The Guardian October 1, 2003


ATSIC says "Thank you" to union movement

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission has given warm 
thanks to the Australian union movement for assistance in past struggles, 
and has announced it is seeking closer ties to help improve the living 
standards of Indigenous people.

ATSIC Acting Chairman Lionel Quartermaine told the Maritime Union of 
Australia's National Council that the union movement, and particularly the 
MUA and its predecessors, have had a long and proud history of support for 
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"Our shared history should be the foundation for even closer working 
partnerships between trade unions and our people", Mr Quartermaine said.

During his address to the MUA, Mr Quartermaine acknowledged the MUA's 
active support for Indigenous people during industrial disputes, in 
particular the historical disputes including the Pilbara pastoral strike of 
1947, the Wave Hill walk off of 1966 and the Noonkanbah dispute of 1979.

The Pilbara and Wave Hill strikes started over low wages but developed into 
successful landmark land rights claims.

Mr Quartermaine praised the MUA and its predecessors for supporting 
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by providing funding, medical 
aid, food supporting Aboriginal artists and athletes, and by winning jobs 
for Aboriginal people on the wharves.

The MUA was also a foundation member of the Tranby Aboriginal College in 
Sydney in 1958 and the union continues to financially support the College 
to this day, providing funding for scholarships for Indigenous students.

Mr Quartermaine also acknowledged the support of the ACTU and praised its 
incorporation of Indigenous issues into all of its policies at the ACTU 
Congress in August. The ACTU also has a dedicated Indigenous seat on its 
executive and conducts annual conferences of Indigenous union delegates.

He also welcomed the support of the ACTU and unions in the dispute with the 
Queensland Government over stolen wages and savings and the campaign to 
prevent dumping of nuclear waste on Aboriginal ground in South Australia.

The Queensland Government's compensation offer of $55 million to Aboriginal 
people who had had their wages and savings taken off them between 1897 and 
1972 was "nowhere near good enough" and a denial of natural justice.

Late last week ATSIC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the 55,000-
member Independent Education Union of Australia, aimed at increased 
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in non-government 
schools.

The Memorandum committed both parties to developing an action plan which 
achieved better educational outcomes for Indigenous students, increased 
numbers of Indigenous students and teachers, and the incorporation of 
Indigenous history and culturally appropriate teaching into school 
curricula.

ATSIC is now seeking similar agreements with other education unions as well 
as in other sectors including health and the public service.

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