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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2264

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education)(8.25) —There certainly is a simple explanation and a simple rebuttal of the rather insulting imputations in Senator Peter Baume's remarks about the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Senator Baume, who has sat on Estimates committees, I suppose, for longer than I, will be very well aware of the conventions and practices of Estimates Committees. Therefore, he will know that the suggestions he is making of some attempt at concealment by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs of the affairs of the National Aboriginal Conference are absolutely outrageous. The Department has understood that the Committee's requirements for appearance before it have been two: That the organisation had requested Additional Estimates, or that the Committee had provided prior notice of its intention to raise issues relating to that organisation. I must say that those two criteria are certainly the two that have been in practice in the nine years that I have been a member of Estimates committees. On many occasions I have sat on committees considering Supplementary Estimates where all of the agencies of a portfolio did not appear. They appeared if they had requested Additional Estimates or if there had been prior notice that there was an intention by committee members to raise issues. Those two criteria were taken into account by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in preparation for this Supplementary Estimates session.

The Department advises that in accordance with the usual practice, the NAC was not invited to attend the Senate Estimates Committee D hearing on 23 April, because Additional Estimates had not been sought on its behalf. The same situation applied with the Aboriginal Development Commission, but when the Department received prior warning that the Committee wanted to ask questions about ADC activities, the Department asked ADC representatives to attend. The Department did not receive prior advice that the Committee wished to address questions to NAC members and staff. Had it received such advice, it would have asked the NAC to attend, as it did with the ADC.

Senator Baume has referred to the frequent appearances of the NAC at Estimates committees previously, so for the record I now give the Senate details of the NAC's appearances before Senate Estimates committees over recent years. They are as follows: In 1982-83, for consideration of Appropriation Bills 1 and 2, officers of the NAC did not attend; for Appropriation Bills 3 and 4 they did not attend. In 1983-84 for Appropriation Bills 1 and 2, three representatives attended; for Appropriation Bills 3 and 4, the NAC did not attend. In 1984-85 for Appropriation Bills 1 and 2, two representatives attended; for Appropriation Bills 3 and 4 the NAC did not attend.

The matter was discussed with the Chairman of the NAC when he raised with the Deputy Secretary the matter of the NAC's non-attendance at the hearing. The Deputy Secretary explained the Department's understanding as I have already outlined it, and added that he was puzzled about the Committee's approach as the NAC was not a statutory authority but a funded Aboriginal body akin in many respects to the other 900 or so other Aboriginal bodies which the Government funds.

On behalf of the Department I add that if the Department's understanding of this matter has been incorrect, it apologises and would be grateful for the Committee's advice as to the requirements to be followed in respect of future hearings.