NIC claims false, leaked cabinet document reveals

Issue 67
by Chris Graham

November 8: Claims by the federal government that the newly-appointed National Indigenous Council (NIC) is not a replacement for ATSIC are false, according to a leaked confidential federal cabinet document obtained by NIT.

The NIC was announced on Saturday by Indigenous Affairs Minister, Amanda Vanstone. It is a 14 member government appointed board, whereas ATSIC was a democratically elected representative body.

Saturday's statement, issued on behalf of Senator Vanstone, reads:

"The Minister stressed the NIC is not a replacement for ATSIC and not intended to be a representative body.

Members of the NIC were not selected on the basis that they represent any specific region, organisation or agency. They will be presenting their views as individuals, based on their areas of expertise.

While the NIC will play a crucial role in providing advice to the Government, it will not be the sole source of advice about Indigenous matters."

But a federal cabinet-in-confidence document on the abolition of ATSIC, dated April 7, 2004 tells a very different story. On three occasions it refers to the NIC as the Indigenous body to replace ATSIC.

It says:

"This paper 'proposes' abolishing ATSIC and replacing it with an appointed National Indigenous Council to advise government on indigenous policy. it is proposed that the ATSIC Board be abolished and replaced with a National Indigenous Council.

It is recommended that Cabinet consider agreeing to legislation being introduced as soon as possible in the Budget sittings to abolish the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) Board and replace it with a non-statutory and government appointed National Indigenous Council to provide policy advice to government."

The same cabinet-in-confidence document also misleads Prime Minister John Howard's cabinet as to the true nature of Indigenous support for the NIC, claiming Cape York leader Noel Pearson had supported a government-appointed model.

Mr Pearson strongly opposed the idea, calling it a "kitchen cabinet" and arguing for an elected chair of any replacement to ATSIC.

Senator Vanstone's office declined to comment on the latest revelations, referring NIT to a response Senator Vanstone issued last week, in relation to the Pearson story: "The government doesn't respond to the contents of confidential material leaked by someone with a personal axe to grind."