Please accept my resignation. I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member. Groucho Marx
And so it was with Indigenous Australia’s most respected eminent ally, Fred Chaney, adopting the lines made famous by Groucho Marx as he announced his resignation as director on the Native Title Tribunal (NTT).
I’ve taken liberty with a little poetic licence on Groucho’s quote and asserted a wishful exaggerated stance for Mr Chaney - knowing unquestionably that he is far too honourable a man to use such facetious language in the presence of others.
For a man who comes from a very influential family in Western Australia, Mr Chaney is rather unique in that he not only found Indigenous people good company prior to his illustrious career as a federal politician and during his lengthy term in office, but also continues a pro-active relationship with Indigenous people well after his exit from the nation’s capital.
I know many prominent non-Indigenous people, who start out in life wanting to improve the awful living conditions our mob have had to endure, but as soon as their public profile engages in an upward trajectory their interest level for all things Indigenous wanes and in most cases terminates - never to be revived again.
For instance - Mr Chaney did voluntary work with the Aboriginal Legal Service in Perth after graduating from Law School, as did Queensland Premier Peter Beattie as a young solicitor with the Aboriginal Legal Service in Brisbane, but to compare the interest level of both men in our mob today is like comparing chalk and cheese.
In addition to his appointment with the Tribunal, Mr Chaney served as co-chair of Reconciliation Australia Ltd from 2000 to 2005 and continues as a director on the Board. In 2005, he was appointed chair of Desert Knowledge Australia.
Entering the Senate in 1974, Mr Chaney was Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 1983 until 1990 when he became the member for Pearce in the House of Representatives, a position he held until 1993. His ministerial appointments included Aboriginal Affairs, Social Security, and minister assisting the Minister for National Development and Energy.
My father, Jim, was Chairman of the National Aboriginal Conference (forerunner to ATSIC) and had many round table meetings with Mr Chaney when he was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Dad, a staunch Labor Party card carrying member from the early 1960s, says without reservation that Mr Chaney was the best Minister for Aboriginal Affairs we have ever had.
I’ve no reason to question the high praise showered on the former Liberal Party minister from a man who’s seen them all come and go with varying degrees of success. Mr Chaney, from dad’s point of view, sits at the top of the political tree when handing out report cards on former ministers, for his commitment to advancing the cause of Indigenous Australians.
When I first heard of Mr Chaney’s resignation I must admit I was relieved to hear a man of his standing publicly declaring the NTT a failure in its delivery of just outcomes for traditional owners. And by this very courageous act Mr Chaney vindicated the general concern that we in the broader Indigenous community have had for a long time about the effectiveness of the NTT as an organisation.
Jenny Macklin, Labor's spokeswoman for Indigenous affairs, quoted in ABC Online on March 14, said the resignation of the respected Native Title Tribunal director highlights the problems in the current system.
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