Aboriginal leaders in South Australia say they want to see the “highest level of accountability and transparency” in community organisations, but have criticised an inquiry into issues of governance approved by the Marshall government last week.
The South Australian Parliament approved a formal inquiry into the “governance standards” of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations across the state, after a campaign from Aboriginal community members.
The inquiry will review the accountability, transparency, cultural authority and financial obligations of community controlled organisations and will be conducted by the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee.
It’s a move that has been criticised by Indigenous leaders across the state as “undermining” Aboriginal people’s ability to self-govern and impeding on their path to self-determination.
SA Native Title Services chief executive, Keith Thomas, is one of twelve Indigenous leaders in the state to sign a letter addressed to Premier and Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Steven Marshall, opposing the inquiry.
“It could damage reputations of organisations and individuals, but hopefully, given that it is going ahead, there’ll be a balance to the view given by the committee of the inquiry,” Mr Thomas told NITV News on Friday.
“There are people who have been elected by their community to represent the community and do the work, but there are also people who are unhappy with those processes sometimes, and they want to be the group that has the power and authority.
“We [signatories] fully support good governance. So from our point of view, we work to support groups to ensure that they are practicing good governance."
Mr Thomas said now that the inquiry is going ahead, he will look at it as a "positive" and hoped the outcome will improve Aboriginal lives.
The Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) is the recognised body tasked with overseeing matters of good governance into Indigenous community-controlled organisations across Australia.
In the letter addressed to the SA Premier, Aboriginal leaders warned that Mr Marshall risked causing "great harm to individuals, tearing families apart and damaging communities".
"Allowing and encouraging people to prosecute their personal grievances under parliamentary privilege risks great harm to individuals, tearing families apart and damaging communities," the letter said.
"We want to see the very highest levels of accountability and transparency in Aboriginal organisations.
"However, we are concerned that your proposal seems to suggest Aboriginal people or organisations are less capable of managing their own affairs than other South Australians."
Adnyamathanha, Kuyani and Yankunytjnatjara man, Tiger McKenzie, however, stood firm on his view that Aboriginal leaders across the state only looked out for their own self-interests.
He told NITV News on Friday that leaders needed to be held to account otherwise "nothing would change".
“I’m one of the people that’s trying to bring proper governance into Aboriginal communities,” said Mr McKenzie.
“I know in this particular community and other Native Title bodies, that some of them groups don’t represent the people they should be representing.
“If we don't get this type of inquiry, then those organisations are failing in their responsibility to fix the issues facing a lot of the Aboriginal people, like proper engagement with community members, health and education.”
The Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee will be accepting submission from community members across the state until March 31.