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Senate clears NT Government.

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RN PM Senate clears NT Government


Senate clears NT Government

PM - Thursday, 4 December , 2008 18:38:00

Reporter: Sarah Hawke

MARK COLVIN: A Senate Inquiry has effectively cleared the Northern Territory Government of allegations that it misspent billions of dollars in federal grants intended for Indigenous affairs.

The Inquiry examined claims that successive Territory governments had failed to allocate money from the Commonwealth Grants Commission properly.

The Greens and Coalition senators on the inquiry weren't satisfied. They argue that the dire state of Indigenous affairs shows that funding is failing to reach those who need it.

Sarah Hawke reports.

SARAH HAWKE: The Northern Territory Government's taken a battering over the last 18 months on Indigenous affairs.

A report on the level of abuse and violence saw the Commonwealth take control of 73 communities.

Then in July a former bureaucrat calculated the Government had underspent billions of dollars in federal grants.

Barry Hansen, who's now the NT Council of Social Services president, was concerned underspending had inflamed the dysfunction in some communities that led to the intervention.

The Senate agreed to a Coalition push to examine the claims. Today the inquiry handed down its findings. Labor Senator Trish Crossin.

TRISH CROSSIN: Well the Northern Territory Government should never have been under scrutiny essentially and no other State or Territory government has been called to account like this by a Senate Committee and I think what it proves is that Senator Scullion was on a political witch-hunt prior to the last Northern Territory election.

SARAH HAWKE: By the same token the report does identify the need for some greater accountability in reporting does it not?

TRISH CROSSIN: I think what the report shows is that there has been no evidence of underspending. Certainly there may well be suggestions that better reporting could occur, but it also says that it recognises that that is happening through the COAG process. That in December of last year, COAG actually initiated a programme to provide clearer targets against which progress can be measured and to actually report through COAG.

SARAH HAWKE: The Greens and Coalition senators involved in the Inquiry aren't convinced.

They've issued dissenting reports which effectively say that despite what's been put forward, the results on the ground are poor.

Senator Rachel Siewert says the Labor dominated inquiry was weak.

RACHEL SIEWERT: The Northern Territory Government to my mind weren't very clear in their evidence to the inquiry as to how they account for the expenditure for a start and there was a whole lot of things that were put down against Aboriginal expenditure that we didn't think necessarily should be there.

SARAH HAWKE: And what would be an example that you think showed that?

RACHEL SIEWERT: Well, a classic for us was that you write off the expenses of Parliament House against Indigenous expenditure.

SARAH HAWKE: That being on the basis that Parliament House represents a certain amount of Indigenous people in the Territory.

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RACHEL SIEWERT: Exactly. And that's the one I can think of off the top of my head that stuck out for me.

You know we are really trying to deal with very significant issues of disadvantage here and I don't think the Senate inquiry was able to fully tease out where that funding was then being delivered.

SARAH HAWKE: The Territory's Labor Government has always maintained its commitment to improving Indigenous affairs. The Chief Minister Paul Henderson.

PAUL HENDERSON: We've all got to work hard to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage and that's what I'm absolutely committed to do as Chief Minister.

Certainly at COAG just last weekend there was more funding to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

The Australian Government in their next budget will be fully responding to the review of the intervention.

SARAH HAWKE: The man who sparked the inquiry Barry Hansen says his concerns have been upheld.

BARRY HANSEN: They're calling for transparency, they're calling for definitions of responsibility, they're calling for thorough analysis. They refer to government failures at all levels. And this is the majority report, the NT Government's colleagues.

SARAH HAWKE: Do you think we will see some change happening there?

BARRY HANSEN: I would certainly hope so, I would certainly hope so. Because much of the report dwells on the massive backlog of services in the Indigenous communities.

MARK COLVIN: The president of the Northern Territory Council of Social Services Barry Hansen ending Sarah Hawke's report.

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