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Wednesday, 15 May 1985
Page: 2013

Senator REYNOLDS(5.22) —by leave-I move:

That the following matter be referred to Estimates Committee D for report on or before Tuesday 28 May 1985: The processes involved in the appearance of witnesses before, and the presentation of information to, Estimates Committee D by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the National Aboriginal Conference during its consideration of the proposed additional expenditure for 1984-85.

In moving this motion I wish to draw the Senate's attention to a number of aspects raised in the report of Estimates Committee D. During its examination of the Additional Estimates of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs on 23 April, the Committee considered the Auditor-General's report of the National Aboriginal Conference. However, unlike previous Committee hearings, the Conference was not represented, and questions relating to it were handled by the Department. In its written replies to the Committee, the Department indicated that certain questions taken on notice at the hearings had been referred to the National Aboriginal Conference for reply and noted that as from 29 April its officers working in the NAC had been locked out.

The Committee then approached the Conference directly and was informed that it was preparing replies to outstanding questions and would welcome an opportunity to appear before the Committee. The Committee sought, and was granted by the Senate, an extension of time to report. The NAC subsequently appeared before the Committee on 14 May.

On the information available to the Committee it is concerned that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs apparently decided not to inform the National Aboriginal Conference of the impending Estimates hearings, thereby preventing the Committee from having access to relevant and informed witnesses. The Committee also finds it difficult, on the evidence before it, to accept the Department's implication that the lockout of its officers by the NAC prevented information from being provided to the Committee. This lockout occurred six days after the Committee's hearings and the National Aboriginal Conference has since asserted, before the Committee, that access to its relevant files would have been given to Department officers.

The Committee is of the opinion that the actions of the Department raise an important principle concerning the processes involved with the attendance of witnesses before Estimates committees and the presentation of information to committees. The Committee believes that with such an important principle having been raised and not satisfactorily resolved, the further examination of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is required. The motion I have just moved has the full support of the Committee.

I commend the motion to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.