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Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash has admitted a drug and alcohol resource library run by a body she cut funding to was not being offered by any other organisation, despite citing duplication as justification for her decision.
The Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia, which has operated since 1966, was placed in voluntary administration in November after its funding was cut. It will close at the end of the week.
Senator Nash told an estimates hearing on Wednesday she had received requests to meet with the chief executive and board of the council, but had not done so, because she received an “enormous amount of requests to meet.”
She said Alastair Furnival, her former chief of staff, met with the organisation to break the news that it would no longer be funded.
Mr Furnival resigned on February 14 over his connections to a company that performed work for the junk food and alcohol industries.
Senator Nash said ADCA had been without funding since June 30, 2013 because the previous Labor government had not put funding arrangements in place.
“Effectively ADCA was unfunded under the previous Labor government,” Senator Nash said.
Senator Nash said she provided the organisation with $750,000 to deal with its ”immediate difficulties” but at the same time decided not to provide any future funding.
She cited a “significant amount of duplication” among organisations in the alcohol and other drugs area as justification for the decision.
She has since announced a review of organisations in the sector.
Labor Senator Jan McLucas and Greens Senator Richard Di Natale questioned why the government had cut funding to the organisation before the review, which was due to conclude at the end of March, had been completed.
“Why did you knock off one organisation before you’d actually started the review,” Senator McLucas asked.
Senator Nash said ADCA’s financial difficulties presented an issue of ”immediacy”.
She acknowledged no other organisation was offering a service similar to ADCA’s research library, the National Drugs Sector Information Service. But she said the organisation were performing several other functions which were being duplicated.
Senator Di Natale said the library was one of ADCA’s ”primary functions”
Former public servant Jenny Hefford is being paid $45,000 to conduct the review. Health department official Nathan Smyth said her terms of reference were not public.
ADCA chief executive David Templeman said the organisation received ministerial approval in April last year for funding through to July 2016. Mr Templeman said the organisation took this as a ”clear indication of ongoing support,” but contracts were never signed.