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Balance and integrity lose to hysteria and bigotry.

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Media Release


5 August 1998


Balance and integrity lose to hysteria and bigotry


The acting Chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander Commission, Commissioner Ray Robinson, today expressed regret at the ignorance of journalists and commentators who today reported an the 1997-98 report of the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations.


“Too many seem happy to trade balance and integrity for hysteria and bigotry in their misrepresentation of the facts,” Commissioner Robinson said.


“The Office of the Registrar is a part of the ATSIC accountability framework, staffed by ATSIC officers and working jointly with the rest of the Commission to ensure the accountability of indigenous corporations. Attempts to portray the Registrar's office as some sort of watchdog over ATSIC misrepresent the facts and deliberately malign ATSIC.


"ATSIC has asked the Registrar to join us in correcting the public record. As he says on page 96 of his report:


“There is no evidence to suggest the incidence of fraud amongst Ab original corporations is any more or less prevalent than amongst other incorporated bodies...”


"Where is the comparable scrutiny of non-indigenous organisations that receive government funding? Why are there no watchdogs reporting on their failings?


“Hav e the rorts of the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme stopped? Where are the editorials on Telstra, admitting the loss of $1.5 billion of copper wiring?.


Commissioner Robinson noted that the number of bodies incorporated under the Aboriginal Councils and Associations Act had increased by 26% over the past few years - up from 2 389 in 1994-95 to 2 999 in 1997-98.


In 1994-95, the Registrar reported 90 Section 60 examinations and 48 Section 60A notices, with 23 matters referred to the police for further action.


But, as Commissioner Robinson pointed out, despite the increase in the number of organisations, the number of examinations was down 28% in 1997-98, the number of compliance notices was down 10% and the number of matters referred to the police was down 57%.


“The Registrar's report has gone unheralded in the past, so it's strange that this year's report should constitute the basis for a savage attack on ATSIC”, Commissioner Robinson said.


He expressed disappointment that some elements of the press and come commentators had still not managed to understand the difference between ATSIC and indigenous corporations.


“For instance, some newspapers this morning reported that ATSIC recently took legal action against the Registrar," Commissioner Robinson said.


“This is wrong.


“They also fail to grasp the fact that most of the organisations incorporated under the councils and Associations Act do not receive funding from ATSIC.


“ATSIC is committed to accountability. ATSIC routinely refers problem organisations to the Registrar for examination where this is warranted. Throughout ATSIC's short existence, we have adopted a strong stance with organisations on issues of accountability, and will continue to do so.”


Commissioner Robinson welcomed the public acceptance by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Senator John Herron, that the majority of indigenous organisations go about their work in an honest and effective manner.


“The rest of the Minister's statement, however, was on a par in quality and integrity with today's media,” he said.


“The Minister was wrong to claim that the ATSIC Board has tried to diminish the powers of the Registrar. In fact, the Board sought to discuss with the Minister options for emphasising the role of the Registrar's office.


“The ATSIC Board has long been concerned about the ACA Act and its administration. Our concern increased when we received the report of the Fingleton Review of the Act in August 1996.


“The Board has conducted lengthy deliberations on the findings of the Review at three separate Board meetings. These discussions have included sessions with the Office of Evaluation and Audit, the Registrar and consideration by a committee of Commissioners. We are dealing with complex public policy.


“The Minister received the report in August 1996 and initial advice from the ATSIC Board in November 1997. To date, there has been no formal response by the Minister to the review report or the ATSIC advice to him.


“He should answer questions about his own lack of action.”


Media contacts: Brian Johnstone   0419 010 687

Martin Freckmann   018 631 045



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