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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2093

Senator BOB COLLINS —My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Minister, concerns about possible delays in funding CDEPs caused by the freeze on all ATSIC outlays pending clearance by the special auditor were first raised with you here in question time on 27 May. Given that is now a month ago and given that you were provided with two opportunities yesterday, including 10 minutes in the adjournment debate, to explain how your `special arrangements' would deal with this problem and you failed to do so, can you now please, please explain to the Senate when these special arrangements were put into place and how they are going to work?

Senator HERRON —Senator Collins should be ashamed of himself. He has been spreading this misinformation, as he said, for some weeks now. It has been explained, Senator Collins. You have been guilty of spreading misinformation and fear through Aboriginal communities. You have been guilty of creating alarm in CDEP recipients. You have also been guilty, collectively, of allowing these appalling conditions to occur for Aboriginal people for the last 13 years and guilty of trying to sabotage attempts that we are making to rectify the situation. Keep doing that and you will earn the displeasure of all the Aboriginal communities.

We would not have had to appoint a special auditor if you had not let the situation deteriorate to this point. If those on the other side are genuine in wanting to help Aboriginal people, they should desist from whipping up a frenzy about grants being frozen, which you know to be untrue. Once again, I will have to set the record straight.

Grants continued to flow as normal until the appointment of a special auditor on 4 June, Senator Collins. On 6 June I wrote to the ATSIC chairman in these terms:

I have agreed to transitional arrangements associated with the work of the special auditor whereby grant recipients which have no present breaches of grant conditions and only minor technical breaches, if any, in the past may receive a grant pro rata for the first three months of the 1996-1997 financial year.

In other words, the only organisations in danger of funding being frozen are those with serious existing problems of accountability. I also have the power to approve grants in exceptional circumstances.

Senator Schacht —Why didn't you tell us this yesterday?

Senator Bolkus —When did you find this out?

Senator Bob Collins —Why didn't you tell us this yesterday?

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections on my left!

Senator HERRON —I will repeat that again seeing as you are not listening, Senator Collins. I also have the power to approve grants in exceptional circumstances—for example, where an organisation provides essential services, such as water provision, sewerage or CDEP funding, where there is no alternative provider and where substantial restructuring of the organisation, together with an administrator or grant controller, is agreed. With specific reference to the Bunuba community in Western Australia, it has been suggested to me—

Senator Schacht —Why didn't you read this out yesterday?

Senator HERRON —If you'd listen, Senator Schacht, you'd understand. It has been suggested to me by a senior ATSIC staff member that there might have been some mischief making going on in a particular ATSIC regional office. Who got suckered? Senator Bob Collins. Senator Collins should check his facts before creating confusion in Aboriginal communities. Senator Collins, therefore, should apologise to indigenous communities where he has single-handedly caused so much distress and fear.

Senator BOB COLLINS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question.

Senator Hill —So what do you say to that?

Senator BOB COLLINS —What I say about that, Senator Hill, is this: thank you, minister, for your confirmation—I might add, this is the third time you have said it—that these problems, perceived or real, have in fact been caused by the freeze on ATSIC funds, which is now in effect, as you have confirmed, as at the appointment of the special auditor. Do you now concede, minister, that the answer you gave in respect of this same question in question time yesterday—`None of those things have occurred as a result of the appointment of the special auditor . . . They are the results of actions and a lot of misinterpretation of material which occurred as a result of the previous budget'—was utter nonsense and in fact misled the Senate?

Senator HERRON —No. This comes from the man who said in May 1990, `If there has not been a significant amount of improvement in the reform process, I'll resign after one year in the job. I'll quit. It's a promise. I'll quit if after 12 months the award restructuring process is not complete. If we have not wrapped up at least one major enterprise agreement, then I'll quit. I'm dead serious.' Now he is coming at me alleging—

Senator Cook —Answer the question.

Senator HERRON —To answer the question, what I said yesterday is consistent with what I said today. It is totally consistent.