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Qld Govt Indigenous funding falls short by $1 -

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Qld Govt Indigenous funding falls short by $12m: report

The World Today - Thursday, 13 November , 2008 12:34:00

ELEANOR HALL: Now to Queensland where a leaked Government report reveals that the State Government
has been underfunding Aboriginal councils to the tune of $12-million.

Some Indigenous leaders say their councils have been forced to rely on alcohol sales to make up the
difference and enable them to pay for essential services and they're opposing the Government's
plans to remove the liquor licenses.

They say that the leaked Government-commissioned report confirms that they've been set up to fail.

But the State Government insists that it does provide appropriate funding and argues that the
leaked report paints an incomplete picture of the situation.

In Brisbane, Annie Guest reports:

ANNIE GUEST: Aboriginal councils have long suspected the two year old report confirms their claims
about underfunding. But the Minister for Local Government, Warren Pitt explains that the
Government-commissioned report is confidential.

WARREN PITT: It was a matter of financial discussion in Cabinet and documents of that nature go to
Cabinet and they are covered under that process.

ANNIE GUEST: The parliamentary bells warned him of Question Time and possibly another opportunity
to talk about the now leaked review of funding of Indigenous councils.

The coordinator of the Regional Organisation of Councils of Cape York, Kym Jerome scored a copy of
the report this morning. She says it shows a $12-million shortfall.

KYM JEROME: Major finding was that these Indigenous councils are underfunded. Currently, at that
point is, was then at $24.6-million and it was determined that $36.8-million was required.

ANNIE GUEST: The Minister doesn't deny the figures, but argues funding also comes from other areas
of government.

WARREN PITT: The report paints an incomplete picture. It concentrates on the State Government
financial assistance grants. Those assistance grants are very important components for councils but
we also support councils in many other ways on top of the SGFA. Now that combined package has gone
from $27.7-million up to $49.8-million which is an increase of 40 per cent.

ANNIE GUEST: Do you think the State Government is giving councils the appropriate amount of
funding?

WARREN PITT: I think we are and I think that I do think that as time unfolds, we will find out what
the efficiencies are through the programs we've got in place to assist councils to better operate
themselves and if there are further shortfalls, that is a matter that will have to be addressed
into the future.

ANNIE GUEST: Kym Jerome acknowledges there may be other money for Aboriginal communities, but she
says the 11 Cape York councils don't see it.

KYM JEROME: Well, council doesn't always get that funding. That funding is run by those
departments. It doesn't come into council coffers in most cases.

ANNIE GUEST: One council struggling to balance the books is Aurukun. It claims it is not
compensated for its low rate base, or the additional social services that mainstream councils don't
have to provide.

Aurukun is fighting a legal battle against the Government to keep its revenue-producing alcohol
license. The chief executive John Bensch says there's not enough money for basic maintenance.

JOHN BENSCH: Government is giving us, unfortunately, just enough money to fail. The amount we get
at the moment is 1.1. We need at least $4-million to take care of all the services.

ANNIE GUEST: What sort of effect have alcohol restrictions had on the council's bottom line?

JOHN BENSCH: It is really major because there is lot of conditions been imposed upon councils so
previous we determined to contribute to expenses of the communities so the profit we had on the
tavern, we actually ploughed back into the community.

ANNIE GUEST: Over the years there have been concerns in some councils about misappropriated funds
or mismanagement of funds. Can you see that some people might think it is a good thing to restrict
funding to Aboriginal councils?

JOHN BENSCH: Er, I can see that there is the possibility of that but that again, it is all about
lack of funding. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

ANNIE GUEST: From next year, the council will receive half a million dollars in compensation, if it
drops its fight to keep its liquor license. The Minister Warren Pitt says Aurukun Council must be
audited if it's close to bankruptcy.

WARREN PITT: It is easy to make a claim but they have to be justified.

ANNIE GUEST: The councils are hoping to discuss the report with the State Government.

ELEANOR HALL: Annie Guest reporting from Brisbane.