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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee - 02/06/98 - PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO - Subprogram C—Corporate and strategic - Subprogram C1—Corporate support

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I have a question on reports and reviews of ATSIC boundaries and electoral systems under section 141. I presume that is where this arises. This review of electoral boundaries is an ongoing review with the authority given to ATSIC, is that correct?

Senator Herron —Under the electoral commission after an ATSIC election there is an automatic review of boundaries.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —Does that review report to you as minister or to ATSIC? I am trying to understand the process.

Mr Rees —It reports to the Minister.

Senator Herron —It reports to me.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —But who sets up the review process? It is done under the auspices of ATSIC, is it?

Ms Sculthorpe —Yes, that is correct.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —What has happened on this occasion? Who was appointed, and when, to conduct the review? I thought I read somewhere that you had appointed two persons to do the review, neither of whom was named Blackman, in one of the documents that I read somewhere. Is that right?

Mr Rees —Perhaps I can give you an idea of the process and, if I need to correct myself, I will do that after the hearing. I think the 141 process is that a report is prepared and then that is published, and a further process is then conducted.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —A report is prepared by whom?

Mr Ramsay —Perhaps I will explain the process. After each ATSIC election, under section 141 of the ATSIC Act, a review panel is constituted by the minister to review boundaries and electoral systems. When the review panel makes its recommendations, those recommendations are not to the minister but rather they are gazetted. If there are objections to any of the recommendations that are made, the minister is required to set up an augmented review panel. Any recommendations that have not been objected to become final recommendations, and the minister is required to put the final recommendations into effect for the next elections. There are five members on the review panel. With an augmented review panel, the minister is required to appoint two extra people.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —In addition to the original review panel?

Mr Ramsay —In addition to the original review panel.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —So they review themselves, in a sense?

Mr Ramsay —It is an augmented panel that then looks at the objections that have been made by whomever. The normal process is that the augmented review panel has consultations in those areas where objections have been lodged. Then that augmented panel makes final boundary recommendations.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Is there any appeal to those?

Mr Ramsay —No.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —So when was the review panel established?

Mr Ramsay —I would have to get the exact dates. The ATSIC Act says something like 90 days—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Take the date on notice, but it was a while ago. Who were the members of the review panel?

Mr Ramsay —The review panel consisted of the chairman, who is the chairman of ATSIC; a member from the AEC, who is Mr Kerry Heisner; a member from AUSLIG, the Australian mapping and survey—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —We know what you mean.


Mr Ramsay —and two independent members.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Who were on this occasion?

Mr Ramsay —My memory is being tested here.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Take it on notice if you do not know. Was Mr Blackman one of those two?

Mr Ramsay —No.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Were those two independent people ATSIC official types?

Mr Ramsay —No, they were people who were not part of the elected arm or ATSIC; they have to be independent.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —You will take their names on notice. They did their original review. Where were their review decisions challenged?

Mr Ramsay —There were a number of challenges. From memory, the Geraldton region, Tennant Creek and the Roma region—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Rockhampton and Roma, were they—

Mr Ramsay —Rockhampton.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Were they areas affected by the challenges?

Mr Ramsay —Yes, they were.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —So those were two of the areas that were under challenge. Will you be able to supply us with a complete list of the challenged recommendations?

Mr Ramsay —Certainly. I will take it on notice.

CHAIR —Senator, do you have any other questions?

Senator CHRIS EVANS —A few in that respect. I will be a couple more minutes, Mr Chairman.

CHAIR —Senator Heffernan has some, too, and we have already run past time.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —It is a question of whether you want an extra day or an extra five minutes. It is as simple as that.

CHAIR —No, the procedure here is that we run till time, and if you have not put the questions by time, the questions go on notice.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —If you let me go, Mr Chairman, I have two more minutes.

CHAIR —Two minutes for you and then another couple of minutes for Senator Heffernan.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Thank you. We have objections lodged in a range of areas, including Roma and Rockhampton, and then the augmented review panel. Does ATSIC recommend to the minister the names of those who will go on the augmented review panel?

Mr Ramsay —No, it does not recommend names. What has happened in the past is that a list of names is provided to the minister, but certainly no recommendations are made.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Was a list provided to the minister on this occasion?

Mr Ramsay —Yes.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Was Mr Blackman's name on that list?

Mr Ramsay —That I would have to take on notice.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Does anyone else know?


Senator Herron —I cannot remember. We would have to look at the—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Take it on notice.

Senator Herron —This is the usual procedure. I get a list and then I pick out a name.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —That is fine, Senator. I just wanted to check to see whether he was on one of those. So ATSIC provided a list. How many people were on the list? Is it a long list or a short list?

Mr Ramsay —It was not terribly long; about eight to 10 names.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Perhaps you could take that on notice. I do not necessarily need to know all the names, but I am interested in whether Mr Blackman was on it and how many there were.

Senator Herron —I just query the provision of the list of names.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I do not want the list; I just want the number.

Senator Herron —Okay. You see, some of these individuals would not have been approached.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I would be happy to—

Senator Herron —The question is whether Mr Blackman's name was on the original list.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I do not want to know who the other people were.

Senator Herron —We are happy to find out.

CHAIR —Senator, a lot of this is fairly minute detail, but could I suggest to the Minister that ATSIC provide a further private briefing for you.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —If you give me one more minute—

CHAIR —We have had the two minutes—but keep going.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —One of them was wasted just discussing it. Let us get on with it. So the two people, then, were appointed. Have those appointments been made to the augmented review panel?

Mr Ramsay —Yes.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —And they were Mr Blackman and—do you have the name of the other person appointed to the augmented review body?

Mr Rees —Mr Charles Coleman.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Where is he from? Which region?

Mr Rees —We will have to confirm that.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Minister, do you know Mr Kerry Blackman personally?

Senator Herron —I have met him, yes. I do not know him well.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —You will have to take it on notice whether he was on the list or not?

Senator Herron —Yes. As I say, I will have to find out.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —And have you been concerned about the negative publicity concerning his appointment?

Senator Herron —I certainly contacted him after the negative publicity and he denied any impropriety or that that publicity had any semblance of truth.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —You have no concern about that appointment?

Senator Herron —No, I have met him. He is on the reconciliation council. I appointed him to the reconciliation council. I have seen his CV. That is the first time I had ever heard anything—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Do you know if he is actively involved in local Aboriginal politics in the Rockhampton and Roma areas?

Senator Herron —Yes, as I understand subsequently. At the time I appointed him, I was unaware of problems with the Gurang Land Council.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Do you have any concern about potential conflict of interest, given that that is one of the areas where the appeals have been lodged? His job is to review that area and yet he is seen as a player in the process.

Senator Herron —I think it would be fairly easy to find potential conflicts if you have got other areas. No, I have not. As I say, I have met him. I think he is quite an outstanding Australian.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Do you think, in hindsight, that it would have been better to choose people who were not connected with the areas under contest?

Senator Herron —I was unaware of any problems with the Gurang Land Council until they occurred.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Surely you would be aware of the areas that were disputed. That is the whole process: the augmented review body—

Senator Herron —No. As I say, I was not aware of any problem with the Gurang Land Council—at my level, anyway—until it all blew up recently.

CHAIR —You have had the extra couple of minutes.

Senator Herron —It was after the appointment. The acting chairman of ATSIC brought that up at a meeting.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I have some questions on C1, C5 and C4. I propose to put the C4 questions on notice.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Moving to subprogram C1, at last year's estimates ATSIC provided details of commissioners' travel costs, including TA. Some of that travel seemed to be high for one Commissioner Parker. His costs between 1994 and 1996 were $149,000. My question is: has there been any examination of travel costs either as a result of that or as a result of complaints?

Mr Ramsay —Sorry, Senator, Commissioner—

Senator HEFFERNAN —Parker—but the broader question is whether that triggered a wider investigation.

Senator Herron —Commissioner Parker was dismissed from the board.

Senator HEFFERNAN —My question was—

Senator Herron —And he was charged with misappropriation.

Senator HEFFERNAN —The findings were that he was discharged for misappropriation. Was that referred to the police?

Senator Herron —I am sorry, it was not to do with his travel; it was another matter.


Senator HEFFERNAN —My question relates to travel.

Senator Herron —I think he was writing false cheques or something.

Senator HEFFERNAN —As a result of the disclosure of the TA and travel costs, were there any complaints? That is my question.

Mr Rees —From memory—and it is going back close to 12 months now—there was an investigation by OEA of commissioners' travel in terms of whether appropriate processes were in place and so on.

Senator HEFFERNAN —What were the findings?

Mr Rees —As I understand it, the findings were that the processes and approach were entirely appropriate.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Could we have a copy of that?

Mr Rees —I believe you could, yes.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Thank you. Were any matters referred to the police?

Mr Rees —Not over that report, no. There was no need.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So you can provide us with the details of the outcome of that. Can ATSIC provide full details of commissioners' travel costs for the financial year which will end on 30 June this year?

Mr Rees —Sorry, Senator?

Senator HEFFERNAN —Can ATSIC provide details of commissioners' travel costs for this financial year ending 30 June—obviously after 30 June?

Mr Rees —We will do that for you, yes.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Can you provide travel costs for the past five years for all of ATSIC?

Mr Rees —I believe we could go back four years. Whether we can go back the full five—

Senator HEFFERNAN —Can I add to that, similar figures for organisations which ATSIC funds?

Senator Herron —You want all organisations ATSIC funds? We can give you the current ones but I do not know that they would go back five years.

Mr Rees —I do not believe we could.

Senator Herron —I suppose it is theoretically possible.

Mr Rees —I do not think we could disaggregate travel funds for 1,200 organisations, Minister.

Senator Herron —No.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Thank you. That completes C1. I will put questions for subprogram C4 on notice and move to section C5.

[6.55 p.m.]