A Commonwealth department has produced 17 versions of a consultant's report, amid accusations the document was redrafted until it told departmental bosses what they wanted to hear.
The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development hired the private contractors in May 2014 for a report on aged care on Christmas and Cocos Island after years of complaints from islanders and the territory's administrator about the lack of services.
But nearly a year after hiring Australian Healthcare Associates, for what seemed a straightforward job, the department admits there are now 17 drafts of the report in existence but refuses to make any of them public.
The department would not answer a series of questions on Tuesday but denied it demanded the report be shorn of bad news, saying the rewrites were to ensure the consultants complied with their brief.
Christmas Island Shire president Gordon Thomson and former administrator of the Indian Ocean Territories Jon Stanhope say they believe the department's bosses in Canberra have been sending the reports back to Australian Health Associates until its finding are in keeping with what the department wants.
Mr Thomson says the "questionable practice" has been going on for years.
Christmas Island Shire faces an aged-care crisis, with up to 110 of its ageing residents likely to need full-time care in coming years, but with only a basic version of home help available to elderly islanders.
The shire believes Canberra bureaucrats are determined not to provide the same level of care to elderly Australians living on Christmas and Cocos islands as their fellow citizens on the mainland enjoy.
After years of lobbying, the department agreed to hire the consultants in May 2014 with a report due by August that year, for a price of about $60,000.
But eight months after it was due, all 17 versions of the report are being kept under wraps and the department has demanded more than $4000 to consider releasing the document under freedom of information laws.
Former administrator of the territories Jon Stanhope, who lodged the FOI application, says he too believes the department sent back the report's drafts, demanding a rosier picture be painted of the services offered to the islanders.
"One is entitled to ask why," the former ACT chief minister said.
"What it is about aged care in the Indian Ocean Territories that the department and the minister are embarrassed to reveal is that there is none and that is what this report will reveal."
The consultant who wrote the review is on leave and was unavailable to be interviewed on Tuesday.
Mr Thomson said he and his fellow islanders were used to the department asking for reports to be changed when they did not suit the departmental agenda.
"The department often gets a report and then they they ask the consultant to change the report, which I think is a very strange practice but it is the practice," the shire president said.
"Its been going on for many years.
"Let us assume the department is asking the consultant to tailor the report for the benefit of the department.
"I don't think these 17 versions of the report are about correcting grammar, I think they are about insisting that the consultant gives the department what it wants.
"It's a questionable practice, they should provide an explanation of this practices.
"Why is it necessary that a paid consultant should be re-writing a report at the behest of a department?"
A departmental spokesman said the drafting process is to ensure that the agreed terms of reference have been fully addressed in the report".
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