LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – On Saturday members of the Stuart family representing the Mparntwe custodians and the original Mbantarinya Native Title claimant group attended what we believed to be the Lhere Artepe AGM at the Doubletree by Hilton.
As non-members of the Lhere Artepe RNTBC or the Mparntwe Aboriginal Corporation we attended only as observers, as requested by other deeply concerned non-member Native Title holders who had received an invite.
We are providing this statement to express our deep concern, disgust and embarrassment at what occurred at the meeting, and to make clear as mentioned in previous statements that Lhere Artepe does not represent nor speak for Mparntwe custodians.
We also state that we have no confidence in Lhere Artepe’s ability to properly function as a representative body for our hard fought for Native Title rights and interests.
Before the meeting had even started, albeit one hour late and without the Chairman of Lhere Artepe in attendance, chaos descended as a verbal altercation broke out in the conference room between members, that quickly turned into a physical fight.
While some attendees joined in the altercation, others in the room intervened to stop it and called for the meeting to be cancelled immediately.
Acting CEO Graeme Smith announced that the meeting was cancelled, but after the fight had been broken up the decision was made to continue the meeting. Those involved in the altercation were not removed from the venue and were left free to roam in and out of the conference room shouting further threats of violence as the meeting continued.
Mr Smith, previously a director of Lhere Artepe for two years and current acting CEO, addressed the room stating that this meeting was not a Lhere Artepe AGM, but a gathering where the three estate group corporations (Antulye, Irlpme and Mparntwe) would be holding their respective AGMs.
He added that Lhere Artepe could not hold an AGM until the estate group corporations’ AGMs had occurred first.
It was not clear how many, or if any directors of the estate groups were in attendance, and a member of the crowd asked Mr Smith to confirm if a quorum had been reached for each of the three corporations, to which he replied he did not know.
A representative from one of the three estate groups objected to holding their AGM considering concerns for safety due to the earlier physical altercation and ongoing verbal threats.
It was also mentioned to Mr Smith that it was not appropriate for the estate group corporations to hold their AGMs concurrently in the same conference room and under the watch of Lhere Artepe management.
Mr Smith agreed and decided that the meeting would become an update of Lhere Artepe’s recent activities. Mr Smith went on to state the following:
• Previous Lhere Artepe CEO Robert Campbell resigned from the corporation in late December without conducting an appropriate handover and will not respond to requests for information about the currently proposed Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) relating to five significant parcels of land in and around Alice Springs
• The proposed ILUAs were written by representatives of the Northern Territory Government, not Lhere Artepe, and Mr Campbell had been expected to have the ILUAs finalised by January 2021. Mr Campbell was said to be undertaking the consultations with Native Title holders alone, as Lhere Artepe has no employed staff.
• Lhere Artepe has no financial capability to employ staff to conduct the consultations with affected Native Title holders and has approached the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) for financial assistance to employ staff. Further, Northern Land Council and Central Land Council representatives would oversee the consultation process which could take many months to complete.
• Lhere Artepe has not adhered to principles and processes of good governance and that this will need to be addressed but will take time as Mr Smith is the only employee of the corporation.
It was at this point we decided to leave the meeting as we had seen enough. We were told later by those who remained that Mr Smith continued to encourage the estate group corporations to hold their AGMs even though they had not reached a quorum, but the members had refused.
The AGMs that were due to be held in November will now be delayed again to a date in April, after which the also delayed Lhere Artepe AGM is expected to occur.
To say we are completely shocked, embarrassed and disgusted at the lack of adherence to the Native Title Act and the CATSI Act, the lack of good governance and the lack of any sense of responsibility to the importance of what Lhere Artepe is supposed to represent would be a severe understatement, although not unexpected.
Mparntwe custodians have not been involved with Lhere Artepe in many, many years and Saturday’s utter chaos is an example of why we have chosen not be a part of the corporation.
It is utterly appalling to see the revolving door of dysfunction continue at Lhere Artepe – the body that our older generations, many of whom have now passed, fought hard to establish through the lengthy Native Title hearings in the late 1990s and subsequent determination in 2000.
We continue to have zero confidence in the leadership of Lhere Artepe as the Native Title Body Corporate, and the Mparntwe Aboriginal Corporation, to conduct any business that relates to our Native Title rights and interests.
As such we will now be exploring options to finally hold Lhere Artepe and Mparntwe Aboriginal Corporation accountable for their multiple failings over many years to abide by the Native Title Act , the CATSI Act and their respective Rule Books, noting that both corporations have previously been under special administration from the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) , and yet the dysfunction has only continued.
Lhere Artepe have demonstrated their inability to even hold an AGM, let alone negotiate land use agreements with the NTG worth millions of dollars by extinguishing our Native Title rights without consulting us or obtaining our consent.
As Native Title holders and the custodians of Mparntwe, we will continue to uphold the responsibilities we inherited to do all we can to protect the important sacred sites on our country, just as our ancestors have done for thousands of years, and we will continue to speak out about the absolute dysfunction of Lhere Artepe and the Mparntwe Aboriginal Corporation that has gone on for over a decade and never been adequately addressed.
The Alice Springs News is offering the right of reply to Lhere Artepe and Mr Smith.
PHOTO: Several people talking to the News outside the venue where the AGM was held spoke fondly about the former Anzac Hill high school, demolished to make room for the government’s proposed national Aboriginal art gallery. They had received their secondary education there.
Last updated 17 March 2021, 9.52am (minor sub-edits).