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Monday, 22 November 1993
Page: 3386


Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (10.04 p.m.) —I agree with Senator Collins that the opposition's amendments are unwieldy and unnecessary. I will take a couple of minutes to quote from a very illuminating speech by Mr Fred Chaney, entitled `Accountability in the Aboriginal Domain', in which he sets to rest some of the claims that members of the opposition are frequently making about the need for greater accountability in Aboriginal affairs generally. He expresses the view:

Community concern about accountability is on the rise, expenditures on Aboriginal programs are large and, usually in public administration these days, rising. Outcomes are widely criticised by the media, by politicians, by Aboriginals and by taxpayers and other members of the public. At the same time significant moves are being made both within and without ATSIC for increased Aboriginal control of the agenda. There is a new group of very competent Aboriginal people who along with veterans like Charles Perkins, are determined to use government programs and funds to create a long term independent economic base for Aboriginal Australians. The Federal government of the day, through its establishment of ATSIC and annually increased funding allocation to it supports the self management of Aboriginal persons, in its rhetoric it acknowledges their right to self determination as well as recognition of their indigenous cultural heritage. Self evidently some of these commitments lead into uncharted and unpredictable circumstances from an administrative viewpoint. But at the same time ATSIC commits itself to "ensuring the highest possible standards of accountability for the administration of public funds, (2) a commitment which the most cursory examination of its procedures shows it takes very seriously indeed. And even if it did not want to do so, what choice does it have with the vast array of checkers looking over the metaphorical ATSIC shoulder, each ready to condemn any failure.

It continues:

It should be stressed that there is nothing new in this trend towards greater accountability. Over a long period in parliament a number of people, but particularly Senator Grant Tambling of the Northern Territory, have raised a series of allegations about maladministration in the old Department of Aboriginal Affairs and in Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC) during the 1980's. The Fraser Government having established the Aboriginal Development Commission in 1980 with a very significant reduction in the extent of ministerial control and oversight—

I am again quoting Mr Fred Chaney—

(for which I was responsible as minister at the time) the present government found defending the allegations difficult. With the proposal to establish the ADC and to substitute a much broader body with democratic Aboriginal control—

namely, ATSIC—

the then Minister, Gerry Hand, told the parliament "There is no other department or statutory authority in existence in the Commonwealth which will be as accountable as ATSIC". (8) and as Frank Brennan describes Hand went on to defy the opposition to find him "any organisation under this government or any other government which will be as accountable as this structure" (9)

Well, I think the challenge remains. Who on the opposition side can meet that challenge today? Where is there any organisation under this government or any other government which will be as accountable as ATSIC? The last part that I will quote is whether we:

. . . apply the same rigorous accountability standards to the States and to other Commonwealth Departments receiving money for Aboriginal advancement. States receive all manner of special funding to meet the needs of their disadvantaged Aboriginal citizens. Aboriginal citizens in any event are entitled to the same consideration as non Aboriginal citizens. Where is the web of accountability—

where is the opposition seeking this—

identifying failures in such provisions?—

to states and other Commonwealth departments? I think we are being unfair here. We expect ATSIC to comply, but we do not apply the same rigorous provisions to state government and departments receiving money for Aboriginal advancement.