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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2855

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(11.50) —Governments of both persuasions in this country for some years have, in an effort to provide for self-determination amongst Aboriginal communities, allowed those communities to incorporate and employ their own community advisers and handle their own funds, both community development and employment project funds and operational grants. At Oombulgurrie towards the end of July this year it became obvious that things were not well. After initial investigations, on 10 August, a departmental officer was sent on a special assignment to Kununurra to deal with the Oombulgurrie problem. It was found that the community, as Senator Crichton-Browne said, lacked effective financial management and had incurred total debts, I am told, of $260,000 relating to storage, transport, barge and housing operations. The debts were incurred in the time of the previous community adviser, Mr Hart, who left suddenly on 2 September.

Investigations have been conducted and, if necessary, the police will be involved. The Department has approached Mr Tony Howard, who has acted as a consultant to insolvent Aboriginal organisations in the past, to assist the community to organise its financial management. He will be responding after he considers the audit report due to be released by David Hallam and Co. about a week ago-I am not sure where it is now. The Department is at present having discussions with the Aboriginal Development Commission about the possibility of making a loan available to enable the community store to trade itself out of debt. The departmental officer will be located at Oombulgurrie until 31 January 1987 to assist in the implementation of any action decided on.

I think it is wrong for Senator Crichton-Browne to suggest that this Government or other governments have guaranteed funds to communities like this regardless of their actions. In fact, the Government is looking at the moment at ways in which it can have a say in who will be employed as a community adviser and how it can provide training programs so that there is proper accounting and accountability, as Senator Crichton-Browne says there should be. The difficulty has always been in balancing attempts at self-determination against seeming overpatronising or paternalistic. Obviously, something has to be done and we are looking at that matter at the moment. Aboriginal communities, like white communities, sometimes go broke. Some stay solvent. Unfortunately, some people suffer in the circumstances. In this case we hope that prompt action by the Department with the assistance of the ADC will minimise the effects which are of obvious and justifiable concern to Senator Crichton-Browne.