Australia’s legal and political dealings with Aborigines need transparency and rigourous governance

First principles owed to our first people July 14, 2014 The Age Transparency, accountability and rigorous governance are tenets of good public and corporate policy. Without them, there can be little confidence that outcomes will be decent and fair, let alone optimal. The Age‘s investigative team on Saturday revealed that conflicts of interest compromised the process and outcome of a land deal that gave a mining company access to an Aboriginal sacred site in Western Australia.

The evidence raises concerns that the traditional owners of the land, the Martu people, have shamefully been denied the financial benefits they ought to have received. It also casts doubt on the judgment and suitability of the federal government’s indigenous policy supremo, former ALP national president and head of the Indigenous Advisory Council Warren Mundine, because a company he part owned and of which he was a director helped broker the deal.

The company, Indigenous Investment Management Pty Ltd (IIM), was appointed by mining company Reward Minerals to negotiate the deal to mine for potash at Lake Disappointment with the organisation supposed to be representing the Martu people’s interest, the Western Desert Lands Aboriginal Corporation. The probity of the deal is brought into question by a clear potential conflict of interest: the chief financial officer of the corporation also held shares in IIM. IIM succeeded in getting the corporation to abandon its opposition to allowing the mining company access to the sacred site.

Further, confidential advice to the corporation’s board from its lawyers said the negotiation process had “no validity” and had put directors and executives at risk of breaching legal obligations to act honestly and eschew self-interest. Mr Mundine’s integrity and competence need to be seen to be beyond reproach, as his national leadership role involves a delicate balance. He is seeking to prevent the corruption that can sully indigenous organisations receiving mining money, while promoting Aboriginal economic development by opening up more land…….

In coming days, Mr Mundine and Prime Minister Tony Abbott are meeting to discuss a report that could revolutionise the participation of indigenous people in the economy. This newspaper considers improving the lot of Australia’s indigenous people one of the most pressing issues for our nation. Our investigation casts doubt on Mr Mundine’s authority to lead such overdue and crucial change.


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