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Friday, 5 October 1984
Page: 1781

Mr BALDWIN —by leave-Initially the inquiry conducted by the Standing Committee on Expenditure attracted a great deal of unfavourable publicity. There was a lot of speculation surrounding one of the terms of reference of the inquiry which seemed to suggest that what was being looked at was the very principle of an autonomous Aboriginal organisation involved in the disbursement of funds for housing, land acquisitions and enterprise programs. I am pleased to say that, very early in the proceedings of the inquiry, that position was clarified by the issuing of a statement which made it perfectly clear that the Committee accepted the desirability of an autonomous Aboriginal body continuing to exist and having overriding responsibility in this area.

I think it is also true to say that there was a lot of speculation in the first instance that the purpose of the inquiry was to nail certain individuals or to investigate certain allegations of corruption. Some of the statements that have been made, I think by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) today, seemed to give substance to the claim that some people involved in the inquiry had that objective but it certainly was not the view of the Committee as a whole or the bulk of its members. I believe that the ultimate outcome of the inquiry was very constructive. I think that fact is acknowledged by both past and present officers of the Aboriginal Development Commission.

I could talk about a range of matters concerning the recommendations that have been made but will refer to only a few of them. Section 33 (1) of the Aboriginal Development Commission Act was considered by the Committee in some detail. On the face of it, it appears to give the ADC the capacity to employ such people as are required to fulfill its objectives. In other words, it seems to override any possible staff ceilings that might be imposed or preclude the possibility of such staff ceilings. One of our recommendations is that clarification be sought from the Government of the degree to which the ADC is subject to regulation of its staffing levels by the Government. The staff ceiling notion is no longer applicable but the broad question of the regulation of staff levels is.

Another facet to which we gave some attention was the whole issue of the integration of the training role into the enterprise program. It certainly seems to be the case that those enterprises that have failed-a considerable number of them have failed-have done so as a consequence of inadequacy in terms of training. By that I mean inadequate skills on the part of those who had the responsibility of carrying out or administering and running those programs. We recommended that consideration be given to building in a very explicit training role in regard to every enterprise program under consideration.

In regard to the housing program, there was some complaint that people with incomes substantially in excess of average weekly earnings were gaining housing loans with concessional interest rates. We have made a recommendation that the interest rates charge be linked to bank interest rates and also that the availability of concessional interest rates be made subject to some form of means testing. That again will certainly diffuse a lot of the criticism about the way in which these loans are being dispersed.

I refer also to the proposal that the bulk of the ADC's employees he brought under the ambit of the Public Service Act. That recommendation was dissented from by the honourable member for O'Connor. I do not believe that he has begun to adduce any coherent reasons for resisting that recommendation. The fact is that he claims it would serve to vitiate the autonomy of the ADC. That is an interesting sort of complaint coming from good old iron bar Tuckey. But the fact is that ADC officers themselves confirmed the obvious view that the autonomy of the ADC is primarily embodied in the power of the commissioners to make broad policy decisions about how funds are to be dispersed. The fact that most of the staff of the ADC would be brought under the ambit of the Public Service Act does not in any significant way reduce the autonomy of that body in the areas that generally matter. Wilson Tuckey also referred--

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Sydney knows the proper way of referring to another member of the House. I assume that he is referring to the honourable member for O'Connor.

Mr BALDWIN —Yes, Mr Speaker, that is correct. The honourable member for O'Connor also made reference to a merchant bank analogy as far as the ADC is concerned. In some ways I guess that such an analogy exists but there are also obviously very significant points of difference between what the ADC, in its enterprise program, is seeking to do and the way in which a merchant bank would operate. There are very major and obvious differences. The ADC is seeking to achieve a range of social rather than commercial objectives. It is obvious that the ADC is not in the business of solely extracting the maximum rate of return from enterprise projects it might fund. It is actually seeking to achieve a range of social objectives. In any case, if it is believed that it is desirable to bring in outside expertise, people from outside the Public Service who might have some business acumen considered desirable to the ADC's enterprise program, the recommendation that has been made clearly makes room for that. It states that 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the employees of the ADC would be outside the Public Service Act. That is just an indicative figure. It could be higher if it was deemed to be desirable.

The object of that recommendation is to make available to the ADC a greater range of expertise from within the Public Service than it currently has access to. The problem that we have had is that people who transfer from the Public Service to the ADC and subsequently gain promotion within the ADC cannot be transferred back into the mainstream Public Service with those promotions. Clearly, that acts as a significant disincentive to people wanting to do that. It clearly restricts the ability of the ADC to gain access to such expertise as exists in the Public Service.

I do not believe that any significant weight can be attached to the objections of the honourable member for O'Connor. I notice in his minority report that he refers to the risk that the capacity to employ people outside the Public Service Act would 'create the possibility of making selective appointments from outside the Public Service'. Surely to goodness, if that is a legitimate complaint, placing the whole of the staff of the ADC outside the Public Service Act would merely serve to exacerbate that problem, if indeed it is one. I conclude on that note. I again join with earlier speakers in congratulating the secretariat and all those who had a role in the preparation of this interim report.