By ERWIN CHLANDA
Alice Springs native title holders determined to reform their organisation, Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation (LAAC), say they may have lost a battle at last week’s annual general meeting but they are starting to win the war.
Brian Stirling was re-elected chairman – by just one vote – but the seven hour meeting set in motion a string of measures to get clarity about the multi-million dollar investments, in supermarkets and real estate, by entities linked to Lhere Artepe.
So says a key member of the reform group, Janice Harris (pictured), now a director of LAAC.
The 2010/11 financial report tabled revealed LAAC assets totaling $678,000 in the form of loans to related commercial entities, including $282,000 to LAE Discretionary Trust, understood to be associated with the Mt Johns real estate development, and Lhere Artepe Enterprises ($390,000).
LAAC itself had a loss of $317,000, up from $74,000 last year.
Anthony Beven, the head of the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC), who attended the entire meeting, said it is normal for not-for-profit organisations to experience cycles of surpluses and deficits.
LAAC has adequate assets for the loss not to raise concerns.
Mr Beven said the AGM was told that LAAC had now complied the majority of the 20 requirements of a compliance notice issued by ORIC earlier this year and “the outstanding matters should be finalised before the end of November or early December 2011”.
Asked whether ORIC has any concerns with the fact that Lhere Artepe related LAE Nominees Pty Ltd is the largest shareholder of CDE Civil Pty Ltd which is in liquidation, Mr Beven said LAE Nominees “is an ASIC registered company and is not owned by Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation nor does the aboriginal corporation have an interest in it.
“ORIC has no jurisdiction in relation to the company. You should contact ASIC in relation to any questions you may have about the company.”
Mr Beven says the meeting was orderly and informative, and all people putting questions, including about LAAC’s related commercial entities, received answers.
Ms Harris, a member of the Antulye estate group, says it became clear that the power of “contract” CEO Darryl Pearce will be curtailed and that he will need to corroborate his responses to queries from members with “paperwork”.
His alleged contract to act as the CEO had never been shown to the vocal group of “rebels”.
Ms Harris was elected as one of LAAC’s 12 directors for 2011/12 – but not before having her native title bona fides challenged by a person attending the meeting.
She says this was dismissed by a majority vote of the outgoing 2010/11 board, with advice from traditional law men and women.
The votes for Ms Harris came from all three estate groups.
And she wasted no time checking Mr Pearce when he went to take over the running of the meeting from Mr Stirling who appeared to be unwell.
Ms Harris says she insisted – in compliance with the constitution – that one of the two vice-chairmen take over.
Matthew Palmer took the chair.
Ms Harris says there is a massive task ahead, bringing the organization’s governance and transparency up to speed.
She says, for example, the re-election of Mr Stirling was marred by misunderstandings.
The pressure on the board members is “enormous” when they are required to vote by show of hands. Some abstained and thought – erroneously – this would be counted as a no vote.
Ms Harris says there was some considerable confusion, cleared up later in the meeting, about who could or could not vote.
The meeting was held in the Pioneer Football Club shed on the North Stuart Highway. “
Aboriginal people are shy ”and choose to sit at the back of the hall – including those entitled to vote. Bad acoustics made things worse – some motions were hard to hear. “
“Many have a hearing deficiency,” says Ms Harris.
It appeared proper meeting procedure was a new thing for many members.
“Members in the past have not been subjected to voting in the correct way.
”The option of a secret vote, discussed with ORIC the day before the meeting, was not chosen. ORIC declined to rule on the matter, says Ms Harris, claiming that it was up to the chairman to make the choice.
Ms Harris, and others speaking to the Alice Springs News Online on the condition of not being named, say a defeat of Mr Stirling, opposed only by Ian McAdam, would have had a significant symbolic value.
In essence it would have been a vote of no confidence in the present regime.
Ms Harris says the abstentions gave “a very strong message of a no vote” although they were not counted as a no vote.
Nevertheless, the “old” board, of whom only about 22 of the 30 members were present, approved the 2011/12 board of 30, member by member, without a hitch.
And the 12 directors, four from each estate group, and selected from the “new” 30, now include “four or five people keen to improve meeting procedure and governance,” says Ms Harris.
“They are very aware what is involved in making Lhere Artepe better.”
The new directors will be calling for “paperwork within one month” to answer questions about the organization’s financial affairs remaining unanswered for more than a year, with transactions estimated to total $20m.
Pictured at top: Today’s Lhere Artepe website – its redevelopment is “due for completion in early 2011 [sic]”.
Native title group: losing a battle but winning the war?
By ERWIN CHLANDA