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 Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 07:23 GMT
Aborigines re-elect controversial leader
Aborigines
Land issues have topped Geoff Clark's agenda

Controversial Aboriginal leader Geoff Clark has narrowly been re-elected chairman of Australia's most powerful indigenous body.

He was returned as chairman of ATSIC, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, by a slim margin of nine votes to eight.

A vigorous proponent of the interests of indigenous people

Philip Ruddock, on Geoff Clark
He is now set to serve another three years at the head of the Commission, where his tenure has been overshadowed by rape allegations dating back to the early 1980s.

Despite the close contest, Geoff Clark is insisting the 17-member board is united and ready to move forward.

Other commissioners disagree.

Alison Anderson, an ATSIC representative from the Northern Territory, said she was disappointed with the result.

The controversies surrounding Geoff Clark, she claimed, would continue to cast a dark cloud over the organisation and its public image.

In August, two women who claimed they were raped by the ATSIC leader launched legal action in the civil courts.

Geoff Clark, a former heavyweight boxer, has always denied the allegations and said he was the victim of a smear campaign by his political opponents.

Two years ago magistrates in the southern state of Victoria dismissed a rape charge against him due to a lack of evidence.

Court appearance

The 50-year-old Aboriginal leader is due back in court again early next year to answer charges of assaulting police and riotous behaviour after a race meeting in his home town of Warrnambool in May.

He is expected to plead not guilty.

During his time in office, Mr Clark has identified land and economic independence for indigenous communities as his key objectives.

Australia's Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Philip Ruddock, said the government would once again seek to work effectively with Geoff Clark, whom he described as "a vigorous proponent of the interests of indigenous people".

ATSIC was established more than 10 years ago to advise the federal and state governments on indigenous affairs.

It has an annual budget of more than A$500m.

See also:

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