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Speech: Aboriginal Governance

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:06): As noted by the Hon. Tung Ngo, the inquiry into Aboriginal governance was referred to the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee by the then Premier in February 2021. Over its course, the committee received 48 written submissions and heard oral evidence from 27 witnesses. An overarching theme, emerging from both written and oral evidence, was the challenges faced by native title bodies in their right to recognition and respect for self-determination.

Research has consistently shown that skills-based appointments on governing bodies improve outcomes for all corporations. However, there are limited opportunities for native title body board members to participate in skills and governance training. For example, South Australian Native Title Services submitted that:

The proper training and development is essential because you can't be directors on a board and not have the skills to manage your native title rights and interests, and the funds and everything else that comes along with that.

In this way, dedicated governance training for native title bodies will ensure that all board members, no matter their experience and background, will be able to make informed decisions. Historically, all governance training is provided by ORIC (Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations), which offers a two to three-day basic governance course for directors. However, the committee heard evidence that this training is more focused on accountant-style business training and not focused on decision-making practices that are needed from native title board members. Also, the training is only offered once to those who have been newly elected or as a refresher for those who undertook similar training in the past. There is no ongoing or regular governance training offered by ORIC.

Mr Howard Coote, Indigenous Economic Development Manager with Regional Development Australia, told the committee that, when delivering simplified and direct board training to Aboriginal associations and corporations, by explaining the role of board members, including the chairperson's role, everybody gains a greater understanding of their obligations and responsibilities as a board member.

Self-determination is the ability to have power and control over your own affairs and your own life. For First Nations people this means being able to make decisions that affect community and being able to practise culture. Self-determination is about being empowered and having freedom and dignity. It also involves recognising and respecting First Nations' own decision-making and knowledge systems.

To create better opportunities for native title bodies to reach full self-determination, the committee has recommended that the Commissioner for Corporate Affairs, through the Office of Consumer and Business Services, be resourced to provide regular governance training and education to native title bodies around their obligations under the Associations Incorporation Act 1985—that is the state act.

This would include training provided on any new amendments arising from proposed reforms, on good governance practices and on communication. Instead of micromanaging native title bodies, let us instead give them the right tools and supports so that they are empowered to seek better outcomes for their communities, their country and their people.

On 24 August 2021, the government introduced the Associations Incorporation (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill to the House of Assembly. That bill sought to renew, revitalise and modernise the not-for-profit sector in South Australia and so better educate and inform members of associations of their rights, responsibilities and liabilities. Unfortunately, this bill failed to pass prior to the 2022 election.

It was made very clear to the committee that self-determination can be maintained by native title bodies with improved governance practices and greater transparency. Those amendments are crucial, and I call on the Attorney-General to now reintroduce that bill that was introduced back in 2021 as soon as practicable.

I am sincerely grateful for what I have learned through this inquiry and to all those who made submissions and presented to us. Knowledge is powerful and informed processes lead to better outcomes for all. With that, I commend the report.

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