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EXCLUSIVE: Watchdog bites Turnbull’s indigenous advisor

EXCLUSIVE – One of Malcolm Turnbull’s key indigenous advisors has been snared in a credit card scandal by the Government’s own indigenous corporations watchdog.

The Office of the Registrar of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporations, or ORIC, issued a compliance notice against the Derby-based Winun Ngari Aboriginal Corporation on 12 grounds on April 4.

Winun Ngari is the biggest community development provider for remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia’s West Kimberley region.

It is headed by Susan Murphy, a member of Mr Turnbull’s newly “refreshed” Indigenous Advisory Council since February.

Ms Murphy could not be reached for comment by the National Indigenous Times today.

Winun Ngari has been warned by ORIC against financial and other irregularities in its operations, including an “unusual” credit card practice.

Among the alleged financial irregularities cited by ORIC was a corporation credit card issued to an external consultant who was not an employee.

Examiners tasked with investigating the corporation’s books reported the card appeared to have been issued without the directors’ knowledge, or without their knowledge of the possible implications.

“The examiners are of the view that the issuing of the credit card to the external consultant is an unusual practice and undesirable to the corporation,” the notice said.

Other alleged irregularities included unreconciled bank accounts.

The ORIC notice, issued under subsection 439-20(1) of the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006, said at the time of the examination two of the corporation’s bank accounts had not been reconciled.

One bank reconciliation resulted in a discrepancy of $7262.23, the watchdog alleged.

The compliance notice also warned Winun Ngari of “inadequate” employment records.

A sample review of staff employment files “identified that the corporation did not have any records on file of each employee’s superannuation details and in some instances their tax declaration forms were also not on file”.

Examiners also reported Winun Ngari directors were not regularly monitoring the corporation’s financial position, performance and affairs.

It also came under fire for administrative procedures, including allegedly not maintaining a register of members and not keeping proper minutes of all AGMs and directors meetings.

“The corporation’s chief executive officer advised the examiners that a break-in occurred some time ago and since then a number of the corporation’s documents had been archived,” the notice said.

Winun Ngari’s corporation notices for its annual general meetings for the years ended June 30, 2014 and June 30, 2015 also allegedly did not include all of the required content and normal business at the 2014 AGM, as is legally required.

Other issues related to its AGMs included allegations that meeting minutes had not been signed by a chairperson and were not provided to ORIC examiners.

Directors also did not meet at least once every three months since July 1, 2014, as was required, the examiners found.

When they did meet, some of the minutes went unsigned, were unavailable to examiners or in the case of a meeting on November 18, 2015, there were two sets — one partial set was signed by the chairperson while the other full set was unsigned.

Winun Ngari has been given a range of deadlines by ORIC to pick up its game. These include:

  • Immediate termination of any corporation business credit cards that have been issued to external consultants who are not directors or employees and, by June 16 to provide written, independent confirmation from the bank that the cards have been cancelled.
  • An immediate review of the processes for directors to monitor the corporation’s financial position, performance and affairs and to send a written report on its actions to ORIC by June 16.
  • By June 2 it must make sure its list of members and former members complies with the Act.
  • By June 16 it must improve the record-keeping of all AGMs, general meetings and directors’ meetings.

The Winun Ngari website says Ms Murphy joined the corporation in October 2013 as its chief executive officer.

Her biography on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet website lists her area of expertise as ‘employment’ and says she has held positions in a number of government organisations.

Mr Turnbull’s office was approached today for comment.

ORIC maintains the public registers of Aboriginal councils and incorporated Aboriginal associations.

Wendy Caccetta

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