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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8317

Indigenous Affairs

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (14:44): My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion. I refer to reports today that the minister has granted $1.4 million from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and Aboriginals Benefit Account funding to a Katherine-based non-Indigenous company, North Australian Rural Management Consultants, which has close links to the Country Liberal Party. How many Indigenous people have been employed and how many Indigenous businesses have been assisted by the $1.4 million grant to North Australian Rural Management Consultants?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:45): Thank you very much for your interest in this area, Senator McCarthy. I stand by every dollar and every cent of the IAS funding that I have approved, and every IAS grant has been made in accordance with IAS guidelines. I'm actively transitioning IAS funds to the Indigenous organisations that deliver outcomes, and the number is significantly increasing. When I got the portfolio, 35 per cent of the IAS was given to Indigenous organisations. It's now 55 per cent. So we're doing pretty well. Over that period of time, there have been some remarkable outcomes. But from time to time there is a capacity for organisations like the Red Cross. I give them $2 million and they deliver to Indigenous people. CatholicCare, to whom we give $18 million, deliver to youth and the unemployed. We give $1.1 million to World Vision because they're delivering in the area of early childhood. So, if you're suggesting that we cut all these funds—

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator SCULLION: Really, I'm not sure that's what they're suggesting. To give a clear understanding of what NARMCO do, they're an organisation that do back-of-house accounting and business advice to Indigenous companies. Most of them say, 'Yes, I can do the work, but we're struggling. We're not quite big enough to have in-house.' So we have a business adviser service that provides the accounting services and advocacy services within an Indigenous business. All the reports that come to me are that they do a good job. This contract was provided over three years ago, and they do a remarkable job. There's an allegation that somehow there's a connection to whatever the inappropriate process is. I do note the reason I'm aware of NARMCO is that I became aware of an issue and I specifically asked them for a show cause as to how they were going to manage the possible perception of some interaction. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator McCarthy, a supplementary question.

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (14:47): Reports today reveal the minister has asked North Australian Rural Management Consultants to show cause about any perceived conflicts of interest. What conflicts of interest is the minister concerned about? Has the minister also asked North Australian Rural Management Consultants to address any conflict of interest, given the close links to the Country Liberal Party?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:47): I knew there was a man called Ron Kelly who became the president of the Country Liberal Party. I was informed that he actually works for NARMCO and had been doing so for some time before that event. That is a perceived conflict. So, because this is the process of how you deal with conflicts, perceived or otherwise, we've written to the company and asked them: how are you going to manage that conflict or the perception of it? This is a process that is followed throughout these sorts of circumstances. I have been at pains to ensure that those processes are followed to the letter. We have followed those processes to the letter. The department has provided some advice about how these matters are dealt with, and I have dealt with this in exactly that way.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McCarthy, a final supplementary question.

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (14:48): Given that only three of seven Closing the Gap targets are on track and Indigenous Australians live, on average, 10 years less than non-Indigenous Australians, how does giving nearly $2 million to non-Indigenous companies and organisations achieve the stated aims of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:49): What it does is assist the Indigenous companies creating the outcomes of 10 per cent of the 412,000 jobs we created last year. Three per cent of the population created 10 per cent of those jobs. They did it because we had organisations assisting them with areas where they don't have the capacity so that they can get the contracts. That's right: government contracts that went from $6.2 million under your government to over a billion dollars under ours—32 businesses under yours, over 1,000 under ours. That's why we're doing so well.

But they have told us, 'We need help in some areas.' So, on the basis of advice to those companies—we don't trust them—they say, 'Can I have some support from these organisations?' and we provide that support. Those organisations that provide the support are essential in building capacity so that these Aboriginal organisations, this one in particular, can access the economy. (Time expired)