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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1754

Senator KILGARIFF —I direct a question to the Acting Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Having in mind that it was the National Aboriginal Conference which requested the Auditor-General and the Australian Federal Police to investigate problems it saw within the administration of the NAC, and also the fact that the organisation requested trained accounting staff, what personal efforts did she or Mr Holding make to resolve the difficulties of the National Aboriginal Conference before she decided to freeze the NAC's funds on 30 April?

Senator RYAN —I must start by answering the last part of Senator Kilgariff's question and say that there has been no freezing of funds going to the NAC. I think it was on the second or third day that I was acting in Mr Holding's place that I was able to approve the release of funds to the NAC for a number of purposes.

Senator Chaney —You froze them on the first day, did you?

Senator RYAN —There was no freezing of funds, as Senator Chaney's irrelevant interjection causes me to repeat. A release of funds was made on advice from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to meet a number of purposes. One of those purposes was the holding of the conference which is currently being held. Another of those purposes was to enable the NAC to employ a journalist of its choice to work for the NAC until the end of the life of the organisation. There has been no freezing of funds in respect of wages. In fact, last night I had a very successful meeting with unions representing employees of the NAC, the NAC and officers from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Arrangements had been made so that wages are being paid and will be paid, so there has been no freezing of funds.

What there has been, as a result of the agency arrangements, are certain requirements whereby DAA officers must have access to certain relevant information before it can be agreed that funds can be paid. There was a disagreement between the NAC and the DAA as to interpretation of the terms of the agency agreement. Because of that disagreement there was a time in which funds for particular purposes were not approved. However, the matter has come much closer to resolution. As I said, funds have been approved by me for a number of purposes and wages have been and are being paid. For example, last night I approved a further release of funds for the holding of State level meetings in relation to the NAC. The advice I had last night was that the necessary information for DAA officers to be able to release certain funds was now able to be gained by them under new arrangements agreed to by the NAC and DAA officers. So the situation has been substantially resolved.

I express my hope that the NAC, in its last period in office, will be able to wind up its affairs satisfactorily without any further disagreement. Certainly the meeting last night was very harmonious. I attended a further meeting with NAC representatives today. It seems to me that whatever disagreements there may have been about the terms of the agency agreement, they have been substantially overcome at this point.