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Make foolish haste while the Treasurer smiles through gritted teeth

Make foolish haste while the Treasurer smiles through gritted teethThe unspoken mantra of the moment is make haste while the Treasury is flush with funds in an election year. The Federal Government is scrambling to get enabling legislation passed this week for its Indigenous welfare initiative in the Northern Territory. On Tuesday, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough could not wait for a delegation of Indigenous leaders to assemble, in order to meet them for what he had hoped would pass for consultation.

Welfare advocates are joining Indigenous leaders in warning that undue haste and failure to consult "risks worsening circumstances for those the legislation is purporting to protect".

That is how Catholic Social Services Australia Executive Director Frank Quinlan put it in a statement released yesterday. What Quinlan said reflected what was being said by advocates from across the welfare sector.

"This is significant legislation and we need to get it right," he said. "The inquiry must provide the opportunity for Indigenous leaders close to these issues to raise their concerns and feed into this important debate."

Quinlan added that the legislation should be referred to a Senate Committee for further consideration. The Minister has subsequently relented, and there will now be a one-day Senate enquiry on Friday. This is hardly adequate for 500 pages of legislation, but arguably better than nothing. The holding of the one-day enquiry is token recognition from the Government that it is aware of how brazen and reckless its behaviour has been.

La Trobe University Indigenous health researcher and Jesuit priest, Dr Brian McCoy, wrote in the last issue of Eureka Street that "care, sensitivity and wisdom are required" above all else. He has listened to Aboriginal Australians for more than 30 years, and is only too keenly aware that even he has much to learn about Indigenous disadvantage.

He speaks with authority when he makes the following comment on the shrill nature of the Federal Government's intervention: "I also have serious misgivings about a conversation that reduces complex issues to a simple absolute: 'the child must come first'.

Haste is also written all over the Commonwealth takeover of northern Tasmania's Mersey Hospital. Catholic Health Australia CEO Francis Sullivan writes in this Eureka Street that, for some time, the Tasmanian health service has been taking the difficult but necessary steps to rationalise services in the interests of the general public.

"When compared to the $465 per capita the Commonwealth presently contributes nationally to public hospitals, the Mersey funding package would deliver $1285 per resident in the area. Something the federal treasury must blanche at."

Make foolish haste while the Treasurer smiles through gritted teethLogically, artificially creating advantage for some Australians has the effect of ensuring disadvantage for other Australians.

If the current actions of the Federal Government are reprehensible, we would not know from the reaction of the Federal Opposition, which has been to ostensibly support the Government.

The circumstances of these actions hardly warrant a bipartisan approach. Instead, it is the opinion polls that are suggesting the ALP's "me too" approach is paying dividends in terms of enhancing their electibility. But in the end, if both sides of politics are promoting a similar product, why won't Australians stick with the devil they know? "It's time" may have worked for Gough Whitlam, but only time will tell whether "Kevin 07" will do the same for Kevin Rudd.



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