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Wednesday, 19 March 1980
Page: 777

Senator KILGARIFF - I address a question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Is it a fact that during the last Western Australian State election officers from the Aboriginal Legal Service in Darwin took an active role in campaigning? If this is so, who were the officers involved and who paid their expenses during the campaign? Did they take leave from their duties as employees of the Aboriginal Legal Service to carry out campaigning or were they still on the payroll of the Service? If officers were involved, as suggested, and it was at the expense of the Aboriginal Legal Service, which is a Commonwealth funded body, what action does the Government intend to take in this case or in respect of any other incidents that are proven?

Senator CHANEY - Honourable senators may remember that I was asked a question by Senator Rocher about the involvement of the Western Australian Aboriginal Legal Service in the same election. I indicated in answering that question that the financial rules which apply prohibit the use of Commonwealth funds and assets purchased with Commonwealth funds for electioneering purposes. I heard a report that the Aboriginal Legal Service in Darwin had been involved. I made inquiries. My Department has informed me that the Legal Service in Darwin was approached for assistance by one of the candidates in the electorate of Kimberley. The assistance sought was for two people to act as scrutineers. The person requesting that assistance was Mr Bridge. The Legal Service arranged for two solicitors to carry out these duties in a voluntary and unofficial capacity, with all expenses being met by the campaign committee. I have been assured that the resources of the Legal Service provided by my Department were not in any way involved in that election process. No leave was involved because the solicitors from the Legal Service carried out the duties in their own time. They left late on Friday and came back on Sunday.

I give that jetail because, as I indicated in response to an earlier question, I take seriously the requirement in the financial rules that Commonwealth funds should not be used for electioneering purposes. I think that it is of some importance if we are concerned about maintaining support among members of the public for Commonwealth programs in this field and avoiding divisions within the community. Such incidents could give rise to ill feeling. I certainly have had complaints from Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. I think it is very important that we ensure that there is a careful segregation between those activities which are for the direct promotion of Aboriginal advancement- I think we fund 1,000 organisations around Australia- and direct electioneering which in Australia at the moment is a private matter and not something which is provided for out of public funds.

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