Time Robinson cleared his name

FEDERAL Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron this week issued a clear warning to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission to be accountable for taxpayers' funds . . . and be transparently so.
Two issues of conflict arose, each with a common thread. Last week the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations wrote to the Goolburri Aboriginal Corporation Land Council asking it to show cause why an administrator should not be appointed.
The Canberra-based registrar, Noureddine Bouhafs, cited complaints against the organisation, the sacking of staff and audits which showed irregularities and deficiencies as the motivators for his action.
Goolburri tried to avoid that appointment by rushing in and appointing its own ``administrator'' but Bouhafs would not be bluffed and his appointment stood.
Last Monday, the Federal Court's Justice Richard Cooper handed down a decision in an action where another decision by Bouhafs was challenged jointly by the National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services Secretariat and its Queensland counterpart.
The legal services sought an injunction disallowing Bouhafs' appointment of an independent auditor to examine certain of their documents without having first supplied the organisations with his reasons for wanting such an examination.
Bouhafs had presented findings to the court to support his actions _ including that the recent annual meeting of NAILSS and QAILSS was moved at a late stage from the Gold Coast to Alice Springs, making it difficult for some members to attend.
Up to 30 other members had their plane fares paid, as well as travel expenses. People were excluded from the meeting and some ``members'' had been deleted from the register without their knowledge.
Justice Cooper dismissed the application by the two legal services, opening the way for the independent examination of the books of NAILSS and QAILSS to proceed.
He also noted that the legal services intended to go into voluntary liquidation and transfer assets to new entities. That, the judge said, appeared to be sufficient reason to inspect the documents of the organisations before they were wound up. Costs, estimated at $40,000 were awarded against NAILSS and QAILSS _ a disgraceful waste of funds that could have been better spent on other indigenous justice issues.
The decision by Justice Cooper prompted Herron to issue a statement advising the legal organisations that they had to meet stringent accountability standards.
``I want to make it perfectly clear that if NAILSS and QAILSS continue to attempt to block examination of their books, I would expect ATSIC to immediately suspend or terminate their funding,'' he said. If that did not happen, he said he would exercise his ministerial powers to direct that it occur.
The common thread is powerful Aboriginal leader, Ray Robinson. Robinson, a professional boxer in his youth, is the deputy chairman of ATSIC, chairman of NAILSS and chairman of the Goolburri Land Council.
He is a much-accused man who loudly proclaims his innocence and several times in the past week has invited Herron and other accusers to ``meet me in court and put up''.
It has been said to me a thousand times if it has been said once that ATSIC will never have credibility while Robinson occupies the positions he does.
Federal police have relentlessly examined his official business and turned up nothing. Robinson is a most litigious person and currently has civil writs against three media organisations (not including this one) alleging defamation. He is also suing the Queensland Government alleging wrongful imprisonment.
That action _ funded to the tune of $45,000 from Aboriginal legal aid money _ resulted from a conviction for rape which was overturned at a retrial ordered by the Court of Appeal. Robinson had spent two years in jail before the retrial.
It is no exaggeration to state that his involvement with ATSIC casts a pall over the organisation and, consequently, over indigenous administration throughout Australia. He and Herron are at loggerheads and have little trust or respect for each other.
Until the matter of Robinson's reputation is cleared up, indigenous relations in Australia will go nowhere. Robinson has either to be declared openly to be clean and above board, in which case he is owed a most sincere apology; or, if he has been involved in any untoward behaviour, his services should be dispensed with immediately.
Sections of the Aboriginal community fear Robinson. Whether they have any real justification for that fear is a matter for their judgment; but fear him they do.
It is very easy to make allegations and Robinson, like all prominent people involved in politics, is an easy target. But unless there is a stop to the continuing aggravation concerning Robinson, Aboriginal Australia has no hope of progressing with credibility.
ATSIC should bite the bullet and, for its own good, for the good of indigenous people and in fairness to Robinson, should institute proceedings to investigate properly all matters of substance that have been raised against this man.
He deserves to have his name cleared and to get on with his job and his life, if the result of a properly constituted inquiry concludes he is guilty of nothing.
If ATSIC does not have the gumption to adopt such action _ and its record does not indicate any courage of this magnitude _ it falls to Herron to grasp the nettle. While the situation continues, Aboriginal Australia remains fodder for the likes of Pauline Hanson.