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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 82

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) (3:12 PM) —I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard an answer to a question Senator O’Brien asked me during question time on 1 April 2004.

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows—

Senator O’Brien asked the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, during question time on 1 April 2004, the following questions which were taken on notice by Senator Vanstone:

Can the Minister confirm that her Indigenous affairs agency, ATSIS, has withheld $640,000 of vital infrastructure funding to the homelands in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara lands during the current financial year? Can the Minister confirm that this funding was withheld while a review of capital works projects was undertaken, denying homeland communities essential services during the hottest months of the year? Is it the case that the review was completed in January this year, and in fact made favourable findings about the capital works program, yet that funding continues to be withheld? Minister, why do you continue to withhold funding for essential water and power works in the AP lands, thus denying some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia access to basic services?

Senator Vanstone: The Office of Indigenous Policy Co-ordination has provided the following information in response to the honourable Senator’s question:

There was a delay in providing ATSIS funding in 2003/2004 for this purpose which ATSIS advises was due to the lack of co-operation by Anangu Pitjantjatjara in the conduct of a regional energy plan which it had agreed to originally but then changed its position. However, no homelands were denied services at any stage including in summer. Moreover, at no stage did I withhold funding for this purpose. The sequence of events in relation to this matter is as follows:

  • In 2003-04 ATSIS allocated $800,000 for power and water projects on homelands in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands (APY lands).
  • On 29 August 2003, the first tranche of that $800,000, an amount of $80,000 was released to Anangu Pitjantjatjara (AP) for emergency power and water repairs and maintenance. The balance of funds was held pending the preparation of an energy plan for the Pt Augusta region (including the APY lands), which had been endorsed by the ATSIC Regional Council to ensure that the areas of greatest need were addressed with the limited ATSIS funding.
  • Although agreeing to the energy plan in April 2003, AP changed its position and decided not to co-operate with ATSIS or Bushlight (the consultants contracted to prepare the plan).
  • On 24 November 2003 the CEO of ATSIS and the Secretary of Health and Ageing, the AP Lands COAG lead agency, met with AR it was agreed that the energy plan would proceed. At this meeting AP was also advised that funds would not be released until the plan was complete and that funding would go to Anangu Pitjantjatjara Services (AP Services) under contract. AP Services are the service delivery arm of AP.
  • Visits to homelands for the purposes of preparing the plan commenced in December 2003. Additional funds were offered to AP so that their staff could accompany Bushlight on the visits. The final report was presented to ATSIS, AP and AP Services in early February 2004.
  • To enable a contract to be prepared, ATSIS wrote on 20 February 2004, to the Chairperson of AP Services, requesting detailed costings for priorities highlighted in the plan.
  • As no response to the request was forthcoming, despite a number of contacts being made with the organisation, on 19 March 2004 a meeting was held between ATSIS and AP Services staff to discuss the lack of progress.
  • At this meeting, ATSIS was informed that the AP Services Chairperson, Mr Murray George, who is also a member of the AP Executive, had instructed his staff not to co-operate with ATSIS until he gave them permission.
  • As a result of the delay in obtaining detailed castings and the announcement by the SA State Government on 15 March regarding the appointment of an Administrator for AP, ATSIS made the decision to explore other options for the-delivery of these services to the AP Lands.
  • A decision was made, given the lack of co-operation, to engage the services of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (NAHS) Program Manager, Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB), to oversight and manage the entire project, including finances and on the ground delivery of the services.
  • Funds were, however, still offered to AP Services under Contracted Program Manager Terms and Conditions on 23 April 2004.
  • Funding was released in full to PB in May and works then commenced. It is expected that all of the funding will be expended by 31 October 2004.
  • It should be noted that at 30 June 2003, AP Services had unexpended funds of $531,000, from the previous financial year for power and water services on homelands. Those funds were available and were spent up until AP Services accepted the contract on 23 April 2004. Additional funding was also provided for emergencies and ATSIS is not aware that any homeland did not have access to services while the funding issues discussed above were resolved.