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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2265

Senator KILGARIFF(8.31) —Before the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) replies, I wish briefly to express my concern at this whole situation. Although I have no particular brief for the National Aboriginal Conference, its structure or make-up, I believe that it had very good intentions but that the organisation did not really represent the Aboriginal people whom I know, that is, the traditional owners in the outback of Australia. Like Senator Baume, I have very real concerns now about what is going on with the NAC. As I understand it, the NAC had problems and it asked the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Government for assistance with its accountancy and other matters. The NAC took the initial action and requested that the Auditor-General review its operations. Indeed, it went further and, because of its concerns that something was wrong within its administration, it requested the Australian Federal Police to look into its situation. This has not been refuted. But what appears to have happened is that despite that request from the NAC, the Auditor-General has made a very severe criticism of the administration of the NAC and as a result the NAC people are being labelled because of the discrepancies that have been discovered. It should be remembered that it was the NAC people, the Aboriginal people, who asked for someone in authority to help them.

I want to know what will happen now. Most people here tonight, if they have some interest in Aboriginal affairs, will know the executive and the senior Aboriginal people within the NAC. If they know these people, they will have some respect for these people. Yet we have this peculiar situation, this sort of cover up. The old Aboriginal people have endeavoured to do the right thing for the Aboriginal people. They invited the Federal Police and the Auditor-General to investigate their activities. They said: 'Please tell us what is going on. If there is something wrong, please correct it'. But now, as I see it, the Government is taking these people to task. Why take to task these people who have endeavoured to correct the situation? As I said, it was the NAC people who asked the Government for expert assistance with accountancy. That seems to be where something went wrong. But if someone is at fault, we should not lay the blame on the Aboriginals and the executive of the NAC. We should look to the Federal Government, to DAA and to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding), and ask them to tell us why they did not take action to assist these people when they asked for it. If there is to be an inquiry, let it go beyond the inquiry into the NAC by the Federal Police and the Auditor-General; let us look into the administration of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and his Department.