transparent process where we don't try to target individuals," he said. "Those individuals ... had the opportunity to participate if they so chose."

Members of the body, which would be a company limited by guarantee and include equal numbers of men and women, would be vetted by an ethics council to ensure they are "fit and proper persons".

Its 128-member national congress would not be directly elected, but would include 40 elected delegates from existing peak indigenous bodies, 40 people from other bodies such as land councils and indigenous experts, and 40 individuals selected on merit. It would elect executive members for four-year terns, and would itself be selected every two years.

Its two full-time chairs and six part-time executives, who would be responsible for day-to-day decision making, would be appointed through a process determined by the national congress.

The report called for $50 million upfront from the government to cover the body's set-up costs and first five years of operation.

It would also require $200m over the next 10 years from government, corporate and philanthropic sources to provide a capital base that would allow it to become self-sufficient.

But Ms Macklin immediately ruled out taxpayer funding for a capital fund to allow the body to become self-sufficient, saying the government had "no plans to contribute to such a fund at this time".

Instead, Ms Macklin said the government would provide "modest and appropriate recurrent funding" similar to that provided to other peak representative bodies.

Mr Calma's steering committee would select an interim national executive and ethics council to run the body until the end of next year and vet proposed members.

Its first congress is slated to take place in October next year, but that will depend on approval from Ms Macklin.

Welcoming plans for the new body, Ms Macklin said she would provide her response as soon as possible, earlier promising the body would be up and running before the end of the year.

However, opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Tony Abbott said the report reflected the "Canberra Aboriginal perspective".

"I think the Canberra Aboriginal perspective is just as potentially out of touch with the real world of Aboriginal people as the Canberra whitefella perspective," he said.

"I fear an elected body which will lobby and advocate but not actually decide anything will be just another high-powered talkfest."

Plans for the body were unveiled as the UN special delegate on indigenous rights James Anaya delivered a scathing assessment of the federal government's Northern Territory intervention, saying key aspects of it were discriminatory and breached Australia's international treaty obligations.

Tom Calma to present ATSIC replacement

Sky News | August 27, 2009

Plans for a new indigenous body to replace the defunct ATSIC will be unveiled today.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Tom Calma will present a new model to the federal government after 12 months of intensive consultations.

Prominent Aboriginal leader Pat Dodson says the new body must not become a plaything for politicians and should be independent of government.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin's expected to outline the government's response once the plan is released.

Calma approach proves too timid

Noel Pearson | The Australian | August 29, 2009

Click for larger image and descriptionThere is nothing the government (or anyone else) can do for the Aboriginal people of Australia that the people are unwilling to do for themselves.

If people from the progressive side of the political divide reflect on this principle, they will agree. They would realise what they think of as self-determination is consistent with this principle: nothing will work if the people who are the subjects of reform efforts are not willing to make the reform.

If people from the liberal and conservative side of the cultural and political divide reflected on this principle, they would also agree. After all, it is one of their own classical nostrums about the relationship between government and citizens. They would think of it as the necessary responsibility that must be held by citizens.

Properly understood, what the Left calls self-determination and the Right calls responsibility are one and the same thing: the power that people must have to take charge of their own destiny.

In Australia the two sides have failed to recognise this commonality. This is because those on the progressive Left side (including the majority of indigenous leaders) came to interpret self-determination as all power, no responsibility. This was the problem with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission: it gave some substantial powers to indigenous people, but the mentality was one of "we want power, but it's all the governments' fault when there is failure". It's true these powers were residual and many areas of failure - not the least health and education - were in fact state and commonwealth government responsibilities, rather than ATSIC's. But the defining feature of the old ATSIC paradigm was power without responsibility.

Those on the liberal-conservative side, on the other hand, have also failed on responsibility, for two reasons. First, when it comes down to it, Australian liberal-conservatives are still big believers in government. They think overwhelmingly that it is government that needs to be the main actor in the salvation of the indigenes. Like their social democrat opponents, they see it largely as a matter of state service delivery rather than what we have come to call in Cape York Peninsula supported self-help.

Second, while they are keen for individual responsibility, they would prefer to ignore any group, community or people as holders of responsibility. Their aversion to collectivism makes their position too extreme. So they want to abolish indigenous organisations, and replace them with what? Large, mainstream, welfare-delivering non-government organisations like the Smith Family, Mission Australia and so on? As if they do a better job of delivering welfare.

The fact is indigenous Australians are peoples in an important sense. That means we share communal identities (not the least in relation to the ownership of traditional lands). There are many aspects of language, cultural traditions and heritage that mean we are not just individuals, but we are members of groups as well.

It is true that the great majority of indigenous Australians, including those who have been closely involved in contributing to Tom Calma's blueprint for a new national indigenous representative body, largely function as individuals in the Australian mainstream. These are said to number 400,000 while another 100,000 live in discrete communities, usually in remote areas. While vast gaps in social and economic conditions exist across this spectrum, it is plain that the crises in the discrete, remote communities are of a particular kind.

My point for the moment is this: the liberal-conservative Right cannot just wish away the people dimension when it comes to discrete communities in particular. To continue to insist on utter assimilation is madness, and it's the wrong idea anyway.

The fact is that rather than there being two choices: individualism or peoplehood, what has to happen to Aboriginal society is what has happened to all traditional societies on entering the modern era. Aboriginal individuals need to split in two: part of their life must be conducted as individuals pursuing their lives in the modern world. They must be animated by their own self-interest and their families must be their first priority. They must be able to have access to opportunity without going through collectivist procedures and they need to have a private life that is separate from collectivist politics. Their pursuit of their individual interests must be fully legitimated as the best (and only) means of social and economic uplift.

The other half of the Aboriginal individual's personality will constitute their identification with their people: their lands, their languages, their traditions, their heritage. This is not a sphere of life that provides any chance for socioeconomic development. It serves those more intangible human needs for culture, spirituality and identity.

Calma's model for indigenous Australian representation is a tragically wrong-headed outcome of what was clearly a hopeful exercise involving many indigenous people earnestly trying to find a way to a better future.

It is difficult to add anything more to Nicolas Rothwell's penetrating analysis in The Australian yesterday. Rothwell's conclusion is devastating: "For some time it has been clear Aboriginal self-determination has had its day. Calma's report lays it in its long-prepared grave."

It is a strange outcome. It's clear that the long shadow of ATSIC dominated Calma's process and the product they have come up with shows the psychological terrors under which they laboured. They were anxious (like the Rudd government) not to give the impression that they were trying to revive the dead monster, ATSIC: yes, we only want advisory powers and will have no involvement in service delivery. They were anxious to ensure proper representation for women. They were anxious to prove the new organisation's commitment to ethics and probity, and have made extraordinary proposals in this regard. They did not want government to be in a position to abolish the organisation, so they have opted to establish a company rather than a legislated body. They think that philanthropic and corporate funding will provide some financial independence to the new organisation, with little appreciation that there is small hope of this.

Understandably, given the opprobrium that came to be attached to ATSIC, they are running so scared from the ghost of ATSIC that they have proposed a model that can be summarised as all voice, no power, no responsibility. The worst result of all: they have the ability to complain but no ability to influence or take responsibility.

The recognition of indigenous Australians as peoples should be a matter for commonwealth legislation at the least. If there were problems with the arbitrary interferences and changes by governments, then the search should have been for solutions that protect against such events. In any case the need for government funding still leaves the most decisive power in the hands of government. The erstwhile representative company may still survive, but without government funds?

The position of indigenous Australians is reduced to that of a representative function of approximately the status of the Australian Native Grasslands Protection Association or the Australian Philatelic Society (if there be such organisations). Except that it will have the formal role of complaining about the torment of powerlessness afflicting Australia's first peoples.

Calma and his team have not grappled with the whole problem of the governance interface between indigenous Australians and the Australian commonwealth. One nation, several peoples. Finding the equilibrium between the 97 per cent Elephant and the 3 per cent Mouse so that the Mouse can do for itself those things that the Elephant will never be able to do for the Mouse. Individual socioeconomic development in the private sphere, cultural development in the sphere of the people.

Thoughtful members of the Rudd government should treat the Calma report as a kind of embarrassing Oliver Twist moment in the relationship between black and white Australia. Embarrassing for the whites as much as for blacks. They should ask Calma to go back to the drawing board and give indigenous Australians the opportunity to think through these issues outside the shadow of ATSIC. To accept Oliver's pathos would be the worst act of political cynicism.

The views in these stories are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Treaty Republic