CJC asked to investigate audit

by Chris Griffith
Published 4 June 1995 in The Sunday Mail

 

my face

 

Education Minister David Hamill has asked the CJC to investigate the financial position of an Aboriginal education committee following complaints about the conduct and findings of an internal audit.

The Education Department audit, details of which Mr Hamill released in April, concluded that the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Consultative Committee (QATSIECC) had incurred a $278,000 debt after making a series of questionable payments and administrative errors.

The "questionable payments" had included $18,700 for a promotional video which was so poor it could not be used; $14,500 for a consultancy report on student suspensions which was never provided; $25,000 to an arts organisation for no apparent reason; and $4,280 to an artist to produce Aboriginal artefacts which were substandard.

Mr Hamill forwarded the report to the police, and said criminal charges over some matters could follow, but state and federal police say they are taking no action on its findings.

Last week some current and former committee members said the audit claims were nonsense and that they were being used as scapegoats for mistakes elsewhere in the Education Department.

QATSIECC's Darling Downs Regional Manager, Mr Dick Rose, said many of the audit's claims were easily shown to be false.

Mr Rose said the video that the audit described as "substandard and unusable" had been produced by the University of Queensland's video production unit, and had been distributed extensively throughout Queensland schools and communities.

"There is no question as to the tape's quality and it hit home very well - it went everywhere," Mr Rose said.

He provided a copy of the video to The Sunday Mail.

Mr Rose said the $18,000 paid for hundreds of copies of a media kit, which included the video whose production involved travel to outlying Queensland Aboriginal communities.

Likewise, Professor Erroll West of James Cook University refuted the audit claim that his consultancy report on student suspensions "was never provided".

Professor West said he had already given a report to QATSIECC.

Another source, who would not be named, said the Committee's $25,000 grant to an arts organisation labelled by the audit as having "no apparent justification" paid for a highly successful national Aboriginal women writers' conference in Brisbane in 1993 attended by 140 women.

Mr Rose said there appeared to be "a hidden agenda" to single-out some QATSIECC members while down-playing other issues.

Mr Hamill yesterday confirmed that he had met with QATSIECC's former chair, Ms Boni Robertson, who also rejected the audit's allegations.

It is understood Ms Robertson gave Mr Hamill documents which paint a different picture of QATSIECC's financial history.

Mr Hamill said he had handed all Ms Robertson's material to the Criminal Justice Commission."I've got no real way of getting to the bottom of all the allegations, and that's why I've referred all these matters to the CJC," Mr Hamill said.

Ms Robertson has declined to comment.Confidential departmental documents show that in 1992 and 1993, accounting errors by the Queensland Education Department's Budget Section had caused it to advise QATSIECC that it had up to $826,000 to spend, but according to later documentation it had much less.

QATSIECC depended on the department for its financial information.

The documents show that the Federal Government failed to fund the committee in the second half of 1991, yet the State Government assumed the money had been paid.

As late as November 1993, QATSIECC was told that its surplus was $236,000, but in January 1994 the Budget Section told QATSIECC that its information was wrong, and that the committee faced a $226,991 deficit.

Based on the wrong advice of a surplus, in late 1992 the committee planned and executed a $290,000 program to establish and equip regional offices throughout Queensland and a state secretariat.

But a memo from the Department's Budget Section asked QATSIECC to exclude any reference in a 1993 financial statement to the State Government providing the committee with inaccurate financial advice.

The memo, dated 6 July 1994 said: "the matters raised in those comments are of an internal nature and should be kept so".

Mr Hamill said he was, however, still concerned about the financial management of QATSIECC.

"Whether that reflects concern on sections of the department with whom QATSIECC were dealing with I don't know.

"But that's not the substantive issue. The substantive issue is whether QATSIECC accounted properly for the monies it had.

"I've not got any particular allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Boni Robertson, but what I can conclude from all sides of the argument is that the administration of QATSIECC over the last couple of years has left something to be desired."

Mr Hamill said QATSIECC had agreed to repay its deficit of $278,000 through adjustments to its budget, and he was proposing a "structural review" of the organisation.