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Thursday, 4 June 1987
Page: 4066

(Question No. 5329)


Mr Connolly asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 1 May 1987:

(1) Who authorised the restructuring of the QEB Legal Service and why is it taking place.

(2) Did the Secretary of his Department instruct the Director of his Department in Queensland not to proceed with any restructuring.

(3) Are officers of his Department being investigated under subsection 61 (2) of the Public Service Act; if so, what are the alleged offences.

(4) Has the Charleville Aboriginal Housing Company taken out a writ of defamation against officers of his Department for allegedly making false allegations to the police.

(5) Has his Department examined the affairs of the Cherbourg Council, and has his attention been drawn to allegations that the Council has a deficit of $75,000.

(6) Have funds from the Aboriginal Legal Service been transferred to the Cherbourg Council.

(7) What other funds have been provided by his Department to the Cherbourg Council.

(8) What action will be taken to overcome the alleged deficit.

(9) What funds have been provided through his Department or the Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC) to the Toowoomba Housing Cooperative.

(10) Were funds misappropriated from the Cooperative in 1984-85.

(11) What action has been taken to investigate this matter and what have been the results.

(12) Is the Cooperative still receiving funding from his Department or the ADC; if so, why.

(13) Why is the Charleville Aboriginal Housing Company under investigation.

(14) Has the ADC stopped funding the company.

(15) Has an investigation been made of the Charleville Aboriginal Housing Company's auditors' reports and do these reports show that there were misappropriations of funds.

(16) Did Commissioners of the ADC, following a meeting with Mr R. Robinson in Canberra earlier in 1987, recommend that funds be released to the Charleville Aboriginal Housing Company.

(17) Has his attention been drawn to the refusal of the ADC to sign over a property of the Community Centre in Charleville to the Charleville Aboriginal Housing Company, and that the company has spent approximately $60,000 in renovations and rates for approximately 4 years.


Mr Holding —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) The restructuring of the QEB Legal Service was approved by the Queensland State Director of my Department after discussion with other senior Departmental staff. The restructuring responded to widespread community demands expressed over a lengthy period of time.

(2) No.

(3) On 15 December 1986, solicitors for Mr R. Robinson wrote to several Commonwealth authorities alleging improper actions by the Director of the Queensland Office and the Regional manager of the Roma Office of my Department. These matters were investigated under the procedures laid down by s. 61 of the Public Service Act. The allegations were found to be entirely without substance. Had the honourable member approached me before placing this part of his question on notice and thereby allowing the reputations of officers to be impugned by implication, I would have been prepared to provide to him a copy of the investigation report. I am still prepared to provide one to him, should he seek it, for his personal information.

(4) One writ for defamation has been taken out against the Queensland State Director of my Department by the Charleville Housing Company and Mr R. Robinson. The writ does not specify the basis for the action, so it would seem that the honourable member may have information so far denied to the defendant. This action will be defended.

The honourable member will know, from a letter I wrote to him on 12 March 1987, that the unsatisfactory state of affairs of certain Aboriginal organisations in Charleville has been of concern to my Department for some time. He will recall that I told him also that a number of police charges had been laid and that investigations were continuing. That remains the position.

(5) My Department is aware of rumours concerning the operations of the Cherbourg Canteen. As no Commonwealth funds are involved and all funds provided by my Department to the Cherbourg Council have been satisfactorily accounted for, the rumours are not matters requiring attention by my Department.

(6) On 20 March 1987, $6,470 was approved for reallocation from 1986/87 allocation of funds for the QEB Legal Service to allow the employment of a field officer by the Cherbourg Council.

(7) Other funds provided by my Department to the Cherbourg Aboriginal Council for 1986/87 are as follows:

$

Operating Subsidy of Council...

167,700

Employ Community Worker...

25,500

Sports Grant-Cherbourg Police Citizens Youth Club...

650

Purchase Plant & Equipment...

35,000

Training for Council Staff...

7,500

(8) See reply to (5) above.

(9) I take it that this question refers to the Downs Aboriginal and Islander Housing Company Limited, of Toowoomba. Funds provided to the Company by my Department for 1986/87 are as follows:

$

Operating Costs of Community Centre...

42,000

Employ Community Worker...

30,000

Sports Grant-Gary Martin...

120

Employ Legal Service Field Officer...

6,720

Sports Grant-Qld. All Blacks Golf...

1,000

Employ Youth Worker...

6,720

The ADC has provided that Company with the following funds:

Year

Sum

Purpose

$

1986-87

593,392

Purchase of Alma Vale property as a social facility and associated costs;

194,456

Administration and acquisition of housing;

1985-86

20,139

Administration and acquisition of housing;

1984-85

46,087

Administration and acquisition of housing;

1983-84

47,083

Administration and acquisition of housing;

1982-83

. .

. .

(10) On 31 December 1986, Mr R. L. Robinson, Chairman of the Charleville Aboriginal Housing Company, published an allegation that the ``Toowoomba Aboriginal Housing Company'' had misappropriated $7,000. His claim made it clear that he was in fact referring to Downs Aboriginal and Islander Company Limited of Toowoomba.

Mr Robinson has never produced any evidence to my Department or to the ADC in support of his allegation.

The audited Annual Financial Statements for 1984/85 as provided by my Department did not disclose misappropriation as alleged by Mr Robinson. However, the 1984/85 audit did reveal some discrepancies, resulting in all Departmental funds now being provided through an accountant's trust account.

(11) I am informed that the ADC has undertaken normal examination of audited financial statements for the Downs Aboriginal and Islander Company Limited in respect of the financial years 1983/84, 1984/85 and 1985/86 as well as such financial statements (unaudited) as are available for 1986/87. None of these disclosed theft or misappropriation of the kind alleged by Mr Robinson.

Although the auditors have been consistently critical of the Company's standards of accounting, they have not made any suggestions of misappropriation. Company standards of accounting are of concern and the Company has been informed of ADC expectations for improvement in this area.

The ADC also informed the Company of allegations made by Mr Robinson and asked that it undertake an inquiry and advise of any improper use of its funds. The Company is understood to be undertaking this inquiry with the assistance of their accountants.

The ADC has also written to the Company advising that any matters involving misappropriation of monies ought to be referred to the Police for detailed investigation. The Company has also been advised to have a separate, independent audit of its books of account conducted.

The Company has also been informed that the ADC, as a principal funding body, would expect to be fully informed of the results of such investigations and that future funding by the ADC will be heavily dependent on their outcome.

My Department would likewise expect such action to be taken and such standards to be observed.

(12) The Commission has approved funding for 1986/87 as indicated in response to part (9) of Question No. 5329 and the balance of these funds were released to the Downs Aboriginal and Islander Company Limited in April 1987.

I am informed that further funds will not be released directly to the Company by the ADC until it has satisfactorily acquitted funds provided by the ADC in 1986/87, demonstrated improved administration of and accounting for its funds, and provided explanations regarding any misuse and recovery of monies to the satisfaction of the ADC. These are normal Commission requirements applying to all Aboriginal housing organisations.

The Company has already indicated improvement in the area of administration and accounting. It is expected to respond to other ADC requirements prior to 30 September 1987. The Company has recently held its Annual General Meeting at which members elected an almost entirely new Board. I am advised that the latter is expected to promote further administrative improvement.

(13) The Charleville Housing Company was the subject of a detailed financial investigation by Departmental officers. Their report was subsequently referred to the police and investigations are continuing.

The honourable member would be well aware of these actions from my letter to him of 12 March 1987. Had the honourable member approached me before placing this part of his question on notice, I would have been prepared to give him access to the officials' report. I would be prepared to provide this document to him for his personal information, should he seek it.

(14) I am informed the Commission has neither offered nor released funds to the Company during the past 12 months and does not intend doing so until it is satisfied as to the ability of the Company to:

(a) account for public funds, including those provided by the ADC;

(b) abide by ADC terms and conditions of grant funding;

(c) respond to audit queries to the satisfaction of the ADC;

(d) conduct its affairs in a lawful and responsible manner; and

(e) comply with ADC expectations in relation to its operations.

The ADC tells me that it is most concerned by the irresponsible manner in which the affairs of the Company have been conducted while Mr Robinson has been in office. Rental arrears have increased by 239% over the past 2 years and, at 30 June 1986, apparently stood at $11,963 but may be considerably higher. There are no records of any Board meetings having been held in 1985/86 or that the Board has deliberated on Company administration.

With regard to its 1985/86 accounting responsibilities, the Company has failed to provide the ADC with an adequate audited:

Income and Expenditure statement;

Balance Sheet;

detailed list of Debtors and Creditors;

certified accurate Assets Ledger; and

certified accurate Insurance Schedule.

ADC grant funding has not been recorded in the Statement nor are there reliable records to show how those funds were used. The ADC will not provide further funds to the Company until all previously provided monies have been accounted for and the Commission has been so advised.

(15) Yes. An investigation has been made which discloses evidence of extensive misappropriation, forgery of cheques as well as theft and misuse of funds. The audit reports and subsequent inquiries indicate gross incompetence in the conduct of Company affairs, including a failure to maintain proper records or report to the police evidence of criminal offences.

Income derived from rental paid by the tenants of ADC/DAA funded houses owned by the Company appears to have been misappropriated by being applied to pay expenses incurred by Mr R. L. Robinson, Chairman of the Company. These expenses have included paying for Mr Robinson's telephone bill, fares and travelling expenses, as well as making him 9 personal loans ($15,000), appartently interest-free and for an indefinite period.

In addition, income derived from rental also appears to have been used to make other loans to individuals, pay the wages of employees of other organisations, pay monies owed to Aboriginal Hostels Limited, purchase paintings, meet the cost of parties and other entertainment, and for capital expenditure (over $10,000) on the Charleville Community Centre.

Personal loans appear to have been made, interest-free, for unspecified periods and without approval of the Company's Board at the time they were made.

In December 1986, the ADC asked the Company for explanations concerning some 105 irregularities and qualifications raised by the auditor. To date, the Company has not provided satisfactory replies.

(16) No. Immediately following the closing of the 46th Commission Meeting (19 February 1987), Mr Robinson met with the Deputy Chairman and three of the Commissioners to whom he made representations seeking their support for the provision and release of ADC grant funds to the Charleville Aboriginal Housing Company.

The meeting was thus a private one between Mr Robinson and 4 of the 10 Member Board of Commissioners. Neither the Deputy Chairman nor any of the 3 other Commissioners who attended that meeting has subsequently made a recommendation for or sought the provision or release of ADC funds to the Charleville Aboriginal Housing Company.

The Deputy Chairman did seek advice from Commission staff as to the reasons why no offer of funding had been made to the Company and was provided with the reasons and concerns in relation to Company performance.

(17) The ADC has never been asked to sign over property to which it holds title and which is currently used as a Community Centre in Charleville. In the absence of a request for transfer of title, the Commission has neither agreed to nor rejected such transfer.

If a request was made, the Board of Commissioners would consider it in the light of the administrative standards and managerial competence of the organisations seeking ownership.

The Charleville Aboriginal Housing Company leases the Community Centre property from the ADC and, under the terms of that lease, it is responsible for payment of rates, repairs and maintenance. The ADC is not aware of the precise amount expended on the property by the Company in accordance with the terms of its lease. The current 5-year lease expires on 28 March 1989.