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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1779

Mr REEVES(8.40) — We have finally heard from one member of the Opposition who is willing to say something good about the Labor Government. I thank the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) very much. It is interesting to note that he was also willing to say something nice about the Whitlam socialist Government. He said it introduced the oath of allegiance in 1974. It is interesting to see the change in the shadow Minister's attitude in the last few weeks.

I am concerned that the $9.984m allocated to the Northern Territory specifically to be spent on Aboriginal housing will, in fact, be spent on Aboriginal housing. I mentioned earlier that all the indications are that the Northern Territory Government puts all the money it receives, whether for specific purposes, capital purposes or general revenue, into one big bin. Not even the Commonwealth Grants Commission could unravel the mess when it made its recent report on special assistance for the Northern Territory. It made a number of critical comments about the way the Northern Territory runs its accounting system. I referred to a letter from the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory in which he made it quite clear that he is very reluctant to keep statistics or figures on how the money allocated to the Northern Territory under the States Grants (Housing) Act is spent on housing and, specifically, how it is spent on Aboriginal housing. He made it clear that very reluctantly he is now keeping statistics on the Northern Territory Government's spending on Aboriginal housing . I suggest that he is very reluctant to do that because he knows full well that when those statistics are completed they will show that he has been siphoning off the money specifically granted for Aboriginal housing. The likelihood is that the big boost in Aboriginal housing funds for the Northern Territory will not benefit Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory who want houses. If it happens to help them it will be by good luck and not good management. It will happen in spite of the unsympathetic Country Liberal Party Government in the Northern Territory.

The basic responsibility of any government is to handle the public purse in a responsible and accountable way. More importantly, the Northern Territory Government in this instance is entrusted to spend specific purpose grants on the specific purpose for which they were granted and not on some other jaunt such as the $2 1/2m it plans to spend this year on its own travel and entertainment. That is more than even members of the Opposition would even think of spending in one year. The comments of the Grants Commission and the correspondence I have referred to from the Chief Minister lead one to the inescapable conclusion that the Country Liberal Party Government in the Northern Territory is negligent, irresponsible, incompetent and untrustworthy. The whole issue has far wider and broader implications than that. This year's Federal Budget contains $159.74m in specific purpose recurrent grants to the Northern Territory and $88.121m in specific purpose capital grants to the Northern Territory. That is a total of $ 247.86m, or 30 per cent of the total allocation to the Northern Territory for specific purpose recurrent grants or capital grants.

I am concerned that that money is spent on the purpose for which it was specifically allocated. I do not think we can be certain that the negligent, untrustworthy Government in the Northern Territory will do that, particularly when it will face electoral defeat in the next six months. Can we be certain that the $9.8m allocated for the Australian bicentennial road development program this year will actually be spent on that program? I do not think so. The sum of $8.9m has been allocated for the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign. Can we be sure that the Northern Territory Government will spend that amount on the campaign? Of couse we cannot. It puts all the money into one bin and not even the Grants Commission can trace it. Not even the Grants Commission knows whether it will be spent for that purpose. Can we be certain that the $2. 8m allocated for the community employment program, to which the Country Liberal Party Government in the Territory is opposed, will actually be spent on employment programs. Will it be spent on some other outlandish scheme?

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Millar) —Order! I invite the honourable member for the Northern Territory to tighten up relevance in respect of the estimates presently before the Committee.

Mr REEVES —It plans to spend $200,000 on the self-government celebrations. All this wasted expenditure is going on while Aborigines in the Northern Territory are living in disgraceful conditions. It is all right for the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) to smile. If he saw those conditions he would have that smile wiped off his face very quickly. As I said at the outset, there is evidence to suspect that the Northern Territory Government is siphoning off specific purpose grants. I am most concerned about the specific purpose capital grant for Aboriginal housing in the Northern Territory. The whole matter, particularly the parlous state of the Territory's accounting system under which no one can be sure whether it is actually spending money on the specific purpose for which it is allocated, must be investigated urgently.

I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) and any other Minister involved in the allocation of funds for specific purposes in the Northern Territory to conduct that investigation as a matter of urgency. Unless an investigation is conducted, I fear that, despite all the good intentions of this Government to improve the terrible conditions of the Aboriginal people that the honourable member for Hume finds so amusing, those conditions will not be improved because the improvements will be blocked yet again by the unsympathetic Country Liberal Party Government.

Mr Lusher —You did not even use your full time. You have four minutes left.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Millar) —The honourable member for Hume is demonstrating a prowess for his new found ability to achieve a certain result. I suggest that he give a thought to the consequences.