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Tuesday, 16 November 2004
Page: 87

Senator O'Brien asked the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, upon notice, on 4 June 2004:

With reference to the answer to question on notice no. 2587 (Senate Hansard, 29 March 2004, p. 22207) concerning Mr Brian Johnstone:

(1) (a) Why did the Minister preface the answer with the words “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS) has provided the following information in response to the honourable senator's question”; and (b) does the Minister accept responsibility for the accuracy of the information contained in the answer.

(2) (a) Why did the Minister fail to answer parts (1) (a) through to (d), (4), (6), (7) and (11); and (b) can the Minister now provide answers to these parts of the question.

(3) Is it correct that, notwithstanding the Minister's advice, under the Public Service Act Mr Johnstone's contract could not be extended beyond 31 March 2003, and that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) signed Mr Johnstone up to a new Australian workplace agreement with a June 2004 expiry date; if so: (a) why did ATSIC take such action; and (b) why did the Minister not disclose this information in the previous answer.

(4) (a) Who initiated the internal inquiry into Mr Johnstone's conduct; and (b) why was the internal inquiry initiated when no complaint had been received from the Minister, an ATSIC commissioner or any external source.

(5) (a) Which senior officers were involved in discussions about the code of conduct matter; and (b) what demonstrable technical expertise did each officer possess.

(6) (a) Was Mr Johnstone first advised of the non-renewal of his contract by hand-delivered letter on 18 December 2002; (b) was this letter delivered to his home in Queanbeyan; (c) which officer delivered this letter; and (d) on whose authority was it delivered.

(7) In relation to Mr Wayne Gibbons' role in filling the position of ATSIC Manager, National Media and Marketing: (a) on what date did Mr Gibbons become aware that the position needed to be filled; (b) on what date did Mr Gibbons first speak to Mr Brian Aarons about the position; (c) on what date was Mr Aarons identified for transfer to the position; (d) was Mr Gooda aware of negotiations with Mr Aarons about the position when he moved to suspend Mr Johnstone; and (e) on what basis was the decision made not to advertise the position.

(8) (a) Can the Minister confirm that Mr Johnstone was employed at the Senior Public Affairs Officer grade 1 (SPAO1) level; (b) is it the case that Mr Aarons was transferred to the media manager position at executive level 2 (EL2); and (c) is it correct that EL2 is ranked below the SPAO1 level; if so, how did the appointment represent an upgrading of the position, per Mr Gibbons' notice to staff, which was attached to the Minister's previous answer.

Senator Vanstone (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS) has provided the following information:

(1) (a) The answer was prefaced in this way as staff employed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) are engaged under the provisions of the Public Service Act 1999. Under the Public Service Act staffing matters in general are the responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer of the Agency, not the Minister.

(b) The information was provided by the CEO of ATSIS and the answer acknowledged his responsibility in relation to staffing matters.

(2) A detailed answer to matters surrounding this particular case was provided in the answer to Question 2587 on 29 March 2004.

(3) (a) Yes - however, the nominal expiry date of 30 June 2004 applied to all AWAs approved in early 2002. It should be noted that the AWA is not a contract of employment it is an instrument which specifies the remuneration arrangements and conditions of employment of the officer concerned. Mr Johnstone was employed as a non ongoing employee under the Public Service Act under a separate contract that expired on 31 March 2003. It is this contract which established his term of employment.

(b) The information provided previously is consistent in that Mr Johnstone's contract as a non ongoing employee expired on 31 March 2003.

(4) (a) The internal inquiry was initiated by the A/g CEO of ATSIC at the time, Mr Mick Gooda. Following this internal inquiry an investigation into a possible breach of the Code of Conduct was contracted to an independent investigator who provided a report on his findings to ATSIC. The Report was considered by the Deputy CEO of ATSIC (details of this were provided in the answer to Question 2587).

(b) It is not necessary for a complaint to be received from an external source in order to instigate an investigation. It is open for the CEO to at any time initiate an internal inquiry into matters where there is a suspected breach of the APS Code of Conduct by staff of the agency.

(5) (a) Only senior SES officers were involved in discussions about the matter.

(b) The officers concerned were all highly experienced senior APS staff at the SES level or equivalent. The investigation was handled externally by Mr Paddy Gourley, an individual well experienced in handling code of conduct matters.

(6) (a) Yes.

(b) Yes.

(c) An ATSIC employee, Ms Beverly Dunn, delivered the letter.

(d) The letter was signed and authorised by Ms Bronwyn Nimmo, Branch Manager, National People and Development Branch.

(7) The CEO of ATSIC has primary responsibility for staffing matters within the agency. It is a matter for the CEO to decide when, and under what circumstances, to advertise or fill any position. Details of the circumstances surrounding Mr Aaron's appointment were provided in the answer to Question 2587.

(8) (a) Yes.

(b) No - Mr Aarons was transferred at the SPAO2 level.

(c) It depends on the increment level but generally an EL2 would be ranked lower than the SPAO1. However, as indicated above, Mr Aarons was transferred at the SPAO2 level.