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ESTIMATES COMMITTEE D
DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT, EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Program 1-LAND AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Subprogram 1.5-Program Support
- Committee Name
ESTIMATES COMMITTEE D
DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT, EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Program 1-LAND AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
- Sub program
Subprogram 1.5-Program Support
- System Id
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ESTIMATES COMMITTEE D
(SENATE-Thursday, 12 September 1991)
- Start of Business
DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT, EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Program 1-LAND AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
- Subprogram 1.1-Land ownership and administration
- Subprogram 1.2-Socio-economic development
- Subprogram 1.4-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commercial Development Corporation
- Subprogram 1.5-Program Support
Program 2-SOCIAL ADVANCEMENT
- Subprogram 2.1-Health
- Subprogram 2.2-Substance Abuse
- Subprogram 2.3-Community development support
- Subprogram 2.4-Recreation and sport.
- Subprogram 2.5-Law and justice
- Subprogram 2.6-Housing and rental accommodation
- Subprogram 2.7-Community Infrastructure
- Program 3-HERITAGE AND CULTURE
- Program 4-CORPORATE SERVICES
- SENATOR BOLKUS
DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION, LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ETHNIC AFFAIRS
- Program 6-OFFICE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT
- Subprogram 1.1-Immigration and Population Research
- Subprogram 1.2-Permanent entry
- Subprogram 1.5-Refugees, humanitarian and special assistance programs
- SENATOR CALVERT
- Program 2-STUDENTS, VISITORS AND ENTRY
- Program 3-SETTLEMENT AND ETHNIC AFFAIRS
- Program 4-CORPORATE SERVICES
- Program 5-CITIZENSHIP
Content WindowESTIMATES COMMITTEE D - 12/09/1991 - DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT, EDUCATION AND TRAINING - Program 1-LAND AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT - Subprogram 1.5-Program Support
SENATOR TAMBLING -Madam Chair, 90 per cent of the printed material of a question and answer that I received at 2 o'clock is eight pages long. It relates to a whole series of comments on the reconciliation between the figures that are shown in the program performance statements and those in Budget Related Paper No. 7, namely, Social Justice for Indigenous Australians 1991-91.
I have not had an appropriate time to study in detail the very comprehensive answers that ATSIC has provided on this, but I note from the notes of the staff who have been attempting to look at this in the intervening hour or so that there still appears to be a very large number of issues where the responses that have been given do not adequately explain the accounting reconciliation between those performance statements and the Budget Papers. This concerns me. I certainly ask, Madam Chair, that this matter be comprehensively addressed by the Committee before the deliberation on the report. I believe that the issues raised in this are very fundamental to accounting principles and to the information that is provided to the Senate.
SENATOR BOLKUS -Is there a question?
SENATOR TAMBLING -Yes, there is. I am asking the Chair whether the Committee, which I am not a member of--
CHAIRMAN -You do not ask the Chair; you ask the Minister in the process.
SENATOR TAMBLING -Madam Chair, I thought that-I am not a formal member of this Committee and you are the Chair of this meeting-I should bring to the attention of my colleagues the questions and answers that have been provided to me on notice, which are very comprehensive and very detailed but still very confusing and certainly need very detailed assessment. They may require the Committee to engage professional assistance to do the analysis that is necessary--
SENATOR BOLKUS -Madam Chair, can we get back to the Estimates Committee rather than listen to these rantings of Senator Tambling?
CHAIRMAN -Senator Tambling, you can take that up with your colleagues on the Committee, who are certainly free to raise that in the deliberations of the Committee.
SENATOR TAMBLING -I will certainly do that, but I would have thought that it would still have been appropriate to raise it with the entire Committee and not necessarily just my own colleagues.
SENATOR BOLKUS -Write them a letter.
SENATOR TAMBLING -The matter is very serious. If necessary, Minister, I will write a letter.
CHAIRMAN -You can also address this in the discussion of the Estimates in the Senate, if you so wish. Let us return to our consideration of subprogram 1.5. May I make it clear that we call them programs and the subprograms; we do not call them sub-subprograms. I have called on subprograms, and in every case I have asked at least twice whether there are any further questions. If you have questions further back, maybe we could discuss putting them on notice later or something like that. I have followed the process that I stated in the beginning, which is the normal process.
SENATOR TIERNEY -I was not here at the beginning, so it is a bit hard for me to follow that. I am not a formal member of this Committee.
SENATOR TAMBLING -Would it not be better if some of these matters were dealt with now, Madam Chair?
CHAIRMAN -It looks like we are going to be here well after dinnertime. Maybe looking at it then is the best way of dealing with it rather than backtracking at this stage. Is the Minister willing to backtrack?
SENATOR BOLKUS -I am a reasonable bloke.
CHAIRMAN -Could you say which program you are on at this time?
SENATOR TIERNEY -I am on the community development employment pro- jects under subprogram 1.2.5.
SENATOR BOLKUS -Senator Kemp has asked all the questions that you will ever want to ask on this.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Is ATSIC aware of how many CDEP communities have been so successful in the development of communities that they are now independent of this form of government funding and are, for all intents and purposes, self- sufficient?
MR BEADMAN -There are no communities that are now independent of CDEP funding and I do not know what gives rise to a seeming expectation that some might have achieved that status. I think we need to remind ourselves of what CDEP is . CDEP is an aggregation of unemployment benefits, using the old jargon; it is now Jobsearch, Jobstart and Newstart. They are paid to a community in a lump sum so that that community can elect to work instead of going through the debilitating experience of being forever on welfare.
So communities forgo voluntarily an entitlement, the price of which is that they then need to expend considerable effort and go through some complex pro- cesses in order to earn up to the equivalent of that entitlement which they have forgone. Far and away the majority of the 169 communities that are on CDEP are in very remote locations where the unemployment level was 80 to 90 per cent and had been so over an extended period of time. To the extent that people can get off the scheme and into more regular permanent employment that does occur, but given the locations and the traditionally high unemployment levels in those locations it has never been possible, to date, that the entire community has been able to work itself into the regular work force.
SENATOR TIERNEY -So you are saying that it is more or less an ideal outcome- you are trying to provide them with these skills and, hopefully, people will move through.
MR BEADMAN -It is more than that. The ideal outcome is to get them all off CDEP into regular employment. But the likelihood of that occurring in these locations, where there is no industry, is not high.
SENATOR TIERNEY -So at this stage not one has got to that point.
MR BEADMAN -No, not one.
SENATOR TIERNEY -The auditor states in the report that there are considerable time lags between the adjustment of CDEP payments and DSS benefits. Can officials of the Department offer the Committee an explanation for this situation? What measures are being taken to stop the problem from continuing?
MR BEADMAN -As recently as the first half of this year there was a further examination of the scheme and the interrelationship of roles between ATSIC, DEET and DSS. We have come up with some refinements. We have had some supplementation in this Budget process in relation to the administrative cost of those refinements and we will be embarking on that. The time lag I think is particularly serious where a person might leave a CDEP community and move to a location where there is not an equivalent scheme and has to revert to welfare benefits. That is what we are trying to address and the question, in that context, is more one for the Department of Social Security.
SENATOR TIERNEY -The Australian National Audit Office in its 1989-90 report states that a number of economic development conferences were held which provided a forum for communities and groups to have some input into the government programs. Can ATSIC indicate whether there has been any decision to have another round of conferences?
MR BEADMAN -Yes, the conferences are ongoing. On page 48 and 49 we mention economic development conferences in subcomponent 126.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Thank you. The audit report states that ATSIC and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs have responsibility for assisting communities to develop community plans and that there have been considerable problems in this area. Can ATSIC outline to the Committee what steps have been taken to overcome the problems and how soon the changes will be implemented?
MR BEADMAN -I think at the time the Auditor-General reported there was some confusion as to terminology. I think the Auditor-General had in mind work plans for CDEP communities which coherently addressed the range of developmental needs at that place and how the work force might be better organised to go about that work. These days, work plans for a CDEP participant community are a mandatory condition of funding. We have accepted that recommendation and implemented it with zest. In relation to the broader question of community plans I think that needs to be looked at in the context of section 97 of the legislation itself which talks about regional planning. We see community planning as being a feeder to the regional planning process.
Later in the performance statements-subprogram 1.2.A on page 51-you will see that we are in the infancy stage in relation to community planning. The CDEP community work plans, we would imagine, would be but one component of a wider community plan which might take in things such as schools, transport and telecommunications and the rest of it.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Lack of adequate computer systems in regional offices has obviously led to problems with administration of the CDEP. Are these ongoing problems?
MR BEADMAN -I do not know that it is a problem so much of ADP equipment-which will get addressed later in these performance statements-as much as it is a problem of recruitment and retention of skilled people at the community level, the accounting firm level which provides services into that community, or indeed at ATSIC regional office level. This question was canvassed fairly extensively in the House of Representatives Standing Committee examination of the reference it got in relation to the Auditor-General's report and again in this Committee in April. I made the observation then that the Committee, or indeed the Auditor-General, should not expect, given that recruitment and retention problem against all those spheres that inter-relate to CDEP, the accounting records to be as clinical as you might find in a capital city. In terms of ADP equipment, I do not think the same allegations of shortages could now apply. Shortage of equipment is not a problem.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Are the regional offices now equipped with adequate computer systems to enforce the CDEP guidelines?
MR BEADMAN -The computer systems are part and parcel of a wider acquisition program which is in a development phase at the moment. I could not give you an assurance that the programs are as mickey mouse as we would like them to be.
SENATOR TIERNEY -What has the cost been to date of updating and overhauling systems in regional offices?
MR GRAY -I think that comes within the purview of our general acquisition of ADP equipment which we do address in this statement; the overall costs and the break-up of some of those costs are involved there. There has been some tremendous effort and expenditure put in to ensure that there is sufficient hardware and software at the regional level. It was certainly the case some 24 months ago that there was, I believe, an inadequate resource at the regional level. I do not believe that to be the case now, but in terms of the systems which will then be generated through those or are being used within ATSIC, there is clearly developmental work currently going on. Only today a contract was signed with Computer Sciences of Australia for it to provide the necessary hardware and there is other work being done on the systems which will improve capacity and, hopefully, efficiency right throughout the whole of ATSIC.
SENATOR TIERNEY -I assume also that training of staff is involved.
MR GRAY -It is very much a component of the overall scheme of things. It is not ignored. Indeed, we have improved and I believe we could demonstrate and significantly increase the amount of training available to our staff at all levels in relation to ADP.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Do you have a cost on that?
MR GRAY -We could obtain those costs for you within our training regime.
DR SHERGOLD -Some of these items are dealt with under subprogram 4.2, Corporate services, where we had separate headings on the information technology and human resource management.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Are those regional costs included in that one?
DR SHERGOLD -Yes.
SENATOR TIERNEY -The Australian National Audit Office report states that, due to a lack of liaison between State and regional offices, incorrect quarterly advances have been made. Can ATSIC indicate whether these were above or below the amount that the individual CDEP communities were entitled to receive and give a rough indication of the amounts that we are talking about?
MR BEADMAN -The Auditor-General's report referred to by Senator Tierney is for the 1989-90 financial year. Since then CDEP has been reviewed by a committee of officers which reported to the Government in February 1990. It has been examined by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. As I mentioned earlier, it has been examined by an interdepartmental review, reporting to Cabinet again in the Budget context this year. In other words, the figures are pretty ancient. I do not have them with me. The necessary adjustments in relation to those figures have occurred and we are now back on an even keel.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Where communities possibly received more moneys than they were entitled to, have all those amounts now been retrieved?
MR BEADMAN -The adjustments occurred on the new schedules. There is some give and take on them. There is risk management involved. The resources are not there to go and do a physical head count of people each time a participant schedule is due for renewal. The practice has been to provide those schedules to the Department of Social Security so that it cross-checks against other welfare benefit payments. There is an acceptance that the scrutiny that those schedules are put under is perfectly adequate for the purposes of ensuring that the numbers are not out of kilter.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Is the Department satisfied that the policies it now has in place will rectify the problem of liaison between the State and regional offices?
MR BEADMAN -It is quite some time since the AuditorGeneral reported and a number of reviews have occurred since then. The difficulty for us has been that each subsequent review has occurred half-way between our implementation phase of the recommendations arising from the review before it. It is safe to say that we believe that we are in a situation now where all of the recommendations that arose from that Auditor-General's report have been implemented. All of the recommendations that arose from a subsequent interdepartmental committee review report have been implemented and we are half-way towards implementing the recommendations that arose out of the review that reported to Cabinet in June.
SENATOR TIERNEY -What steps have been taken by ATSIC to fulfil the recommendations forwarded by the Australian National Audit Office to `move promptly to secure a solution to the question of industrial relations coverage of employees drawing wages under CDEP'?
MR BEADMAN -We have been in fairly close dialogue with the ACTU and other unions under it. The unions realise that there is some difficulty in moving to award coverage of CDEP communities. That is not to say that as a condition of funding ATSIC does not require payment of CDEP wages at award rates. The way incomes are regulated in order to live within the ceilings set by an aggregation of welfare benefits is by adjustment of hours rather than adjustment of rates of pay. We have in mind-I think it is mentioned in these performance notes-moving to a research consultancy later in the year as to the impacts that might be involved in union coverage of CDEP.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Is ATSIC prepared to do anything about the high staff turnover with the CDEP community administration, given that the Commission stated the importance of management capabilities of grantee communities?
MR BEADMAN -For the most part these community based staff live in very remote locations. It follows that they are in extremes of climate in a foreign setting in a community that is probably 90 per cent Aboriginal and 10 per cent support staff. It is extremely difficult to recruit and retain people in open townships in those general localities. I think you will find that the turnover in a Woolworths store, if one exists in Wyndham, would not be dissimilar to the turnover you might find in the community store at Balgo Hill .
You asked what ATSIC is doing. ATSIC can do little but try to improve the general infrastructure environment of a community and make it a more attractive place to live. In that way we might help retain more people for longer periods.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Can the Commission explain to the Committee how CDEP funding is arranged in Queensland and the relationship with municipal councils?
MR BEADMAN -In the same way as it is arranged in other localities. There is a long lead time before a CDEP is implemented. ATSIC wants to be assured that there is a will within the community to forgo an entitlement because if there is not we are on shaky ground from the start. We go in jointly with Social Security in order to properly assess those welfare benefit entitlements. It does not matter whether you have a community government council in place or something that might be not incorporated under Queensland legislation but perhaps under our own councils and associations Act. The key is ascertaining what the overall will of the community is in relation to forgoing benefits and then properly assessing the aggregate of the entitlement of that community.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Can ATSIC indicate whether or not it will introduce training of CDEP beneficiaries aimed at improving the administration programs?
MR BEADMAN -I should have mentioned that as well as ATSIC and Social Security, DEET is always along with us in those formative stages. That was my omission. DEET now has responsibility for all training. We have generally endeavoured to get training programs rolling six months before commencement of a CDEP so as to optimise prospects of getting into meaningful work from day one. DEET then continues to provide ongoing assistance on a needs basis, not on an assist basis, for the provision of training for those communities and the supervisory staff are involved, as well as workers.
SENATOR TIERNEY -The Australian National Audit Office noted that many CDEP activities were municipal in nature: general clean-up; garbage collection; repairs and maintenance to council houses. This raises the question of whether CDEP funds may be directed to activities that are probably the responsibility of other government departments or agencies. Can the Commission indicate how many CDEP communities are engaged in such municipal activities?
MR BEADMAN -Probably just about all. If it was not all, it would only be one or two short of it, given the locations and the circumstances of those communities. Recently, we have established a CDEP in Redfern. That CDEP is also engaged in what could be broadly described as municipal activities, probably because it does not get them from the relevant local government council. The answer is: probably all. I suspect that what you are driving at is: how many have dropped off more regular employment in local government type schemes because of the availability of CDEP? The answer is some. But it would not be possible, with finality, to come up with hard figures.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Would you have a ballpark figure on how much it would cost Australia-wide?
MR BEADMAN -No. There was a lot of fanfare last year about the Northern Territory contracting back on the level of municipal services type funding in the communities that concurrently ran CDEP. I do not know how you would go about ascertaining whether that cutback was a consequence of the availability of CDEP or a consequence of the economic circumstances that the Northern Territory Government found itself in. That is the degree of difficulty involved in coming up with a hard response to your question.
SENATOR TAMBLING -In respect of the comments just made by Mr Beadman, have there been any consultations with the Northern Territory Grants Commission about that issue? Obviously that conducts an assessment with regard to the provision of municipal services to all communities in the Northern Territory.
MR BEADMAN -As far as I am aware, ATSIC has never engaged in discussion with the Grants Commission and has not in relation to this matter.
SENATOR TAMBLING -Given the nature of the issue Mr Beadman was raising, would it be an appropriate matter of consultation to ensure equity in those various communities?
MR BEADMAN -I did not raise the matter. I was responding to a question. We have a wider concern about the level of Aboriginal participation in local government. It might be better pursued in those forums.
SENATOR TAMBLING -I am keen to pursue the issue of ensuring that there is no cutback in funding in a certain Aboriginal community where a CDEP program may well be operating if that community is entitled to appropriate municipal grants. I got the impression that you were implying that there may well have been a cutback in funding to those communities. I would want to see whether it is the case that ATSIC or the Aboriginal local government organisations were encouraged to put that information before the Northern Territory Grants Commission to ensure that they are not discriminated against.
MR BEADMAN -I was doing more than implying. I can state that there were cutbacks in Aboriginal communities for municipal type funding. The question was whether those cutbacks were a consequence of the availability of CDEP. My answer was: how could you possibly tell? The other difficulty is that some of those communities are not incorporated under the Community Government Act in the Northern Territory, but nevertheless have enjoyed funding year after year for municipal services from the Northern Territory Government.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Can ATSIC brief the Committee on the failure rate in 1989-90 of CDEP communities in remote areas?
MR BEADMAN -We would have to take that question on notice.
SENATOR BOLKUS -It is already on notice. Senator Kemp asked a question on that issue.
SENATOR KEMP -I do not think it is quite the same one.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Has the national CDEP working party examined the causes of the failure rate in remote areas?
MR BEADMAN - `Failure' is a fairly descriptive word. We do not confront communities that are having CDEP administrative difficulties as failures, treat them as such and shut off funding forever and a day. Rather, we regard them as requiring some help and some remedial attention. In a number of instances, we have shut off funding for a quarter or perhaps a half year or reduced the numbers that are on CDEP for a period in order that we can get in and help make reform measures bite. If some communities have actually ceased it altogether and are unlikely to resume, it seems that we have that question on notice and we will respond to it. But as a principle we try to reform rather than wind up.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Will ATSIC inform the Committee whether it is considering allowing remote areas to remain on CDEP even though the majority of members do not want to be part of the program?
MR BEADMAN -We know of no such case where a majority of members do not want to be on it. If Senator Tierney has that information, we would pleased to have it.
SENATOR TIERNEY -I will follow up that question. Can officials from ATSIC advise the Committee on the progress that has been made to date in aggregating the performance indicator statistics submitted by State offices into a national format?
MR BEADMAN -Is this in relation to CDEP or across the board?
SENATOR TIERNEY -Across the board.
MR BEADMAN -The best way to answer your question is by saying that the program structure we have is not the ideal structure, as probably evidenced by some matters having been skipped over earlier and us having revisited them with the result that we have not been cracking whips in terms of making this structure more capable of comprehensive responses that would assist this Committee in its work. Rather, we are seeking to quickly come to grips with a revision of this program structure that we see as being implemented in conjunction with any reforms that we might want to make to our organisational structure which would flow from a report that we expect will soon be available to us. When we have that, we would hope to see some improvements. All we have had time to do in the 12-odd months we have been under way is aggregate what existed in the ADC and in the Department and put it together. With the different overlays that operate on the ATSIC model, elected regional councils, a board of commissioners and so on, there needs to be a better description and a better set of performance indicators to illustrate what we do.
DR SHERGOLD -The problem of performance management and performance indicators for ATSIC is a very real one. We are certainly working to answer and to respond to Senator Tierney's question, but it is important to understand that some very important performance measures may not be very easy to present as indicators in a quantitative sense; that is, we can start to measure some of the performance relatively easily in terms of what is happening in outputs from programs such as health, levels of education and levels of employment.
Some other very important measures for our programs are much harder to quantify-for instance, the incidence of community or domestic violence and the extent of substance abuse. Some of the key performance measures for ATSIC's programs are almost impossible to give a neat quantitative answer to. I am talking here of things like community morale, pride and cultural well-being. They are just as important as the outcome from many of our programs but are extremely difficult to present in an easy quantitative form in program performance statements.
SENATOR BOLKUS -I think those officers are mainly there for the same problem. I would just ask Senator Tierney to tailor his questions taking that into account, if he could.
SENATOR TIERNEY -What was the last part?
SENATOR BOLKUS -Just keep in mind, as you are progressing through this part of the program, that there are immense difficulties in working out the performance indicators.
SENATOR TIERNEY -Yes. I appreciate that, having come from another area where performance indicators are used. ATSIC has noted there has been considerable difficulty in assisting communities to develop community plans due to lack of staff resources. Your report reveals that the Government has agreed to provide additional staff for these purposes. Can ATSIC inform the Committee as to the number of staff that it has employed for these purposes and of the procedures in place to locate them in high priority areas?
MR BEADMAN -Madam Chair, we touched on this earlier when we talked about the distinction between CDEP work plans and community plans. I mentioned that I thought the Auditor-General, when referring to community plans, was in fact referring to CDEP work plans. Nevertheless, we saw those work plans as being an integral part of a broader community plan and it, in turn, a regional plan which is required by the legislation. We had some numbers arising out of our response to the Auditor-General's remarks and, indeed, we had a slight supplementation on staff this year. The order has been of about a dozen for the Auditor-General's concerns, and about the same this year for better follow up and assessment of participant schedules. So the numbers are not large.
SENATOR TIERNEY -They have been placed in your high priority areas?
MR BEADMAN -Invariably in regional offices, probably with an anchor person at the State office level. The central offices were supplemented by a couple a couple of years ago.
SENATOR TIERNEY -What decisions has ATSIC made with the ACTU regarding the coverage of CDEP workers by existing awards?
MR BEADMAN -We have not made decisions. What we have been talking to the ACTU about is the broader question of award coverage of employees of Aboriginal organisations generally. We have been saying that we think, given the particular nature of the CDEP scheme, it ought to be put to one side for the time being-that we have other situations where organisations have been grant funded for the last 20 years but yet have no award coverage and we think that they would take on a higher priority than would CDEP communities at this stage of the game.
SENATOR TIERNEY -That was my last question on this program.
SENATOR BOLKUS -I was going to suggest generally that if you do have questions that are written out, maybe the procedure that Senator Kemp has followed of giving them to us and--
SENATOR TIERNEY -When it involved things like specific figures, I would agree. But where we are after comments from the Department, perhaps it might be useful if we heard the Department's views on those issues.
SENATOR BOLKUS -Senator Kemp knows no such limits.
DR KEMP -No, that is not quite correct. In fact, you will find, if you go through carefully the questions I have put on notice, they are the type of questions which would require some facts and figures; and, clearly, it would be better to go back to the Department on those. But I would have to strongly support my colleague Senator Tierney in saying that there are some comments from the Department that we would like to have on the record at this meeting at the moment.
CHAIRMAN -You mean because you want to follow them up?
SENATOR TAMBLING -Madam Chair, I would have to comment on that too, if I may. I think it is indicative of the Minister making a special request, but the answers were provided to me at the eleventh hour today. I would be very fearful about any questions put on notice. I am not blaming ATSIC at all; I understand the answers had to come through the Minister's office. From information provided to me by officers of ATSIC, I understand that the answers to me were made available to the Minister's office many days ago, but did not surface today until the eleventh hour.
SENATOR BOLKUS -I raise a point of order. I think that is an allegation which is totally unsubstantiated and one that Senator Tambling is used to making in terms of scoring political points. This exercise is not geared for that. This exercise is one of information sharing. If Senator Tambling has a question to ask about the actual program we are on, let him go ahead and ask it; otherwise I think you should shut him up.
SENATOR TAMBLING -Madam Chair, I think that is an insulting remark by the Minister. It shows that he is not prepared to treat the Committee seriously.
SENATOR BOLKUS -I am treating the Committee very seriously, Senator Tambling. You, however, are not treating the Committee with any respect at all.
CHAIRMAN -On the point of order, as I have pointed out to you before, you have got answers before anybody else on the Committee has asked questions. You, in a sense, have been advantaged in this case by the fact that the Department has been able to give you answers before the Estimates Committee started.
SENATOR TAMBLING -In order to cooperate with the Committee, I put them down in advance as early as I could. In order then not to waste the time of this Committee-if I came in here and asked all of these questions in the Committee, it would have taken considerably more time of the Committee and would not have resulted in any information any earlier. I think that is a very important point. The Minister's request to Senator Tierney and Senator Kemp was such that we would have to be assured that the information would be provided through the portfolio Minister in time for the Committee to properly consider it before it puts together its report. Considering the way in which the Minister's office has dealt with my answers, I find the comment by the Minister that my comments are unsubstantiated to be totally false.
SENATOR BOLKUS -On behalf of the Minister's office, Madam Chair, I refute and deny fully that assertion that information has been kept unfairly from Senator Tambling.
SENATOR TAMBLING -Could I be permitted to ask the officers a question: were the answers to my questions provided to the Minister's office on Monday of this week?
SENATOR BOLKUS -I wonder, Madam Chair, if we can go on to the next question?
CHAIRMAN -Yes, these are matter that you can bring up in the appropriate place in time.
SENATOR BOLKUS -If they were Monday of this week, Senator Tambling, that is not an unfair time for a Minister's office to process information.
CHAIRMAN -Right. Can we leave it there? Were there any further questions from the members who did not realise before how we are proceeding, in other words, before 1.5?
SENATOR KEMP -Yes. I would like to follow up on that last question that was asked by Senator Tierney in relation to the ACTU and award conditions under this CDEP scheme. What is the particular issue at stake there? I notice that you said to the Senator's question that it would be helpful if the ACTU put this proposal aside. Could you elaborate on that particular comment you made?
MR BEADMAN -I do not know how far off the mark I am but, if we come up with an award that called for protective clothing, shower rooms, lunch rooms, hot meals, transport to and from work and what have you which, if we sifted a range of awards that apply in remote places, we might find and which conceivably could be sifted out by the union that would be after coverage to a CDEP scheme, I just worry whether or not the Government would provide us with the additional supplementation on top of what we already get to fund CDEP in order to sustain the costs of such measures. I guess that is the bottom of my concern.
SENATOR KEMP -So just to get it clear in my mind, the essential principle that the ACTU is seeking is that the typical award conditions which may apply elsewhere in remote areas should be fully applied to the CDEP scheme.
MR BEADMAN -No. What I said earlier was that, as a condition of funding, award pay rates must be applied and, in turn, the number of hours of work that is offered must be the regulatory factor in determining that the overall work force does not exceed the available funds.
SENATOR KEMP -What would be the typical increase in costs? Is there a broad brush figure that you are able to put before the Committee?
MR BEADMAN -No, because at this stage of the game we have not seen a log of claims from any union.
SENATOR KEMP -If the ACTU is seeking general award coverage for these schemes, is it insisting that the Aboriginal people who work in these schemes also become members of the relevant trade union?
MR BEADMAN -That is a matter between the union concerned and the individual, and I am not aware of membership take-up rates.
SENATOR KEMP -That was not quite my question. We have discussed in broad terms the types of proposals that the ACTU is putting forward and, as part of those proposals, does it want people who work in the CDEP schemes to take up a union ticket?
MR BEADMAN -Ferguson has never said to me, `Before we will deal with the case of that particular Aboriginal organisation, they will all have to sign up'.
SENATOR KEMP -I am sure that is the case but is it seeking that as a general principle?
MR BEADMAN -I do not know.
SENATOR TAMBLING -Are you aware whether any of the CDEP programs-which are a bulk funding arrangement into each community-remit union fees on behalf of members through the CDEP accounting process to the ACTU?
MR BEADMAN -The question by Senator Tambling presupposes that ATSIC's accounting process would be involved in such remittances.
SENATOR TAMBLING -No. I meant to ask were you aware whether any of the communities from the CDEP administered funds remit on behalf of union members in those Aboriginal communities funds direct to the ACTU or any union?
MR BEADMAN -No, I am not aware of such cases.
SENATOR TAMBLING -The Auditor-General's report No. 7 of 1991-92 comments:
The Commission's financial statements for the period ended 30 June 1990 provided an overview of the problem and an acknowledgment by the Commission that it was unable to verify that all payments to communities during the year were based on accurate information regarding the persons participating in the scheme.
What action has been taken on that Auditor-General's report for the year ending June 1990? Is it anticipated that any similar problems will arise in light of the accounts for the year ending June 1991?
SENATOR BOLKUS -I am advised that that is not an uncommon statement to appear in Auditor-General's reports and does, I think, appear quite often in reports of department where moneys are paid out, such as DSS, and I think we should take it in that context. I do not know whether Mr Gray has anything further to add.
MR GRAY -I would merely invite Mr Beadman to make further comment but we are aware of the Auditor-General's indication. The reality is that it would be difficult to give the guarantee that no individual amongst the number of people who participate in this scheme has ever received a payment which is not totally consistent with the entitlement under the scheme. If you were asking that there be some sort of guarantee that no individual would receive such overpayment, underpayment or whatever-I invite Mr Beadman to make comment on the particular reference in the Auditor's report and what action we are proposing in relation to that.
MR BEADMAN -Starting from 1 April this year, we have moved from a standing requirement of fortnightly participant schedules being submitted by the CDEP community which, if you had participant numbers in the order of 400 or 500, which is not uncommon, became an absolute administrative nightmare for the community, for the DAA office as it then was and for the Department of Social Security. It left each of those three agencies involved in that sort of monitoring process with an unmanageable scheme. It was reported as such in a submission to Government in February last year and it was accepted that we would revert to a system of quarterly returns and that Social Security would go about satisfying itself by a different process that there was no double dipping into welfare schemes.
It has always seemed to us that the level of crosschecking and scrutiny about whether Aboriginals might be double dipping has always been far and above the level of scrutiny that other sectors of the community might be subjected to in relation to other welfare payments. As I say, this quarterly system has been accepted by the Government. It has been implemented from 1 April and it is working more smoothly. It is not an administrative nightmare as was the fortnightly scheme. But you can be quite sure, Senator, that in remote places where people are, as you know, very mobile, the count for one quarter might look vastly different when the count for the next quarter occurs. There is going to be some give and take in that. Some quarters they will clearly be short funded because of an influx who have arrived and other quarters the opposite could conceivably occur.
SENATOR TAMBLING -Has there been any attempt between ATSIC and the education authorities, DEET and the Department of Social Security, to ensure that the appropriate computer technology for those assessments you are doing is compatible and can crosscheck each other or is there an inconsistency in some of the computer technology used by the different agencies?
MR BEADMAN -We mentioned earlier that we are in the middle of an ADP acquisition program. In an ideal world in a year's time there will be that portability of information, one would hope, between the agencies. At the moment there is not because for the most part the development of participant schedules for communities is very much on a manual basis.
SENATOR TAMBLING -But it is intended to move in that direction?
DR SHERGOLD -The committee is now being established under the chairmanship of DEET involving ourselves and Social Security to look at whether such a system could be put in place. The final piece of information, I should add, in terms of those participant schedules, is that from this financial year we are devoting additional resources, including additional staff resources, to check and monitor those schedules.
CHAIRMAN -Is there anything further on 1.5 which is where we were when we started going backwards?
SENATOR KEMP -I have a number of questions but I will put them on notice.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
CHAIRMAN -I understand Senator Tambling wanted to ask a question before we proceed further.
SENATOR TAMBLING -Madam Chair, before we start I wish to make a statement. I would like to apologise to Mr Eldridge. When the Minister mentioned earlier that I had received a letter from the Commission apologising for the late delivery of the documents, it followed the discussion we had had about the non -delivery of the documents in Alice Springs. I therefore took the situation to be that there would have been an individual letter coming later; I was reading it that way in my mind. The letter that was tabled from ATSIC was the letter that was attached to the draft documents that were sitting here in my office on the Monday morning, the 2nd, and the letter was over Mr Eldridge's signature dated Friday, 30 August. So, relying on my interpretation of the way in which the Minister said that there was a letter of apology, I feel I owe an apology to Mr Eldridge. I certainly did receive that letter of 30 August on the Monday morning.