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Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Page: 85


Mr RAMSEY (GreyGovernment Whip) (17:42): I rise to speak on the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Amendment Bill 2021. The electorate of Grey covers over 92 per cent of South Australia. It has an Indigenous population of around eight per cent and includes all of the remote Indigenous communities that sit within South Australia, so I have a deep interest in the outcomes and fortunes of those people. I often say there's quite a category of difference between those who live in remote communities and those who live in urbanised communities, on a lot of different levels. Sometimes it's as simple as language, but there are a lot of other things at work as well. We need respect and to have the ability to deal with them as different organisations with different needs and wants and give them the room to make the decisions that affect their future. That is what this government endeavours to do.

It would be fair to say that over a period of time—I've been the member for 13 years—I have been shocked and disappointed at the income streams that some of these bodies receive, from mining royalties in particular, and yet seem to be doing almost no good at all on the ground. There are a number of them that have been under administration or investigation by ORIC in recent times, but I think it's a far wider and broader issue than just this. This bill recognises the important role that the corporations play in the current management of Indigenous communities.

When we seek, as we do with this legislation, to improve the transparency and accountability of corporations by requiring them to lay any reports they're required to prepare for the registrar before their annual general meetings, including the new remuneration report which will give members an insight into what the key management personnel in their corporation are being paid and how the corporation funds are being spent, I think that's a very important point, because I'm well aware of organisations that don't always have annual general meetings when they should and they do not provide that information. In fact, a complex web of companies can be set up around these organisations—all with the help of highly skilled lawyers who are very expensive—making it very difficult to chase the money trail. I'm appalled at some of the services provided to these organisations by their appointed lawyers. It's not easy for governments to legislate for smart appointments or to come down in this area, because, of course, these organisations are autonomous. They need to operate within the rules that are set and policed by ORIC. But it's difficult and hard work, and there are some things going on with corporations within my electorate at the moment—with payments and lawyers and whatever—that are in dispute.

I think these are very important recommendations. There have been a number of times when I've had people come to me and say: 'We haven't had our meeting. We haven't had our meeting notice. They don't tell us anything. We don't know anything about the finances of our organisation.' You can reach nothing more than the conclusion that people within their own community are taking for their own benefit and that of their friends and families at the expense of others. If there are these significant streams of income coming to these corporations, why don't we see investments in really useful things like low-cost housing projects? We know there is an ongoing issue with finding housing for Indigenous people in Australia. There is overcrowding. We are looking at Wilcannia at the moment, where 12 people in a house is not uncommon. I know some Indigenous people choose to live in bigger groups, but we also know that we could do with more housing. On one hand we have corporations taking millions and millions—tens of millions—of dollars, yet, on the other hand, we don't see them investing in things that would actually be really important to their people.

Anything we can do to improve that process and sharpen up that focus is good. I think reporting on the remuneration of directors and employees is excellent as well. But, at the same time, we need to be able to provide them with the flexibility to make those decisions. I'm very hopeful this legislation will do that. At the other end of the scale, you have corporations that aren't in receipt of the rivers of gold—with income of less than $1,000 per year, for instance. This will allow them to apply not to hold an AGM, because they may not be doing anything of great significance, and that's a perfectly viable case to make.

There's a point to be made here about the application for membership of a corporation and how that needs to be decided within a specific amount of time. These organisations can become a closed shop. Who they accept as contributing members or franchise members can be up to the organisation itself. Once again, it is very difficult for governments to implant themselves in this process, because we want to these communities to make these decisions for themselves. But I'm aware of organisations where this has become a corrupt practice—organisations where only certain people are admitted or where a bit of muscle is exerted on those who might be jumping out of line. So, while we need those corporations to run themselves, manage themselves and make their own decisions, they also need a framework to operate within which, just as it would a district council or any other corporation, compels them to hold the normal meetings and processes which allow for the unbiased and uninfluenced appointment of those people who might become their directors or employees.

We've got to work with the corporations; we've got to try and help them. I know the minister is more than aware of all these situations. I've had long and deep conversations with him. This legislation we see in front of us is an effort by a very committed minister to try and bring about structural change that will actually change the way these communities operate. It will change the way that the committees that control these communities' assets operate and the way they reinvest in their communities' futures, and ensure that individuals do not take the lion's share and leave the rest of the community to scrabble over the crumbs and crusts that fall off the table.

There is provision within the bill to allow for the adoption of modern technology. Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon, you're probably just about as sick of Zoom meetings as I am, but it seems that it is the way we are going to have to deal with things through the COVID crisis. I suspect it's one of those changes in society that, in a lot of ways, is here to stay. In the federal parliament, for instance, we do allow contribution online, but we don't allow people to vote online yet. I don't know if we're ever going to get there or not. I'm not arguing for change in this particular place, but I think it makes sense that an organisation meeting in an electronic fashion should be able to carry out a vote, certainly at committee level. It is a little harder at a general meeting, as such, so provision is allowed for in that.

Of course, in general we need these organisations to be fit for purpose and we need them to have a purpose which is more than just being in receipt of moneys and doing what they feel like at the moment. We need them to have a real vision, a plan and an idea of where they want their community to be in five years, for instance. A five-year plan would be a wonderful thing, particularly when you're in receipt of an income stream, and then set parameters that draw the board of the day to make those decisions to achieve those outcomes, and not just focus on the short term every step of the way.

I have been saddened by what I've seen across my Indigenous communities over a period of time. We do a lot of good work. We've got some good people out there working very hard for good outcomes. We've also got some people who are not, and they are the blockers of the system. We need to find a way to get around them and take these people forward and get the most out of all the assets and benefits that are provided to them.