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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1301

Senator REYNOLDS —My question is to the Minister for Finance. Has he made any progress in standardising public accountability procedures between Federal and State governments? In particular, what steps has the Minister taken to deal with ongoing allegations of impropriety in the Queensland Government's financial management of Federal funds, as accountability cannot be monitored in Queensland because there is no public accounts committee or freedom of information legislation? Can the Minister investigate the current scandal relating to a secret Queensland Public Service Board report alleging the deliberate overstating of the numbers of homes built under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement? Furthermore, will the Minister insist on proper accountability procedures at the forthcoming Premiers Conference, before allocating Queensland's State grants?

Senator WALSH —In relation to the last part of the question-that is, the scandal concerning the allocation of CSHA funds-I heard on the news this morning that Mr West has already initiated an inquiry into that. Naturally, the Department of Finance will do everything it can to assist in that inquiry. In relation to the other questions, about any progress in standardising public accountability between Federal and State governments, as far as I know no progress has been made with Queensland. Indeed, I would be very surprised if any progress could be made with Queensland in doing anything like that, because the Queensland Government's attitude is that it does not want to be held publicly accountable for money and, far from being interested in standardisation and revelation, I believe that it is much more interested in concealment. I will ask officers of the Department whether any progress has been made recently of which I am not aware. I would be surprised if there had been any, particularly in relation to Queensland.

I was asked what steps I had taken to deal with the misuse of Commonwealth funds in other areas. There is one area of Commonwealth funding which comes directly under my administrative control, and that is the national disaster relief arrangements. There was yet another scandal in Queensland towards the end of last year when the National Party's north Queensland organiser, Mr Behan, received a loan of $145,000 at a highly concessional interest rate, notwithstanding the fact that the responsible administrative body in Queensland had recommended against the loan being granted. One of the conditions laid down in the Commonwealth guidelines under which loans of that type are granted is that the farmers who receive them must be assessed as being viable. Since then, and notwithstanding the fact that the beef industry if not going through a boom at the moment is at least relatively prosperous, particularly in the north, Mr Behan's farm had been offered for sale because of, I understand, the insolvency of the proprietor. I will be taking whatever steps I can to ensure that the Commonwealth taxpayer provided component of that $145,000 loan, which is a bit over $80,000 will be returned to the Commonwealth before it disappears into the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation or follows Alan Bond's $400,000 into Petersen's back pocket.