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Australia to create Aboriginal representative body

Australia to create Aboriginal representative body

The federal government on Thursday said it would set up a new national representative body for Aborigines to help close the gap between black and white Australians.
The new body will be independent of the government and serve as a less powerful version of a national Aboriginal organization that between 1990 and 2005 administered billions of dollars in funds for indigenous programs and whose leaders were elected by Aboriginal constituents.
The previous conservative government abolished that organization _ the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission _ in 2005 amid corruption and mismanagement allegations, and folded its operations into other departments.
Last year, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin asked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma to help develop a model for a new representative body.
"It's a historic day," Calma said as he unveiled plans for the proposed body at a National Press Club meeting in Canberra. "Today is a day when, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we begin a new journey and express our determination to put our future in our hands."
Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the country's 22 million-strong population. In recent decades, billions of dollars have been thrown into community programs, housing and education. Yet Aborigines remain the poorest, unhealthiest and most disadvantaged minority, with an average life span 17 years shorter than other Australians.
The new body will advise the government on Aboriginal issues but will not set policy or distribute funds. Under the proposal, it will be made up of equal numbers of women and men and include an ethics committee, Calma said.
"What we are proposing today will be radically different from anything we have ever seen in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs," he said. "It will certainly not be 'business as usual.'"
Macklin said the government wants to establish the new body before the end of 2009.
"We know that we're not going to be able to close the gap unless indigenous people are there with us as partners in this very difficult task," Macklin told reporters.
The body will need 200 million Australian dollars ($165 million) of government funding over its first 10 years, with an initial startup fee of about AU$5 million, Calma said. The goal is for it to eventually become financially independent of the government, operating on corporate support and donations, he said.