Desert Knowledge rejects requests for information

ABOVE: Image from DKA annual review.

 

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA) chairman Fred Chaney (pictured) has rejected all requests for information from the Alice Springs News Online except for financial information that is already on the public record.

 

Mr Chaney appears to suggest his hands are tied because DKA is “a statutory corporation, and responses to media inquiries need to be in accord with our obligations as a statutory body and other considerations”.

 

Also, he says the NT Government is conducting an inquiry into DKA.

 

The News asked the Chief of Staff and Media Adviser of NT Treasurer Dave Tollner whether Mr Tollner had issued any instructions to DKA not to give information to the News. We were told that had not been the case.

 

DKA has received about $900,000 a year from the NT Treasury.

 

Meanwhile DKA has told the ABC that a “collective impact” initiative is under way known as “Before birth till four” in which a string of organisations are collaborating in research about infants’ health and well-being.

 

The News has been told by the NT Department of Health – obviously the key player in such an effort – that it is not participating in the initiative.

 

Our inquiries follow information received from sources that include people who have contacted us, and people we have contacted, all of whom have detailed knowledge about DKA, and spoke with us on the condition of not being named.

 

We asked Mr Chaney and CEO John Huigen for the following material or information:–

 

• The 2012-13 profit and loss statement. Mr Chaney informed us this is on the public record (contained in the report to the Legislative Assembly by the Auditor-General for the Northern Territory). It shows DKA received government grants totaling $1.8m and “other operating receipts” amounting to $1.4m.

 

• Payment to employees were $1.2m but the report does not specify the wages of top executives. Mr Chaney did not answer a question from us about these wages.

 

• Neither would he disclose the staff turnover in 2013/14 (to date), nor would he releases a report on HR issues delivered to DKA in November or December 2013. Our sources say that this report is critical of DKA’s dealings with staff.

 

• Neither would Mr Chaney release a report by consultant Jane Munday about the objectives of DKA. Our sources say DKA – after nearly 10 years in operation – still has no clearly articulated objectives which can be and are systematically implemented.

 

• Nor would Mr Chaney release a Business Transformation Plan, nor the board minutes for 2013.

 

This is how Mr Chaney explained his silence on those issues: “The other documents and information you have requested are confidential due to their nature as they relate to Human Resources questions where individuals would be identified, or relate to internal business or board matters.”

 

Mr Chaney does not explain in what way that prevents him from being transparent about an organisation funded mostly from the public purse.

 

He requested his letter to be published in full as a Letter to the Editor. The News is happy to oblige:-

 

Dear Sir,

 

On 4 January 2013 you wrote to me and our CEO, John Huigen, to request a series of documents and information. John responded on his return from leave on 6 January saying we would respond within a few days.

 

As he discussed with you on 8 January, Desert Knowledge Australia is a statutory corporation, and responses to media enquiries need to be in accord with our obligations as a statutory body and other considerations.

 

As you published these questions before we had a chance to respond our response is also public and we would hope you would publish this letter in its entirety as a Letter to the Editor.

 

Some of the documents you have asked for are available for public record, such as our Annual Review and Financials, which can be obtained through established standard processes. These have been sent to you for your convenience. Our 2012-13 Annual Review and Financials were tabled and accepted by Parliament in December 2013.

 

Our Annual Review, which outlines our activities for that period, was also tabled and is available on our website www.desertknowledge.com.au.

 

The other documents and information you have requested are confidential due to their nature as they relate to Human Resources questions where individuals would be identified, or relate to internal business or board matters.

 

The Northern Territory Government is currently undertaking an independent review of Desert Knowledge Australia, and as you would expect we are cooperating fully with the reviewer.

 

Our board is satisfied that DKA have acted in accordance with the objects set out in the Desert Knowledge Australia Act and have made good progress in relation to available resources. We believe the review should take its course before we make any further comments on matters relating to Desert Knowledge Australia.

 

When the outcomes of the review are known, we will first inform our staff, and then work with the NT Government to communicate these outcomes transparently to the public, including all interested media.

 

Sincerely

Fred Chaney

Chair

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