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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Howard axes Aboriginal body
Aborigines in the bush
Aborigines are Australia's most disadvantaged community
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced plans to abolish the country's top Aboriginal body.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) was created to represent the country's impoverished indigenous population.

But Mr Howard said the group had become involved in symbolic issues, with "too little concern for delivering real outcomes for indigenous people".

He said it would be replaced by a group of appointed Aborigine representatives.

Mr Howard accused ATSIC of failing to help alleviate the plight of the Aborigines, Australia's most disadvantaged community.

"We believe very strongly that the experiment in elected representation for indigenous people has been a failure," Mr Howard told reporters on Thursday.

"We will not replace ATSIC with an alternative body. We will appoint a group of distinguished indigenous people to advise the government on a purely advisory basis."

Mired in controversy

The commission has been dogged for years by accusations of corruption and nepotism, as well as the mismanagement of its annual budget of half a billion dollars.

It faced fresh criticism last August, when Chairman Geoff Clark was suspended after being convicted of obstructing police during a bar-room brawl.

ATSIC was created by a Labor government in the late 1980s.

It was hoped that an elected Aboriginal body would help solve the problems suffered by Australia's indigenous people, many of whom are trapped in a cycle of poverty, ill health, drug abuse and imprisonment.

But last month the Labor Party - currently in opposition - pledged to abolish the body if it won the general election later this year, replacing it with a regionally-based body.

The fate of ATSIC is likely to split the Aboriginal community. Some leaders supported Labor's pledge to axe it last month, saying the group was inefficient and mired in political in-fighting.

But suspended chairman Geoff Clark said Mr Howard's decision to scrap the commission would further disadvantage Aboriginal people.

ATSIC's acting chairman, Lionel Quartermaine, also accused Mr Howard of making his organisation a scapegoat for the problems facing indigenous people.

He said the blame for the Aborigines' plight lay with existing laws, adding that state and federal governments had "got to take the responsibility".

Mr Howard plans to introduce legislation to dismantle ATSIC during the next parliamentary session in May.

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Timeline: Australia
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