Senate debates

Monday, 24 June 2013


Indigenous Business Australia, Indigenous Land Corporation

11:08 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Nationals) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to make a contribution on Indigenous Business Australia and the Indigenous Land Corporation. Indigenous organisations are required to cope, conventionally, with intense levels of accountability and scrutiny by governments, often beyond what we would expect from other mainstream organisations. However, they and the general public do object when government does not apply the same standards of accountability and governance to its own operations and key agencies.

Indigenous Australians have been described as being land rich and dirt poor. A significant role of any Australian government is to provide economic development on Indigenous lands. The Gillard government's meddling in the operations of two of the key players, Indigenous Business Australia and the Indigenous Land Corporation, is turning these once respected and successful organisations into what many would consider dysfunctional fiefdoms.

The government takeover of these two organisations was started, one imagines, in Minister Jenny Macklin's office with Indigenous Business Australia. As board positions became vacant, Minister Macklin appointed Dawn Casey as chair and other like minded people. The then highly respected, long-standing chief executive officer was forced out. The acting CEO was Bruce Gemmell. Remember that name, as he will be making several appearances. I think he is an excellent public servant. I am not trying to diminish his character in any way. He was simply a tool of the government. Eventually the new permanent CEO took over. Staff processes and changes followed and that was when many people would indicate that the errors started to compound.

Indigenous Business Australia has lurched from one scandal to another. The IBA board agreed to invest $18 million in the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park in Cairns, which IBA admitted at Senate estimates is worth only $1.4 million. Fifteen Canberra IBA staff went to the Gold Coast for a planning workshop. They enjoyed a day at Movie World on the Gold Coast. I am not sure what sort of planning happened there. They enjoyed an $83 a plate dinner at Dracula's Restaurant. All of this was funded by the taxpayer and cost $28,000. These things happen. But when all bar a couple of the public service staff who attended that actually live in Canberra, one has to wonder about the efficacy of those sorts of processes.

Another planning day was at Wildman Wilderness Lodge in the Northern Territory. What better place to have a planning day? I understand that a number of the staff were off doing some planning on quad bikes. I am not sure exactly what that entailed. Inevitably it all came unstuck and the deputy CEO had a significant accident and, sadly, she was seriously injured.

Where is the professionalism in this sort of organisation? The IBA later bailed out the Darwin Larrakia Development Corporation. That was a good decision as it is a great corporation. The IBA said they were going to buy Larrakia Development Corporation's share in Darwin's Medina Grand Waterfront Hotel and Vibe Hotel. Their very proper motivation was to ensure that they were able to employ Aboriginal people in the hospitality industry. Sadly, IBA revealed at the last Senate estimates that after three years it had zero Indigenous employees and no Indigenous partner.

Macklin and IBA joined forces with ABA to purchase the IGA stores in Alice Springs that sell alcohol. Many people in Alice Springs have commented that it makes Macklin's supposedly tough stance on alcohol a complete joke.

In a letter to the board that was tabled at estimates, former CEO Ron Moroney provided seven pages of alleged failings by the board. Minister Macklin did implement a review of some of these issues, but it was a whitewash. I wrote to her to request a fair dinkum inquiry headed by a former judge to get to the bottom of this mess. I table the letter.

The same Macklin approach is underway with the ILC. Ms Casey has been appointed chair of the ILC, as well as IBA, along with more new board members. A highly regarded CEO, in the words of the chair, was sacked with the agreement of the minister, according to Ms Casey. The ever-present Mr Gemmell reappears as acting CEO of the ILC. The plan for the ILC was almost derailed because of the inconvenience of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act, which requires quite specifically that acting CEO appointments be for no more than six months. Obviously, this is to ensure that we have some continuity and we do not have temporary appointments for a long period of time. To get around this—that is right: to get around this—Mr Gemmell was instructed to resign a few weeks before the end of his six-month term and then he was reappointed a few weeks later.

Senator Kroger interjecting—

It did not go that well, actually. He forgot to hand his phone back in, kept his office keys, stayed on the mailing list and continued his role by travelling to Adelaide, at ILC expense, to chair an ILC management meeting. That is hardly a resignation. He went on to explain, 'I had an expectation that a further appointment would come through.' We found at the most recent estimates that Julia Gillard's right-hand man, Andrew Leigh—with the full authority of the Prime Minister—approved both the initial appointment and the reappointment of Mr Gemmell and engaged in this trickery to circumvent the act. This appears to put the minister, her department, Gillard's right-hand man—Mr Leigh—and the Indigenous Land Corporation in conflict with their own act—


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