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Thursday, 6 May 1993
Page: 277


Senator TAMBLING (4.32 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

Unlike the comments that I have made, very pleasingly, on the Central Land Council, the Tiwi Islands and Groote Eylandt, this report of the Northern Land Council is very concerning and ought to concern every honourable senator. The activities of the Northern Land Council need almost a royal inquiry. Next week, at the Senate estimates committee hearings, I certainly intend to pursue a number of issues very keenly. The point which requires our most urgent attention is the auditors' report for the year ended 30 June 1992, which is qualified by the following:

1.  Expenditure on land claims exceeds the approved budget item by more than 20%. This contravenes Section 34 of the Aboriginal Land    Rights (NT) Act 1976.

2.  Total expenditure is in excess of the total approved budget. This contravenes Section 34 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976.

3.  Note 12 to the financial statements states the intention of the Northern Land Council to distribute $546,003 pursuant to Section 35(1) of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976 and sets out the    distribution made in 1991/92. We are unable to express an opinion whether these distributions are in accordance with the provisions of Section 35 of the Act.

The Northern Land Council needs to be condemned for its profligacy and its total inattention to the proper standards of good administration on behalf of its Aboriginal constituency. It has obviously become a very political and involved organisation. For a number of years it has relied on the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Mr Tickner, and the former Minister, Mr Hand, propping up its annual budgets and throwing more money at the problem rather than seeking decent solutions. I have put three very important issues before Minister Tickner since early this year. The first relates to very severe allegations of rorts of fringe benefits tax by senior management personnel within the land council itself.

  Secondly, the trust accounts and mining royalty funds which the Northern Land Council administers on behalf of its own constituency are not even covered in this annual report, other than to get gobbled up as two one-line items in the annual balance sheet. There is no listing of the trust balances as there were previously; there are no statements of income, revenue and expenditure, as should properly be set out in these particular accounts.

  The third issue that I have raised with Minister Tickner is the excessive use of consultants to carry out anthropological, legal and administrative functions of the land council. This has amounted to in excess of $1 million in the last year as a proportion of its budget. Many of these consultancies have been going to former employees of the land council who have retired or taken redundancy packages, or who are relatives of senior executives within the organisation. There have been jobs for the boys. There have been all sorts of pay-offs. Certainly, in the Senate estimates committee hearings next week I will be demanding and looking for explanations. I am concerned that, in the comments by the chairman on page 1 of this report, attributed to Galarrwuy Yunupingu, is the statement arising from and following the Mabo decision we all deal with in so many areas. Mr Yunupingu says:

On first hearing the news of Mabo I said the Federal government should quickly negotiate a treaty and implement national land rights. That would be a good start. The alternative is plenty of court cases around Australia, but this is not the best answer.

That second paragraph of the chairman's annual statement in the NLC's report highlights how political this organisation has become and how much it has moved away from the good and proper focus that it needs to give for the constituency it should and ought to be serving. The administration and finance of the NLC are a disgrace. The budget blow-out is totally unacceptable and this matter needs a major inquiry at the earliest possible date. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

  Leave granted; debate adjourned.