COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
Aboriginal people have done well surviving in arduous conditions for 50,000 years but it is questionable that they will survive the onslaught of modern bureaucracy, as two recent examples show.
On the one hand governments pretend that Aboriginal customs must be encouraged and protected and that Aboriginal people must have the power to run their own affairs.
On the other they are excluded from doing just that by regimes politicians and their bureaucrats are imposing.
This hypocrisy is like the hand-on-heart acknowledging the traditional ownership “of the country we are standing on” without having any intention of ever getting out of it.
“Blackfeller way” is a reality cast aside by the system cemented in place, taking no account of people with high standing in their society, based usually on their traditional cultural knowledge, the kinds of people also likely to serve on boards.
They are expected to understand the immense complexity of legal concepts and jargon underpinning the management of their taxpayer funded corporations, or else they must leave their running to outsiders.
Where is acknowledgement of the customs of sharing, borrowing money in this system, family obligations? Whites may find aspects of Aboriginal decision making unpalatable yet they are a reality.
Where do we accept that funerals – too many of them, sadly – are more important than attending meetings?
Why do we demand that people who have English as their second or third language and are battling poverty, must have administrative skills that are well beyond the grasp of most white people?
Bureaucracy can continue to insist on financial reconciliation to a cent how much was spent on paperclips. This continues to make lawyers and accountants rich.
Yet governments could introduce true self rule with the following as the condition for public funding, and as the guarantee against its misuse: It will go projects which have precisely defined key performance indicators. If they are met there will be more cash, if not there won’t.
Under this policy money would not be diverted to peripheral service providers but all go the people it is meant for. And achievement will be the actual KPI, not bookkeeping.
Here are two examples put to the Alice Springs News.
The Federal Government’s Office of the Registrar of the Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) is widely seen as an umpire in entrenched Aboriginal vs Aboriginal disputes, principally because there is no-one else. (Google our site for references to this issue.)
William Craig is a member and former director the Alice Springs native title corporation Lhere Artepe.
It was formed following a decision by the Federal Court 20 years ago, consists of three moieties – Antulye, Irlpme and Mparntwe – and it depends on their harmonious collaboration.
It is far from getting that, something Their Honours had clearly not foreseen.
Mr Craig made a written complaint to ORIC that the position of Lhere Artepe’s CEO was never advertised, that he was appointed and later given a pay rise without the membership being consulted, there are no minutes recording any of that, and “all current directors are from Mbantua moiety – they are all Campbells”.
ORIC told Mr Craig: “We have completed our review of your complaint and at this stage we will be taking no further action.”
ORIC refused to discuss Mr Craig’s complaint with the News despite his explicit permission to do so.
A Lhere Artepe spokesman says it has had no contact from ORIC.
He says decisions have been made properly and in accordance with the Rule Book “and it would be wrong and misleading to suggest otherwise.
“The financial statements … are audited each year and reported to ORIC which publishes those statements on its website.”
Example Two: ORIC conducted an investigation of another Alice Springs Aboriginal corporation, concluding “that the corporation has not complied with provisions of the CATSI Act and/or the corporation’s constitution”.
The Alice Springs News is not naming the corporation because we have no reason to doubt a written statement from the acting CEO in response to our request for comment.
The acting CEO says: “A significant proportion of the matters set out in the Notice were addressed prior to the end of May 2020 [and] all remaining matters, excluding the ongoing reporting requirements, were addressed prior to the end of July 2020.”
You will find here the entire report, compiled by two accountants from Tasmania, dated May 19, 2020, minus details that would identify the corporation.
We invite you to imagine how that document would be received by an elder keeping alive traditions thousands of years old, in three languages, none of them English; a grandmother looking after several children whose parents are alcoholics or in prison; a young man with a gang in the streets at night, barely literate.
And especially we would be grateful if you could point to any accomplished KPIs you may discover. Good luck!
Image at top: ORIC design.