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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17095

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) (10:19 AM) —I thank the member for Lingiari for his interest in this matter, and I hope I can answer all the questions he has raised in the short time that I have. On the matter of leaks to the media, I know nothing, but they are serious issues and I believe some inquiries have been initiated by the CEO. In relation to whether these arrangements are temporary or permanent, the cabinet took the decision in relation to the ATSIC review when we undertook the separation of powers to ensure that we would not foreclose on the review, and we are happy to further consider any recommendations they make in relation to the matter.

In relation to the timing and the discussions, I had very extensive discussions with ATSIC commissioners and, in some cases, regional chairs. Some people recognise the importance of separation and implement it, and I refer particularly to Terry O'Shane's group around Cairns. They are not necessarily well disposed to me, but they saw the importance of addressing this issue and have addressed it. Others were delaying and are continuing to delay. You know the technique; people say, `If you just keep them going, it will get past the deadline and they will not be able to do anything with it.' It has happened a lot in this area, and that was attempted here. I came to a view that there was a deadline, I told them there was a deadline, they knew there was a deadline and they still could not agree amongst themselves. So what was done had to be done, and it occurred.

In relation to the role of the CEO, I have legal advice that the arrangements are consistent with those that have operated up until now. In relation to his particular role, I expect that over time you might well want to see more Indigenous involvement in the ATSIS arrangements. I have always had a longer term view that we should be growing people with the skills and developing the capacity to get people in who can do those jobs. However, at the moment I think Wayne Gibbons is an outstanding CEO and is able to do both tasks. Paying money out—you raised questions of moneys—to have two CEOs, for what in one case will clearly be a part-time job of servicing the commissioners, would not be an appropriate way to go, and I have said that to the commissioners. I think the role is appropriate.

In relation to policy staff, I am told that there are no specifically designated policy officers, but we have arranged to give staff—I will check the details of this—to commissioners to help them. They will be responsible to the commissioners and are part of the ATSIC funding. But in relation to policy generally, the expectation is that, through the ATSIC-ATSIS regime, government should be able to get policy on Indigenous people and issues. I do not think that it is possible to make that separation so policy can only be dealt with in that context.

You asked me about the conflict of interest determination and why I have not rescinded it. I have said in letters to the commissioners and others that it will be in place for 12 months. I left it in place because of the uncertainty that is developing around whether some people are going to try and litigate the separation of powers. My view was that, if I rescinded the conflict of interest and the separation of powers was found, contrary to our advice, to be flawed, I would be left with nothing. That is the reason that I was not prepared to do it. The clear legal advice available to us is that the arrangements are lawful and will withstand scrutiny. I understand that one of the commissioners has been out getting other advice. He has not shown it to me, so I do not know what issues are raised. But we believe that what we have done is lawful.

In relation to program arrangements being funded, I leave that to the administration but, if there are lawful obligations that have to be met, they have to be left within the ATSIC appropriations. From time to time, I am asked to sign off on shifts of money from one area to another. It seems to be part of the normal funding arrangements which occur from time to time. I hope I have fully dealt with the issues you raised.