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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) (1990–2005) was the Australian Government body through which aboriginal Australians were formally involved in the processes of government affecting their lives. A number of indigenous programs and organisations fell under the overall umbrella of ATSIC.
While ATSIC's existence was always subject to the whim of governments, who represent all Australians, ATSIC was an elected body whose constituency was indigenous Australians. This included:
- people from the many aboriginal communities on the Australian mainland, Tasmania and other off-shore islands, and
- the ethnically distinct people from the many Melanesian communities inhabiting the islands of the Torres Strait, collectively known as Torres Strait Islanders.
The Chairmen of ATSIC were:
In 2003, ATSIC became embroiled in controversy over litigation surrounding the private actions of its Chairman Geoff Clark . The Howard government took the opportunity of what it claimed to be organisational mismanagement to strip ATSIC of a lot of its fiscal powers, which were transferred to a new independent organisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS).
The government ultimately suspended Geoff Clark as Chairman of ATSIC in 2003 (Lance Quartermaine was acting Chairman). After a court appeal Clark was briefly reinstated.
For some time after Geoff Clark's appointment, the Howard (Liberal-National) Government had been expressing doubts as to the value of continuing to have ATSIC at all. Following Mark Latham's election to the leadership of the (Labor) Opposition in December 2003, Labor also accepted that ATSIC had not worked. In March of election year 2004, both parties pledged to introduce alternative arrangements for indigenous affairs. The government's plan was to abolish ATSIC and all its regional and state structures, and return funding for indigenous programs to the relevant line departments. Labor's view was that ATSIC itself should be abolished, but many of the regional and state sub-organisations should be retained, to continue to give indigenous people a voice in their own affairs and within their own communities. It rejected the notion of merging indigenous funding into funding for Australians generally as 'tried and failed', but had not announced its alternative proposals.
On 28 May 2004 - the start of National Reconciliation Week , one day after National Sorry Day , and one day after the sudden death of former ATSIC chairman Gatjil Djerrkura - the Howard government introduced into the Federal Parliament legislation to abolish ATSIC. After a long delay the Bill finally passed both houses of Parliament in 2005.
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