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The white-anting of ATSIC has been brought about by the usual suspects

By Brian Johnstone - posted Thursday, 22 April 2004

The fact that ATSIC now finds its neck on the political chopping block is not all that surprising, or even all that horrifying. Even so, its end draws near for all the wrong reasons thanks to the usual suspects.

The Benelong Society asked Commonwealth and Northern Territory public servant Bob Beadman to share his thoughts with its members on the state of Aboriginal affairs.

Beadman's initial inclination was to politely decline.


He figured he had recently retired and "hardly needed the aggravation".

He was talked into doing the gig by former conservative Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Peter Howson, one of the Bennelong Society's leading lights.

If Beadman had any conviction on matters he had written extensively about while in office, Howson argued, then he had a duty to continue to prosecute them and help "bring about change".

Beadman duly delivered a paper on the desperate need for new thinking on Indigenous policy.

Those acquainted with my history and that of Mr Beadman's will not be surprised to learn that I disagreed with a fair proportion of the points he made.

I was interested, though, to read a recent postscript in which Beadman pointed out that readers of his paper may have wondered why he had not focused on ATSIC, "given the media attention that it gets".


"The reason is that ATSIC is basically irrelevant to the measures needed to turn around the human tragedy before us," he continued.

New thinking is needed in health, education, justice, and particularly welfare policy and ATSIC does not manage such programs. It has only ever been a "supplementary funder" to bridge the gap between the backlog of need, and general government programs.

ATSIC has been pounding this message home since its inception, as have many other Aboriginal organisations, too numerous to name.

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This article was first published in National Indigenous Times on 14 April 2004.

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About the Author

Brian Johnstone is a columnist for the National Indigenous Times. He was Director of Media and Marketing at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission between April 1998 and December 2002. Before taking up that position he was a senior advisor to former Federal Labor Minister, Senator Bob Collins, and a senior correspondent with Australian Associated Press.

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