Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17094

Mr SNOWDON (10:13 AM) —I want to change the thrust of this discussion, if I might, just for a short time, Minister, and talk to you about some Indigenous matters within your portfolio—only briefly, though, as I have a number of school students in my office who are keen to see me back there to have a discussion with them.

Honourable member interjecting

Mr SNOWDON —They certainly wouldn't be talking to you, comrade. What I want to talk to you about, if I might, is not the review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, which your office has kindly made available to me and which I have perused although not read thoroughly. It seems to me to be a very adequate and good discussion document. I do want to, however, just raise a couple of matters in relation to the recent administrative arrangements you have made with ATSIC and ATSIS. Concern has been expressed about the incidence of leaks to the media from ATSIC staff by the commissioners, and I wonder if the minister might have any observations to make about that.

I also wonder, given this document, whether the ATSIC-ATSIS split is to be a temporary or permanent arrangement. Minister, one thing that does concern me is that the decisions you have taken seem to have pre-empted this process somewhat and, as has been argued, were done without appropriate consultation, negotiation or discussion with Indigenous leaders. I would be interested in your observations as to why that took place and why there were not discussions with the appropriate Indigenous leadership across Australia about the decisions you took.

I am interested in particular in the role of the CEO. I fail to understand how it is appropriate that ATSIC's current chief executive officer can maintain that role while simultaneously being the chief executive officer of the newly created body ATSIS. With ATSIS being responsible to the minister and ATSIC being responsible to the board, who is the CEO responsible to—the board or the minister? I would have thought that there is a potential, if not actual, conflict of interests between the role of the CEO of ATSIC and the role of the CEO of ATSIS. If we are going to have the powers delineated between the two organisations, it is hardly appropriate or fair to have the CEO being head of the policy development organisation as well as the administrative organisation. That appears to me to be an absolute conflict of interests.

It is also not clear why policy staff have been transferred to the newly created ATSIS when the stated aim is to leave ATSIC as the elected arm with responsibility for policy development and ATSIS with the responsibility for implementation. If there is to be a split between ATSIC and ATSIS, it would make sense for the policy staff to stay with ATSIC. It appears as if ATSIC will be charged with the policy and advocacy role but will not have the staff to do it, beyond each commissioner retaining an administrative officer to arrange travel, accommodation and appointments. I believe it is incumbent upon the minister to explain to us how he expects ATSIC to undertake the functions which he now prescribes for it, without it having the necessary staff resources—which it owns. Rather, it will have staff that are responsible to another person or at least to another figure—that is, the head of ATSIS—when, in reality, the staff should be the responsibility of the CEO of ATSIC alone and not of a person with dual functions.

There are three other issues which I want to briefly comment upon. One is the direction preventing ATSIC from funding organisations of which full-time ATSIC officeholders are directors or in which they have a controlling interest. I accept that the minister's announced separation of powers in April should have been such a direction redundant. With the two organisations separated, the ATSIC commissioners were by definition no longer making funding decisions. So why, then, was there the need for the direction? The minister has refused to rescind it, and I wonder why. As a result, a number of Indigenous organisations now face a cessation of their operations in less than two weeks, and their funding cannot be guaranteed beyond the end of the financial year. This is a totally unacceptable situation and may well be an unintended consequence of the decisions taken by the minister—nevertheless, it is real, and these organisations have done no wrong whatsoever. (Extension of time granted)

There are two other issues that I want to quickly ask the minister about. I am wondering about the legitimacy of the methods being employed to achieve the ATSIC-ATSIS split. There seems to be some dispute about the legality of the split. The prudent response would be to quickly examine ways in which a separation of powers might be achieved by internal means. Minister, what is your response to those doubts? The other issue concerns the substantial sums of program moneys that appear to have been transferred to cover a shortfall in funds for leave and other staff entitlements. I would like to know if that is correct and, if so, why. These are, after all, administrative costs, and it is outrageous, if it is true, that program moneys should be used for that purpose.