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Friday, 5 October 1984
Page: 1779


Mr TUCKEY —by leave-I commence my remarks on the Standing Committee on Expenditure report on the Aboriginal Development Commission by giving my congratulations in a general sense to the Chairman of the Expenditure Committee, the honourable member for Grayndler, Mr Leo McLeay. If I have a criticism of him it is his enthusiasm and the number of references he is prepared to take on at any one time. I admit to being one of the less energetic members of the Committee because I could not manage, with my other responsibilities, to keep up with all of them. The honourable member for Grayndler has shown a great enthusiasm for this particular inquiry. I congratulate him from the heart.

I took quite an interest in this inquiry because in the time of the previous Government I was a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. Also, I lived for 25 years in a community in which over one-third of the people were of Aboriginal descent. Contrary to some of the views held in this place, I have a great interest in what I consider to be practical solutions to the problems that exist for Aboriginal people. I use those words advisedly. Of course, it is also a fact that I disagree with many honourable members on both sides of the House as to how those solutions should be achieved.

In regard to the Committee report, the first recommendation is to the effect that the role of the Aboriginal Development Commission should be maintained and strengthened. I am a signatory to that recommendation. I think that was probably the question that was in the minds of many people prior to the commencement of this inquiry. Nevertheless, I still believe the Aboriginal Development Commission is under threat. As in many other operations, the institution gets mixed up with the operatives.

I am sure that the theory of the institution and the legislation under which it was formed are very good in the opinion of most people. However, if at any time people do not operate such an institution properly that institution will come under criticism and could be lost. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) made reference to public opinion in this regard. It is quite pointless hiding our heads in the sand when the difficulties are identified. If we do not react to them in the normal way it will be the institution that carries the odium. In this regard I was greatly concerned some time ago at the rumours of appointment of the then Chairman of the ADC, Mr Charles Perkins, to his present role as Secretary to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Consequently, on about 16 March I telexed the Minister. That telex read in part:

I wish to state that I consider this appointment--

I was referring to the rumoured appointment of Mr Perkins--

is inappropriate at this time in light of the pending inquiry by that Committee into the Aboriginal Development Commission. As Chairman of this Commission it is imperative that Mr Perkins represent the ADC in that role during the inquiry so that the inquiry is not thwarted by insufficient information and advice which Mr Perkins must provide and for which he must resume responsibility.

At no time during my attendance at the inquiry has Mr Perkins acted in a way that I find satisfactory. He has constantly attempted to misinform the Committee . He has demonstrated the most remarkable lack of memory I have encountered in any person of his seniority. It is a great shame that he has caused this Committee in its summary of recommendations to state:

The Committee will, in due course, prepare a more detailed report on the efficiency and effectiveness of the ADC, as well as a confidential report which will be made available to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. This confidential report will deal with information and allegations of a serious nature which have come to the Committee's attention during the inquiry but which are generally peripheral to its terms of reference.

Paragraph 1.10 states:

A number of other matters brought to the attention of the Committee have involved serious allegations of mal-administration which in some instances may lead to criminal prosecution.

I do not believe that Mr Perkins assisted us in any way that may have saved us making that recommendation. It is quite disgraceful. My concerns, as expressed to the Minister, have materialised. I am highly critical of the man and of what I believe to be his effect on the reputation of that institution. I will not go further than that, but I urge the Minister not to wait for the final report. It is my understanding that the staff of the Committee, busy as they are, will not be able to finish it in the life of this Parliament. The Minister has an obligation to acquaint himself with the information and take some steps in the interests of the ADC and its present management, which I agree, on the evidence presented to date at least, is attempting to overcome many of the problems that have been visited on it and for which I blame the past Chairman.

I dissented from recommendation 14, and I hope that it is some evidence of my support for the people running the Commission now. The recommendation in clause 14 is that the majority of persons employed by the Commission should be employed under the Commonwealth Public Service Act, with provision for employing a smaller number, say 20 to 30 per cent, outside the provisions of the Act. That recommendation is there in part because of the concern of other members about the administration of the old ADC and their belief that perhaps the constraints of the Public Service employment regime may have stopped some of those things occurring, if they did occur. I stress that they were allegations. I do not believe that will be the case. I believe it totally abrogates the real thrust of the ADC Act, which was to give some power and responsibility to Aboriginal people. In so doing, a responsibility was placed upon the Minister and his advisers-that group of people already employed under the Public Service Act in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. It is totally unnecessary to introduce the Public Service Board. Further, I believe it would be totally unworkable to have 70 per cent of that group in that position.

Another criticism was that the promotion system could be haywire under the present arrangements, and I believe that would be so. The office boy could become director overnight if the Aboriginal commissioners so decided. It is fairly unlikely that they would, but if the office boy is one of the 20 per cent not subject to Public Service Board conditions, I presume that he can still be promoted to director overnight if the commissioners so decide. The sorts of problems that Public Service Board employment arrangements would raise would not be overcome. I think it would be much better if the Minister and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs took steps to ensure that the commissioners and others are competent, are doing their jobs, and are employing the right people. I am of the opinion that Public Service Board employment background is not suitable for the vision I have for the ADC. If I can make the comparison, the ADC to my mind has a merchant banking role for Aboriginal people. The type of expertise that is required does not necessarily reside in the Public Service to the extent that it does in the private sector.

Another thought I have is that as the ADC arranges its affairs and does business with other financial institutions, it could by using polite influence, create work opportunities for young Aboriginal people outside the ADC. I do not want to take any more of the time of the House today. I am pleased with the recommendations, with the exception of the one I have mentioned. Responsibility for past actions of the ADC rests with numerous Ministers and two governments. It is up to this Government, because of its present responsibility, to deal with it promptly and satisfy the Australian people that the institution can give the service it is intended to give.