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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2100

Senator COLSTON —My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Can the minister confirm that, when KPMG identifies a conflict of interest in its special auditing function with any Aboriginal organisation, the role of special auditor will be performed by Pannell Kerr Forster or its affiliates? Further, how many potential conflict of interest situations have been identified by KPMG and reported to ATSIC so far?

Senator HERRON —I thank Senator Colston for his question.

Senator Parer —No, Senator Bob Collins.

Senator HERRON —It was from Senator Collins. He passed it along to Senator Colston. I am happy to answer the question. Why did Senator Collins not have the guts to ask it himself? That is the way it is, I suppose.

Senator Colston might be interested to know that that question casts an aspersion on those accountancy firms. The big eight tender for all these matters. In turn, they operate at arms length. He would be interested to know that, since July 1994, a total of 110 ATSIC funded organisations have been referred to the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Securities Commission or similar regulatory agents. There have been 77 referred by the Fraud Awareness Unit, 28 by the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations and five by the Office of Evaluation and Audit.

Senator Bob Collins —Mr President, I raise a point of order.

Senator Campbell —No, a supplementary, I think.

Senator Bob Collins —Yes. That is right. He is reading the wrong answer. The point of order goes to the question of relevance. The question specifically relates to the quite proper regime that has been put into place for potential conflicts of interest, which the minister must be familiar with in respect of his special auditor. He has not addressed that question.

Senator HERRON —On the point of order: I am allowed certain introductory statements. My statement illustrated the necessity for the appointment of a special auditor. It was in that context that I was to leading up to the answer.

Senator Hill —On the point of order: it is impossible for ministers to answer questions when they have been constantly harassed.

Senator Bob Collins —When they don't know.

Senator Hill —How would you know? You have not listened to one answer. You asked the question. Why not just listen. Under the standing orders, the minister is entitled to be heard. Interjections are disorderly. We put up with a lot without any complaint. When ministers are constantly shouted down, that is clearly out of order. Mr President, I ask you to bring those opposite to order.

The PRESIDENT —I agree with Senator Hill completely. Ministers have a right to answer and be heard in silence. These are not strategic points of order that are being made. It is simply gabble half the time. There is no point of order on the other matter.

Senator Bob Collins —Thank you. I just wanted you to rule on the point of relevance.

The PRESIDENT —I am ruling on that. There is no point of order. Senator Herron, I take it that you will be getting to the point, as you say.

Senator HERRON —Yes, I will. I was illustrating the necessity for this to be done. I take my job seriously, unlike the former minister, Mr Frank Walker, who, as you will have heard, in the other chamber made a major administrative error which has thrown into doubt most of the native title actions that have occurred since then. Is Senator Collins aware of that? There has been a major dereliction of duty by a minister from the previous government.

Senator Colston has asked specific questions of a technical nature. I have discussed them with my department. We have found great difficulty in getting a tally together for you of the exact numbers where there might be a conflict of interest. This issue has been considered in the discussion that ensued about appointing a special auditor. There were problems in relation to the fact, as has been mentioned previously, that those firms are already employed by ATSIC in relation to those matters that I was referring to before, the mention of which was interrupted by a point of order from the other side.

The numbers are difficult to obtain because there are so many grant recipients under consideration at the moment. For example, 81 grant recipients have had grant controllers appointed. Six have had trustees appointed. Where these have been appointed, it is difficult to get specific answers in relation to it, because of the huge volume. Over 200 matters have been referred to the Office of Evaluation and Audit since I was appointed. Over 48 have been referred to the Federal Police. When you ask a specific question about a conflict of interest in relation to the appointed auditors, what I can say is that we are addressing it. I will get back to you with the answer to your question as soon as it becomes available, which will entail putting aside what is being done at the moment.

Senator COLSTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister commented that Senator Collins passed the question to me. Would the minister be interested after question time to see the note I passed to Senator Collins?

Senator Bob Collins —Which said, `Herron is a big dope.'

Senator Herron —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I acknowledge that interjection. The big dope on the other side—Senator Collins is a bigger dope than I am—was the one who said in 1993, in explaining his gross ineptitude, `Those in opposition never have to deal with the paperwork. I deal with an average of 200 letters every week in my office.' Who is the biggest dope?

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. I will not ask you to withdraw. It is too silly to withdraw.

Senator COLSTON —May I start again?

The PRESIDENT —You can start again. Reset the clock. Stick to the question this time. Do not give a preamble.

Senator COLSTON —Would the minister be interested to see the note I passed to Senator Collins and the reply that Senator Collins sent to me, since you have accused me of asking a question that Senator Collins passed to me? Can he indicate to the Senate what steps have been put in place should KPMG identify a conflict of interest during a review?

Senator HERRON —Senator Collins is also the one who made a complete mess of AQIS. He was going to resign. I would be very happy to see any note that passed between Senator Colston and Senator Collins.

Senator Bob Collins —Surely you can answer that?

Senator HERRON —The supplementary question asked me whether I would be happy to see a note that passed between you and Senator Colston.

Senator West —Do you want to see the note?

Senator HERRON —I would be happy to see the piece of paper that passed between you. Is Senator Collins unhappy about that? Did Senator Colston ask Senator Collins whether he would like to see it? What actions have been put in place? Actions have been put in place to bring these matters to the notice of the auditor so that they can be resolved. That is normal commercial practice, and that is what is being done.