A SPECIAL administrator has been appointed to bring the Frankston-based Bunurong Land Council (Aboriginal Corporation) back to “good health”.
Peter McQuoid, who was appointment in early September, has told the land council’s members that someone in his role “helps to fix problems such as money trouble, service delivery problems or poor governance”.
“… The special administrator’s aim is to work with the corporation to fix internal problems and restore it to good health. When I achieve that, I will appoint a new board of directors and hand back control of the corporation to its members.”
Under the terms of his appointment McQuoid, of PDM Consultancy, is due to hand back control on Friday 15 March 2024.
In his first newsletter, McQuoid said the Registrar of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporations Tricia Stroud had “formed a view that the corporation was not being governed effectively or in the best interests of the corporation and its members”.
“Problems with governance and financial management have been going on for some time. The corporation hasn’t successfully held an AGM for the past two financial years, denying members their right to elect directors to govern the corporation on their behalf.”
Financial statements on the Bunurong Land Council website for the year ended 30 June 2021 show a net profit of $1,294,887 ($698,446 in 2020) and a “positive cash flow from operating activities” of $3,542,405 ($1,128,815 in 2020).
The land council provides municipal councils with archaeological field assessments as part of cultural heritage management plan (CHMP) process, cultural heritage advice, and information about the Aboriginal community, people, Bunurong culture, and the environment.
For each of the past two years Mornington Peninsula Shire has given the land council $100,000 under a memorandum of understanding agreement that, according to the mayor Cr Steve Holland, “details our partnership on matters such as land care, cultural training and some of the actions of our Reconciliation Action Plan”.
Holland said the land council’s involvement in CHMPs costs “from about $6000, depending on their complexity”, but was unable to say had how much the shire had paid in the past three years “due to the range of services and fees involved over multiple projects”.
When announcing the appointment of a special administrator Stroud said an examination of the corporation’s books in March “identified serious concerns with respect to the standard of corporate governance of the corporation”.
Examiners who checked the corporation’s books in March “confirmed poor standards of corporate governance and financial management, likely arising from long-standing dysfunction and factions among key roles in the corporation”.
Stroud said positions on the board of directors had been “vacated”.
Financial risk management and governance expert in the financial services sector, Kevin Leighton, has been appointed interim CEO.
“I’m looking forward to taking on this interim CEO role and getting to know the remarkable team at Bunurong Land Council,” Leighton said.
“Professionals” to be appointed next month (November) to a corporation advisory group will, at the end of the special administration, be invited to become non-executive directors on a new board.
Applicants to the “not designated/identified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander appointments” will be expected to have “professional backgrounds in finance, legal, business or other disciplines”.
The Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (BLCAC) is the Traditional Owner organisation and registered Aboriginal Party (RAP) representing the Bunurong people of the south-eastern Kulin Nation on the Mornington Peninsula, Western Port and part of south-west Gippsland.
The latest intervention in the affairs of the Bunurong Land Council comes eight years after the Federal Court in Melbourne fined and disqualified from managing an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander corporations for a set number of years four former directors of the Bunurong Land Council. The fines ranged from $25,000 to $5000 and the managing bans ranged from seven years to three.
The April 2015 case followed the appointment of a special administrator in January 2014 who, due to inadequate records, was unable to properly identify the source and destination of large sums of money.
At the time of the administrator’s appointment the land council had not held an annual general meeting for 10 years and there had been one directors’ meeting in five years.
A news release issued by the ORIC in July 2014 announcing the end of the special administration said there had been “woeful record keeping, financial irregularities, non-payment of tax and possible insolvency—a number of former members were in fierce denial of any governance problems at the corporation”.
“If ever a corporation required external assistance to get back on track it was the Bunurong Land Council (Aboriginal Corporation),” Indigenous Corporations registrar Anthony Beven said. “It is disappointing that some people sought to undermine the special administrator, rather than working constructively with him for the betterment of the corporation.”
The news release went on to state that from the outset of their appointment the special administrator and registrar “took the position that poor governance, accountability and transparency would no longer be tolerated at the Bunurong Land Council (Aboriginal Corporation)”.
“The corporation is now strong again and well run. Bunurong people who have long been excluded from having a say in the running of their corporation have been warmly welcomed back to the corporation.”