Abolishment of ATSIC: A ‘New Era’ … or Back to the ‘Way We Were’?

An Excerpt


As I understand it and putting it bluntly, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission was set up to be a significant voice for Indigenous Australians to ensure that Indigenous people’s rights were being harnessed and protected in an equitable fashion. This was also to be an avenue for supporting self determination initiatives, such as business enterprise projects, and appropriate home ownership schemes. ATSIC was seen to be one of the major political voices for Indigenous people when dealing with government initiatives that involved and/or affected Indigenous people in any capacity. Something I (and I’m sure others) thought was going to last a long time! But now we are expected to accept that “this was only a trial,” and now that the trial or probation period has expired, everything reverts back to “normal.” We are being told today, “you all knew this was coming,” almost as if “we” — the Indigenous people of this nation — were put through some rigorous government research to see how well we fare and cope. Well now that we are told the study (trial) is over, and that “we” have failed, everything will now go back to “normal,” or, how it was before we had a voice. That is, back to the old cliché — “blacks at the back.”

ATSIC and the people elected to positions within ATSIC were voted in by the Indigenous population. The government’s abolishment of ATSIC also suggests that Indigenous people didn’t know what they were doing when they voted for people (whom they thought) would represent and advocate on their behalf on all “Indigenous issues.” However, we still weren’t allowed to handle the affairs and concerns of our own education and health matters. Retrospectively, do Indigenous people know what they’re doing when voting for non-Indigenous people in federal government elections to run“their” country and handle “their” affairs? Answer: Apparently yes? Hence, if Indigenous people didn’t know what they were doing when voting in ATSIC elections, then why should Indigenous people be forced or expected to vote in federal elections? We get fined if we don’t vote today, yet we weren’t allowed to vote 37 years ago! Things just don’t add up or make sense anymore.

ATSIC was never responsible for Indigenous Health or Indigenous
Education, yet Indigenous people suffer some of the worst ill-health statistics
in the world; and a majority still has relatively below standard English literacy
levels, resulting in low and limited employment opportunities. Given this,
how can the government convince or provide some glimmer of hope that
Indigenous health and education are going to improve? Their (trial) formula
didn’t work before!

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