By ERWIN CHLANDA
The fierce struggle for control of assets owned by Alice Springs native title owners seems set to be resolved, according to a reliable source, speaking on condition of not being named.
The source says moves are afoot to return direct control to the Alice Springs native title organisation Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation (LAAC) of the three IGA Supermarkets – Flynn Drive, Eastside and Hearne Place – as well as other assets held by a private company linked to LAAC .
LAAC operates under the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC), while Lhere Artepe Enterprises Pty Ltd (LAE), which now controls the assets, is incorporated by ASIC.
LAE, in turn, belongs to an entity, Lhere Artepe Pty Ltd, which is owned in equal shares by the three Aboriginal estate groups. These same estate groups make up LAAC. It is to that entity (LAAC) that the assets will be transferred, says the source.
Meanwhile ORIC has told LAAC that it is considering placing LAAC under special administration, and has given it till close of business Friday to show that it should not be taking this action, although it was LAAC which asked for the special administrator in the first place.
LAE company secretary Sally McMartin says she has not been notified of these moves, and nor have the LAE board members – including Deputy to the Administrator Pat Miller – given consent for them to take place.
Ms McMartin says about the way the assets came into the possession of LAE some years ago: “I am not sure how the structure was determined but think it was determined by LAAC at the time – certainly they had legal advice when setting up the companies and trusts.”
“It would seem that the commercial arm was deemed to be more sensibly separated from the traditional Aboriginal Corporation activities.”
The people working within LAE and a network of trusts have been acting not only in the interests of all LAAC members – the town’s native title holders – but also without remuneration, says Ms McMartin.
She is unsure of the benefits of formally transferring assets to LAAC, as native title holders are already the key shareholders.
“The current LAE board has worked tirelessly to resolve the legal, financial and organisational issues that faced these companies over the last few years.
“While not out of the ‘financial woods, the board of LAE has managed to almost turn around the situation and are now concentrating their efforts on building the three IGA supermarkets into viable and profitable business that will benefit all native title holders in the future,” says Ms McMartin.
“There is no case for returning the assets to LAAC – its members are their de-facto owners.”
But the source says the switch of asset ownership can take place nevertheless, just on the authority of the estate groups’ representatives and directors.
Ferocious disputes over several years were triggered when the LAAC EO at the time, Darryl Pearce, put in place a complex structure which – so say some LAAC members – removed control over the assets from native title holders and without their authority.
The supermarkets, a share in the Yeperenye Shopping Centre and the Mt Johns Valley residential subdivision are all part of this multimillion dollar deal (google this site for earlier reports).
The result will likely be that control over the assets will be in the hands the organisation founded in the wake of the Federal Court’s recognition of native title over Alice Springs, and all its members, rather than with a hand-picked few, says the source.