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Tuesday, 15 June 2004
Page: 23807


Senator O'Brien asked the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, upon notice, on 15 April 2004:

(1) Since the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS) was established on 1 July 2003, what awareness training and instruction have senior officers of ATSIS received on their obligation not to disclose information, directly or indirectly, to any person about public business or anything of which the employee has official knowledge, except in the performance of their official duties.

(2) When did the Minister and/or her office and/or ATSIS receive an allegation from the principal of Metar Pty Ltd that sensitive commercial information relating to the financial position of this company was disclosed to a third party by a senior officer of ATSIS and a further allegation that the inappropriate disclosure adversely affected the legal and financial position of the company.

(3) (a) When did the Minister and/or her office and/or ATSIS commence an investigation into this matter; and (b) what was the outcome of that investigation.


Senator Vanstone (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS) has provided the following answer in response to the honourable senator's question:

(1) ATSIS decided that its employees should fully conform to all legal and ethical obligations that staff of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) have in relation to the disclosure of information about ATSIC grantees or ATSIC loan recipients. It was not considered necessary to provide any specific training to ATSIS officers on these obligations as staff employed by ATSIS are former ATSIC employees, in most cases for a considerable period, and were considered to have an appreciation of their obligations about confidentiality. In addition, ATSIS is unaware of any breach of any of its officers in relation to these obligations, which might lead to the need to consider additional training or instruction. New staff are instructed in these obligations as part of their induction.

(2) Mr Brophy first raised his allegation regarding a breach of confidentiality with the Minister by letter dated 22 January 2004 received by ATSIS by fax on that same day.

(3) ATSIS's Investigation and Compliance Branch commenced an independent examination of Mr Brophy's allegations in early April 2004 after Mr Brophy had indicated he was not satisfied with the response he had received to his initial complaint. The examination looked at two separate aspects of the allegations. Firstly, whether there was a breach of section 90 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989 (the Act). That section sets out obligations that officers have not to disclose to others certain information about ATSIC grantees or loan recipients, except for the purposes of the ATSIC Act. The examination concluded that based on the material examined there was no such breach of section 90 of the Act.

Secondly, the examination looked at whether a breach of commercial confidentiality had occurred. Once again the examination concluded based on the information examined, that no breach of commercial confidentiality was evident.

The Executive Manager of ATSIS's Investigation and Compliance Branch wrote to Mr Brophy on 13 May 2004 to advise him of the outcome of the examination of his allegations and to provide him with a detailed explanation of how the Branch had reached its conclusion that his allegations were not justified.