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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2271


Senator RYAN (Minister for Education)(6.01) —Senator Peter Baume raised matters covered in a newspaper article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 November in which it was reported that Bill Bird's son's traffic fines were paid from the funds of the Aboriginal Christian Fellowship organisation. In response to his query the first thing I want to say is that the Aboriginal Christian Fellowship, like many community organisations, gets its funds from diverse sources. It receives Commonwealth funds and some funds from other sources, so it has a variety of funds at its disposal. However, in regard to the payment of the traffic fines, I am informed that the amount involved was an advance on wages to be repaid in the next few days. The amount was paid from a separate bank account from that used for Commonwealth funds, which were provided to enable the ACF to fund a program of prisoner rehabilitation and support of inmates' families.

The major function of ACF is in community welfare, which is funded through donations and the New South Wales Department of Youth and Community Services. As a part of normal auditing practice the New South Wales office of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs has checked financial accounts for 30 June 1985. No evidence of impropriety with Commonwealth funds to that time was noted. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs is accountable to the Parliament for its performance and its expenditure. In turn the Department ensures that the 1,000 Aboriginal organisations it funds are also accountable. Every organisation which receives financial assistance from the Department is subject to a comprehensive set of rules designed to ensure that the purpose of the assistance is met and that funds spent are properly accounted for. The rules are public documents and are available for anyone to see, and indeed they have been provided to Senator Peter Baume's colleague, Mr Connolly, the Opposition spokesperson on Aboriginal Affairs. So the Department at this stage is confident that there was no impropriety and that the facts are as set out.

Senator Baume also raised in detail matters concerning cheques and amounts made out on them. In fact, Mr Bird responded to the newspaper article in the Mount Druitt-St Mary's Standard on 13 November. His response, which was printed in the newspaper on 19 November, confirmed the details that I have just laid out to the Committee. According to information given to me, Area Officer Eastern has personally inspected the organisation's cheque books and bank records, which fully support Mr Bird's statements. In particular, he found that the cheque in question was drawn on 29 October on the account of the ACF community development program. The account number is given. DAA funds are deposited in the account of the Aboriginal Christian Fellowship account No. 4, and the account number of that is given. Other Commonwealth funds are deposited in a third account, the ACF community development program No. 2 account, and that account number is given. All of these accounts are maintained at the Mount Druitt Branch of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation. Mr Bird has been advised by Inspector Evans of the Mount Druitt police that an inquiry is under way to establish how a photocopy of the cheque came into the possession of the newspaper. It is not known when the inquiry will be complete. I think that matter is adequately answered by the information available to us at this stage.

In response to Senator Baume's detailed queries about further studies that were to be undertaken on the social impact of uranium mining in Arnhem Land, the officers advise that they will get that information from the Minister. That same response applies to the last six-monthly report that Senator Baume referred to.