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—

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

You do need to refer to people in the other place by their correct title, Senator Scullion.

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

I should say the Prime Minister's right-hand man. It was a Clayton's resignation, with Australian taxpayers and Indigenous Australians the losers. It was hardly a surprise when it was revealed recently that Mr Michael Dillon, former advisor to Minister Macklin, is the ILC board's recommendation for the ILC CEO role. I wrote to Minister Macklin raising concerns about Mr Dillon's apparent role during his time, either as Minister Macklin's senior advisor or in the department, with regard to the appointment of the new ILC board members in October 2011, the removal of David Galvin as the ILC's CEO in July 2012, and the current proposal to appoint a new CEO. Oddly, Mr Dillon enjoys the friendship of the new ILC board members—Dawn Casey, Olga Havnen and Neil Westbury, with whom he has co-authored a book. Dillon received emails in relation to the machinations leading to the previous CEO's removal. This sounds, again, like they are just finding another Labor bolthole. I have sent a letter asking for an explanation on these matters. I have not received a response. I table this letter.

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Before you proceed, you have said that you will table two letters. You need leave to table. Are there two letters that you are seeking to table?

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

There are two separate letters, and I am seeking leave to table two separate letters.

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is normal courtesy to show what is being tabled to those on the other side. Perhaps you could supply them, and we will take it that, unless we are otherwise advised, leave will be granted—unless otherwise advised to myself.

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

Thank you very much, Mr President. I appreciate that. So, if the Prime Minister or Mr Leigh signs off on Dillon's appointment, that is it; game, set, match—the takeover has been completed. I have called on the government to direct the ILC not to proceed with this particular appointment until after the election. So many Aboriginal people across Australia depend on Indigenous Business Australia for their assistance—and there are so many really good people within Indigenous Business Australia. The Indigenous Land Council is another organisation that, by and large, is doing a fantastic job when it comes to the nuts and bolts of delivering the services they do to ensure that land is purchased if it does not have the same capacity to be granted under the Native Title Act. It provides a lot of very important functions. Should we win government, substantial structural reforms to the Indigenous Land Corporation and Indigenous Business Australia will be priorities for us.

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I will now confirm that leave has been granted for the tabling of those letters.