Thursday, 15 November 2018
Northern Territory: Grants; Order for the Production of Documents
Under the order of the Senate agreed to on 13 November 2018, I seek an explanation from the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion, concerning the failure to respond in full to the order for the production of documents relating to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.
That the Senate take note of the explanation.
On Tuesday, I gave notice and asked the Minister for Indigenous Affairs for advice provided by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to him regarding the grants to the NT Cattlemen's Association, the Amateur Fishermen's Association of the NT and the NT Seafood Council that were referred to during estimates on Friday, 26 October. I also asked for copies of grant applications by the NTCA, AFANT and NTSC for funding from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and any correspondence or other information, including briefs and meeting and file notes from or to the Indigenous affairs minister about these grants. This morning I did receive from the minister some of those documents. I received the briefs provided to the minister by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet concerning the applications, and I thank him for that. However, I have not received the grant applications from the three organisations under the IAS, because apparently they are commercial-in-confidence documents. I await production of these documents by, as the minister has said, 21 November.
The limited documents I have received do show some interesting facts about the whole process of how these grants to non-Indigenous peak bodies were made. Let's take a moment just to go over the facts. In April this year, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs stood up at the Amateur Fishermen's Association of the NT annual general meeting and said he was giving them $100,000 to help them run detriment cases in land claims. The papers provided to me today show that he did not sign off on an IAS grant to AFANT until 21 May, and the grant was for $155,000. According to departmental advice, it was a non-competitive direct approach to AFANT, which was recommended because:
There is a clear need for the stakeholder group to be better informed on Aboriginal issues in the NT …
It goes on to say:
This has been demonstrated by recent NT media on NT land claims which has attracted negative, uninformed comment from members of the recreational fishing community.
I'm wondering why the minister was able to make a promise to AFANT at its AGM in April about a $100,000 grant when at that stage he didn't know where the money was coming from. The AFANT money hadn't even started going through the grants process at that stage.
I also note that nowhere on any of the departmental advice to the three organisations does it mention the funding being used to meet legal costs in running detriment arguments in land claims. It talks about the stakeholder groups needing to be better informed about Indigenous people, how they should be better educated about land rights and native title, and how this funding will help their members to learn more about Indigenous people. In Senate estimates on 26 October, when I asked you, Minister, about the nearly half a million dollars granted under the IAS to the peak bodies, you said the funding was for 'just the legal fees, effectively'. I'm wondering why none of this advice from the department to you, Minister, about these IAS grants refers anywhere to the provision of fees for legal advice.
The minister said that he granted $1.4 million to a non-Indigenous company, North Australian Rural Management Consultants, for accountancy services, because they happen to have some Indigenous organisations as clients. I find this is an extraordinary use of funds that are meant to improve Indigenous communities and Indigenous lives. I would like to make clear, as I wrote to all the peak bodies on 2 November, that I understand and support their efforts to resolve some of these outstanding land claims. Further, I fully support the rights of these organisations to pursue legal assistance for the associated costs of putting forward their arguments in land claim hearings. However, it is my view that using IAS funding that is meant to support Indigenous participation and culture and strengthen Indigenous organisations for this purpose is an inappropriate use of these funds. I am advised that there are alternative and more usual funding streams and access to support for legal representation in land claims through the Attorney-General.
I will continue to ask why the minister did not follow this process. I will certainly continue to seek information and ask questions about the process that the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and the coalition government have followed with the allocation of IAS grants, and I will continue to ask the minister why grants from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy are provided to non-Indigenous companies that are run by his political mates.
I thank the senator for clarifying that we hadn't actually got the documents in time. We have clarified with the senator that we have provided those documents. There are three documents, which are the funding applications. Until we can ascertain that there are no commercial-in-confidence issues with those three organisations, we can't provide them those documents. We indicated that, as soon as that process has been finished and as soon as we have clarified that, we will add those to the tabled documents. This is a standard process and a process that we would always follow.
The senator made a number of remarks about this, and it does give me an opportunity to perhaps clarify the sorts of matters that the land commissioner is considering. First of all, as a principle, I am very, very keen to make sure that these land claims are advanced. The senators opposite may know—I know Senator McCarthy would know—that the longest-standing land claim in the Northern Territory was the Kenbi land claim, and I am very proud to be the minister who signed off on it, eventually. That was a bit of a struggle at the last minute. Aboriginal people who are the beneficiaries of the declaration of that grant are so happy that it was eventually granted. As Senator McCarthy would also acknowledge, I'm sure, many people say that the lands rights process takes so long that many of the people who champion a claim actually pass away.
There are two things that a land commissioner would take into consideration when dealing with these matters. The first is: 'When I make the determination to grant this land, what do those people impacted understand about it? What do they understand about what happens to their rights and what happens to them? Do they know about what I'm about to determine?' The second matter he takes into consideration is: 'What impact am I going to have on those stakeholders?' It's usually referred to as detriment. One is fundamentally an education process and one is a legal process. Let's say you take native title—it's just a legal process. But with both of the processes in this case—particularly the Beds and Banks case, because it's a precedent case and hasn't been dealt with under ALRA before—it is essential that we have both elements. I recall the senator referring to, I think, 52C of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, under which the Attorney-General may make grants. But, if you look deeper, it is only for legal elements; it is not for where we have an education package because of those two matters.
It is useful to understand what else I have done in these matters. I know Senator McCarthy knows that all the land councils have said, 'We want this advanced as quickly as possible.' There is only a suite now remaining, and we can deal with that suite. I want them dealt with as quickly as possible, and I have committed to resolving those land claims. So I have provided $8 million to the Northern Land Council. I've provided an additional million dollars to the Office of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner because they're going to have more hearings and those sorts of processes, knowing that the land commissioner will ask himself two questions, as I said. The first is: 'Do they understand the legislation around my determination over whatever rights and interests they may have?' The second is: 'Are these stakeholders able to tell me what impact it will have on them?' They are the two fundamental things the land commissioner will actually consider. These grants have been specifically for that. They have been specifically to do that. And I can tell you I'll make sure that it is done in a way that they are not wasted. We put a lot of time and thought into making sure that these investments will advance those processes.
I'll go to some comments that Senator McCarthy made about some associated IAS funding to NARMCO—a very hurtful 'to your mates' at the end. I don't know who writes your speeches, Senator, but you should keep less of that. So we're supporting NARMCO, which is supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses. As I've indicated in an answer to a question today, we should add to that; there are a great deal more. There's $18 million to CatholicCare, $2 million to Australian Red Cross and $1.1 million to World Vision. I know that Senator McCarthy would wish that we ensure that we lift the capacity of Aboriginal businesses to provide services to themselves—in fact, I've done it, because, frankly, they do it better. They can do it as efficiently and they do it better. And I have, in my time here, got the biggest jump ever in Aboriginal businesses providing those services. But, for some time, it will be the case that others do them.
I indicate that I don't know a great deal of detail in terms of NARMCO, but my general understanding is that this is an organisation that specialises in providing back-of-house, principally advocacy services around accounting and finance. They do applications on behalf of people. People want to apply for a particular grant in a particular area, so they go and do those grant applications for them. I understand they have been highly commended by many of the Aboriginal businesses they work for. My understanding is that they predominantly provide a very focused piece of work for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses. I look very carefully at every element of this funding. Every element of this funding is provided under the guidance of the department and under the IAS guidelines. I haven't shifted from those guidelines.
With regard to the opportunity that the senator took to make some comments today and say that we haven't produced the documents, the documents were produced with a statement that said, 'There are three remaining documents, but the process is, because there is a connection between the people who gave us those documents, that we simply need to check.' I expect they will be with the Senate very shortly—within days. It's up to them. I can't see that they would be anywhere else. I'm not sure if someone's held them up. The adviser indicates no. Okay. They should be here very shortly. There are six documents that meet the terms of Senator McCarthy's request—three briefs to me seeking approval for funding in a direct funding application from each organisation. All of those briefs have been tabled. Now, if there's some relevant information—
So the original documents I can table now. I assumed they were tabled. They were with the Table Office this morning; they haven't been tabled. My apologies. With regard to the other application, the hold-up would only be a matter of days, but it is a convention. I'm advised by the department that I have to seek the okay from those three organisations. I can't see it being any material matter. I've actually given a fixed date. I've said the department has to consult with these organisations by 21 November. I've also instructed them just to get it done as quickly as they can, and I'm quite sure the documents will be tabled with the Senate as soon as possible.
Question agreed to.