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Monday, 9 May 1994
Page: 410

Senator ELLISON (3.05 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins), to a question without notice asked by Senator Ellison this day, relating to an alleged misappropriation of ATSIC funds.

At the outset, I stress the fact that this is not an ATSIC bashing exercise but an exercise which is bent on scrutinising what the Commonwealth has in place to make sure that money which is expended in relation to areas intended by the legislation is subject to scrutiny by the Australian Federal Police. Similar grants could be looked at in relation to the Australia Council, the Australian Film Commission, the grant in aid scheme in the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the migrant access projects scheme, and the migrant resource centre program. I believe there to be many more.

  The point I was making by that question was that sections 29B and 29C of the Crimes Act provide for a misrepresentation in an application for funding. That is very different from where the Commonwealth gives money to a public authority which, in turn, applies it to individuals or groups thereafter. The question is: what happens if that money is misapplied or misappropriated at that stage? I put it to the Senate that the position is indeed unclear. In Western Australia recently, the Director of Public Prosecutions has given advice to the Australian Federal Police that there are problems in this area, that the Australian Federal Police does not have any jurisdiction and that the only resort is to the criminal code of the relevant state—in this case, Western Australia, which is a code state.

  The unsatisfactory situation in Western Australia is that the state police are slow and hesitant to act because they are dealing with Commonwealth legislation. In fact, I put it to the Senate that the prosecution of the misappropriation of funds, particularly in the north-west of Western Australia, has been hampered by this deficiency. It may well be that in other areas of Commonwealth funding there has been this problem. That was the reason for my question.

  My question was not particularly related to just ATSIC; it was really relevant to a wide ambit of Commonwealth expenditure. Particularly when the budget is about to be announced this week and the taxpayers are going to see where their money is going, the government should give assurances to taxpayers that any misappropriation of funds is covered by legislation and that the Australian Federal Police have full power of investigation. That is really the thrust of my address to the Senate at this point.

  I can tell the Senate that this issue is one which I will investigate further because any flaw such as this should be taken to the limit, investigated and remedied. It is entirely unsatisfactory simply to say that the state police can investigate it. In the individual states the respective state police have their hands full enough administering the criminal law. I believe it is entirely inappropriate that the Australian Federal Police be hampered in any way by any deficiency in Commonwealth legislation. I therefore appeal to the minister to look into it and to take up the matter.