Indigenous recognition co-chairman 'surprised' by contract

THE Liberal co-chairman of parliament's indigenous recognition committee was "surprised" to learn Prime Minister Tony Abbott's department issued a $33,500 contract to the Cape York Institute to research Constitutional reform.

The contract was issued earlier this year to the Institute after its director, indigenous figure Noel Pearson, wrote to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet seeking financial support.

The research helped develop Mr Pearson's ideas for a recent essay in which he reversed his long-standing support for a ban on racial discrimination to form part of Constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians, in an effort to quell conservative concerns about the prohibition.

Joint Select Committee co-chairman, Indigenous MP Ken Wyatt, has confirmed neither Mr Abbott's office nor the department told the committee of the contract before it was revealed earlier this month.

Mr Wyatt said he was "somewhat surprised that a contract had been given to a specific group, given that we as a committee are working on a multi-party solution".

"Normally, that doesn't happen, however in this instance it has, and I suspect the power of persuasion was involved to undertake the work," Mr Wyatt said.

"Noel's very influential in persuading people about a way forward and he seeks either support or funding to do so."

Mr Wyatt told APN while Mr Pearson had a standing invitation to speak at a public hearing for the committee's inquiry he had not yet chosen to do so.

Rather, Mr Wyatt said Mr Pearson would attend a "private meeting" with committee members this week to discuss the issue and he could not comment on private talks.

While several other committee members have asked Mr Abbott to publicly explain the matter, Mr Abbott's office has not responded to questions.

Neither Mr Pearson nor the Cape York Institute responded to questions and the department has previously said the research did not breach government procurement rules.

But Mr Wyatt said while he was surprised, he was not "perturbed", as the committee's report would have "greater standing" in the parliament and wider community.

"I've thought about Noel's report and the more information we have, the better for public debate, we've got to acknowledge the key leaders in our community," he said.

"However, from the committee's perspective, he's just one other group or person contributing and we don't give any extra weight to any one group."



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