NO ACCOUNTING – FOUR CORNERS
Monday 14th October, 8.30pm ABC1
The Jawoyn people of the Northern Territory own and manage some of Australia’s most picturesque and archeologically rich landscapes. Granted a history-making land title claim centred on the famous Katherine Gorge, the Jawoyn Association set up tourist ventures and negotiated mining royalty deals. For many it was seen as a role model for self determination in action.
But three years ago the Association’s financial position began to crumble. Last year it came close to insolvency. The question is why?
This week, Four Corners reporter Matthew Carney travels north to follow the money trail, trying to find out what went wrong with a body that’s been able to function with the status of a charity.
Carney interviews key figures who reveal the truth about how the Association has been run, and the picture painted is bad news for Indigenous people and the Government body that oversees these ventures.
It’s now clear that while a series of bad business investments have eaten into the Association’s capital base, there is strong evidence that funds have been massively misused. Money has been taken from the Association to purchase consumer items, cars and even a house without full approval of the board of directors or the Jawoyn people. The financial situation is now so desperate that local shops no longer accept purchase vouchers used by elderly Jawoyn to buy food and necessities.
One local woman told Four Corners, “I think the money’s gone you know... someone stole it. It makes me sad, very sad.”
The Jawoyn story is not unique. Across Australia there are thousands of corporations that receive and manage Indigenous funds drawn from land rights agreements. In total, the funds controlled amount to billions of dollars.
Keeping check on the way these organisations are run is a major task. Annual reports should be completed and all investments and expenditure must be accounted for. The Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) is the body that’s been given that task, but many claim it lacks the resources to do the job. ORIC only has six investigators to scrutinise the thousands of organisations spread across Australia.
Four Corners has been told this regulatory regime will be reformed by the new Federal Government. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he wants to bring lasting change to Indigenous Australia. But will the changes come soon enough to help those in dire need?
NO ACCOUNTING, reported by Matthew Carney and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air Monday 14th October on ABC 1 at8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 15th October at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview (abc.net.au/iview) or at abc.net.au/4corners.