Wednesday, 10 July 2013

5 Voluntary work in remote indigenous communities

TA is widely admired for his commitment and work in remote indigenous communities. According to media reports
 “For several years the federal Liberal leader has allocated at least a week of his time each year to volunteer work in indigenous communities and says he will continue this if elected prime minister.” (1)

TA himself has said
I have tried to support Noel Pearson’s work with deeds as well as with words: as a teacher’s aide in Coen in 2008, as a truancy assistant in Aurukun in 2009, as a builder’s labourer in Hopevale in 2011 and last year, along with Warren Mundine and my Shadow Minister Senator Nigel Scullion and a team of Australia’s leading business people, I participated in the ‘Books and Mortar’ project to refurbish the school library there. … should the Coalition win government, I reiterate my undertaking to spend a week every year helping in an indigenous community. It will be good for me. It is important that our national leaders remain grounded in the real life of our country.” (2)

According to his Parliamentary Entitlements Report for 2009, during the period between 17th to 24th August TA claimed travel allowance for 8 days at $215 per day (a total of $1720) for the time he spent in Aurukun and reported his time there as “official business”.

In 2011 when TA went to Hopevale as a builder’s labourer his Parliamentary Entitlements Report shows that he claimed $349 for staying in Cairns on the 15th of October and $351 (3 nights at $117 per night) from the 16th to 18th of October while based at Cooktown. TA notes that he wasn’t the only one who “mucked in” at Hopevale and his parliamentary colleague Alan Tudge helped “mill some timber”.(3) This is interesting because Tudge didn’t claim travel allowance for his time and contribution at Hopevale. (4)

The 2012 Parliamentary Entitlements Report shows that while TA was leading a delegation of business people on a “working bee” he also received travel allowance ($349 for one night in Cairns, $234 for two nights in Aurukun, and another night in Cairns at $349) and reported his time at Aurukun as “official business”.  He also claimed $9.636.36 for charter travel from Cairns to Aurukun Mission and return on the 10th and 12th of August.

Summary:  TA seems genuinely concerned about the state of remote indigenous communities and should be commended for anything he does to help out and draw attention to the circumstances of indigenous Australians.  But is he volunteering as the media suggest or on official duties?  The line seems very blurred.