Aboriginal bureaucrat under fire

by Chris Griffith
Published 7 April 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


An Aboriginal leader yesterday called for the Federal Government's inquiry into Aboriginal Legal Services to examine the roles of ATSIC national deputy chairman, ""Sugar'' Ray Robinson.

The general manager of FAIRA Aboriginal Corporation, Les Malezer, yesterday said Mr Robinson was now Queensland's most powerful and most feared Aboriginal leader.

""The Aboriginal community is fearful of him, and fearful of the influence he can exert over their funding,'' Mr Malezer said.

As the national deputy chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Mr Robinson is a leading candidate to run Australia's billion dollar Aboriginal bureaucracy when current chair Lois O'Donoghue retires this year.

Mr Malezer said an unhealthy situation had evolved where those who controlled ATSIC funds in Queensland also had a direct role and interest in the Aboriginal organisations that received the funds they handled.

Mr Malezer and Mr Robinson last year were at loggerheads over an organisation called ""The Queensland Federation of Land Councils'', established in 1994 to coordinate the native title activities of Aboriginal organisations. Mr Malezer was a key player in its formation.

FAIRA are currently suing ATSIC for denying $240,000 to the Federation and instead granting it to an allegedly rival ""Federation of Land Councils'', whose interim chairman is Mr Bert Button, a close associate of Mr Robinson.

The Sunday Mail was told yesterday that ATSIC cut back funding to FAIRA at the end of February.

Mr Button yesterday said Mr Malezer's "Federation" was "self-appointed" and "unrepresentative of Aboriginal people".

He said FAIRA "was not a true land council", but "a research body", although he agreed the organisation was empowered to handle native title claims under the Native Title Act.

As a Queensland ATSIC commissioner, Mr Robinson is responsible for law and justice, black deaths in custody, Native Title, Aboriginal Hostels Limited, social arts, cultural heritage, housing, housing loans, and sport.

He is also chairman of the National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services Secretariat (NAILLS), president of the Bidgera Housing and Land Corporation, president of the Bidgera Legal Service, and president of the Goolburri Land Council.

Mr Button is chairman of the Goolburri Regional Council, president of the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services Secretariat (QAILLS), and interim chairman of the Queensland Federation of Land Councils.

Mr Malezer said the situation had developed where a few people were seeking control of funding, legal, and native title matters in Queensland.

He said Aboriginal leaders must choose between an ATSIC administrative role and a community role. They shouldn't have both.

""You can't be involved in funding an organisation that you're a member of and have an association with.''

There was further evidence yesterday of concern about the denial of funds to Aboriginal legal services in Queensland.

Nanango resident Kathy Pearce said ATSIC had refused to fund the Maroochydore Legal Service to represent her 8-year-old son after her involvement in a recent federal court case.

Some Aboriginal leaders have also expressed concern about what they called "punitive audits", audits they say were commissioned partly to punish those politically out of favour.

Mr Robinson could not be contacted yesterday.