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Tuesday, 2 May 1989
Page: 1607

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(8.31) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account annual report, which was tabled in the Senate today, contains a set of accounts which was certified by the Minister's delegate on 3 November 1988. That was a long time ago. The auditor's statement is dated September 1988; yet, for some extraordinary reason, this report is being submitted to the Senate in May 1989. The letter from the advisory committee to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Hand) was not signed until 2 February 1989. This chamber has every reason to ask why this report, which was prepared and audited before the Senate rose last year, has taken until May to be tabled. It seems to me to be improper that a publication such as this, which involves significantly controversial matters, should have been kept from public scrutiny for this time.

It is significant that this annual report has been tabled in the Senate today, too late to be discussed by the Senate Estimates Committee. Surely the Senate is entitled to express grave concern that the very serious matters raised in this annual report were not available to senators when they had the opportunity to examine officers of the Department. It seems to me to be a disgrace that that is so. What happened was that one of my senatorial colleagues had the opportunity to see a copy of this report after the Senate Estimates Committee had inquired into the Aboriginal Affairs Department, and he put questions on notice relating to these figures. I understand that he has received some replies to those questions on notice.

To indicate to the Senate the significant nature of the controversial matters, I submit that we have here in this Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account revenue which comes from royalties paid by mining companies, theoretically for the benefit of the Aboriginal people, amounting to $21.9m, of which some $12m has gone in payments to land councils for administrative expenses. More than half the total of the funds available for the benefit of the Aboriginal people has gone to the administrative expenses of two land councils, the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council. This has occurred despite the fact that the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account administrative expenses are entirely paid by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. This state of affairs is extraordinary. In fact, only $9.7m out of $21.7m was available to be distributed to the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council for the benefit of Aboriginal people and in the payment of general grants.

I find it incredible that this kind of administrative cost can have been incurred, particularly as it involves an increase of over a third in administrative costs in the 12 months ending last June, for which we have only just received the report. There has been this huge increase in administrative costs, and there has been not one ounce of explanation in this tawdry, tatty, late report as to where the money was spent. The late production of this report to this chamber is an utter disgrace. The Government has an obligation to ensure that reports of this nature are available to senators before they are involved in Senate Estimates committee hearings.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Teague) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.