Nigel Scullion

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is investigating the leak of a document from a staffer alleging proposed changes to the Indigenous Rangers program.

On Friday Crikey reported the contents of a PowerPoint presentation that outlined proposed changes to the successful Indigenous Rangers program — the John Howard-era scheme that promotes indigenous Australians working in land and sea management roles — including limiting the length of time a ranger can participate in the program.

In a letter to the editor of Crikey, Scullion confirms the document was drafted within the department — where indigenous affairs resides — but denies all knowledge of the presentation in question and insists no changes to the program have been planned. He writes the document had “no formal status” and was an internal agency document drafted without a request or input from him or his office.

Scullion says the document was created when caretaker conventions were in place and could have been drafted for discussion with Labor or the Coalition. But the metadata of the document reveals it was last edited during budget week in May before the election was called (Scullion’s office maintains their version of the timeline when Crikey put this to them).

[Leaked docs reveal secret Coalition plans for indigenous rangers]

As a result of the story, the source of the leak is being investigated, Scullion said:

“A formal investigation is under way by PM&C to try to determine who leaked the document to the media and any criminal offences that may have been committed.”

Scullion insists the Coalition has no plans to limit ranger positions, or place a limit on how long rangers can be employed. He reiterates the Coalition’s pre-election promise to the program until 2018, but says no options about the program’s future have been put to him and no decisions have been made.

In a second act of the department apparently defying the wishes of the minister responsible, Scullion also denies responsibility for a report on the impact of government investment in five indigenous protected areas. The government-commissioned independent report found that for the $35.2 million of government investment in the project, it made a social return of $96.5 million. Scullion said he’s not aware the report had been commissioned:

“The report reviewing the impact of government investment in five indigenous protected areas cited in the article was not commissioned by government. It was commissioned by PM&C without my agreement or awareness.”

Crikey understands the department had been sitting on this report since February this year and it was only released under order from the Senate to table it. The document is still hosted on the PM&C website. Those familiar with the matter have told Crikey it would be unusual for the department to commission a report without ministerial awareness or approval.

Contrary to earlier speculation, Scullion retained his portfolio in the new ministry announced yesterday. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said:

“Nigel has been doing an outstanding job as Indigenous Affairs Minister and I am delighted that he is continuing in that role.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey