A Liberal senator is fuming about the $30,000 price tag dangling from a 15-page discussion paper on the constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians.
West Australian Dean Smith, a vocal opponent of constitutional recognition, pressed bureaucrats for the figure during a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Friday.
“Have you read the paper? Would you call it creative? Was there any new work in it?” he asked officials of the Referendum Council paper released in October.
“The paper is factual, senator,” was the response.
“Very factual – there’s nothing new in it,” Senator Smith fired back.
“Nine pages of written text, two pages of questions, that works out to $3300 a page.”
More than $30 million in government money has been spent on Recognise Australia since 2012, senators were told.
An additional $9.5 million has been given to the Referendum Council since July 2015.
The council has spent $5.6 million on conferences, $1.6 million on a digital platform and $500,000 on meeting expenses.
Another $250,000 went to the Cape York Institute for a research and development project, while the Human Rights Commission pocketed $234,000 for an executive officer who went to a Referendum Council indigenous steering committee.
Senator Smith said it was well known he did not support indigenous recognition in the Constitution.
“But I certainly don’t support large slabs of taxpayer money being used to argue a case for constitutional change in the absence of a clear position,” he told AAP on Friday afternoon.
“I particularly object to $40 million of taxpayer money being used, which has taken us further away from consensus, not closer to it.”
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion expects more funds will be needed for the constitutional recognition effort.
But Senator Scullion said the complex, sensitive and exhaustive process was nearing completion.
“I would always wish for the recognition of our first Australians under our Constitution to be a very important thing for all Australians,” he told senators.
Senator Smith quizzed the minister on the timing of a referendum.
“It’s now very clear, though, that this constitutional referendum will not be held to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum,” he said.
“I think we can safely say that’s not going to happen.”
“I agree, senator,” Senator Scullion replied.
Meanwhile, senators were told more than 200,000 penalties have been issued to participants who’ve failed to show up for a remote “work for the dole” style program since it began in July 2015.
Almost 55,000 “no show, no pay” sanctions were issued to people involved in the Community Development Program between July and September last year.
The program includes about 35,000 people in remote communities, the vast majority of whom are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Participants are expected to do up to 25 hours of “work-like activities” per week.
Senator Scullion said the CDP had delivered more than 12,000 jobs and engagement had increased from seven to 62 per cent.