Anindilyakwa Services Aboriginal Corporation (ASAC) said it’s been forced to close its Men's Shed and School Attendance programs, and is set to lose 22 Indigenous staff members.
The corporation is federally funded through the Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC), but it's most recent funding application has reportedly been outstanding since August last year.
The ASAC director said the corporation has repeatedly tried to contact the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, but all attempts have gone unanswered.
“This is a shocking outcome and could have been avoided, but our plight has been ignored,” Director of ASAC, Serena Barr, said.
She added the closures have “dealt a massive blow” to the community.
“The loss of the Men's Shed will lead to increasing isolation in the community and teachers have already reported a drop in attendance rates amongst students.”
The closure reportedly follows an ongoing funding dispute with the Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC).
ASAC said the land council was attempting to “control and directly influence” ASAC’s finances and service delivery.
“The ALC has refused to guarantee ASAC's future funding instead choosing an ad hoc arrangement. The continued financial uncertainty has seriously compromised ASAC’s ability to ensure the effective long-term delivery of vital programs.”
ASAC has called upon Minister Scullion to either convene a meeting between the land council and the corporation to resolve the funding issues, force the ALC to consider outstanding funding applications, or request that the ALC undergo a financial and performance audit.
“We have raised our plight with Minister Scullion three times. All of our pleas have been ignored. We are asking the Minister to pick up the phone and help us.”
The corporation’s directors said they felt their only choice was to start cutting programs, beginning with the complete shutdown of the “popular” Men's Shed.
“Senior Indigenous figures involved in the program have expressed their anger at the ALC's actions and are considering removing their representatives from the ALC board,” the corporation said.
“ASAC has also been forced to cut a program which was improving school attendance on Groote Eylandt. Teachers in the community have already reported a significant decrease in attendance amongst students.”
ASAC currently employs 22 Indigenous workers and supports 70 Indigenous artists.
“These jobs will be gone after the rationalisation process is complete,” Serena Barr said.
“Groote Eylandt is a small community of around 1600 people who are struggling with a variety of social issues, the loss of these mental health and school attendance programs is appalling and avoidable,” she said.
ASAC is concerned the Anindilyakwa Land Council is “breaching the Aboriginal Land Rights Act”, and wants Minister Scullion to step in.
“ASAC has been subject to demands for excessive information from the ALC, which are in excess of Aboriginal Corporation reporting requirements, including Board meeting minutes, employment contracts, commercial information and significant financial data,” Ms Barr said.
“It has also improperly interfered with ASAC management and staff, including bullying ASAC board members to sign a document and misrepresenting a meeting between the organisations.
“ALC is also refusing to pay interest to ASAC - a breach of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.”
In a statement provided to NITV, the Anindilyakwa Land Council Chairman, Tony Wurramarrba, said the land council was disappointed ASAC had criticised the council.
"The Anindilyakwa Services Aboriginal Corporation was not funded in the recent round of decisions as ASAC was, at that time, still in receipt of adequate funds to maintain its operations until the next disbursement is due to occur," Tony Wurramarrba's statement read.
"Bearing in mind other competing demands for the available funds, it was decided to fund other priorities - confident in the knowledge that ASAC would not be adversely affected.
"The ALC is disappointed that ASAC management has made a number of statements criticising the way in which the ALC has performed its statutory functions. The ALC categorically refutes these statements, each of which is unfounded."
The Chairman added that all of the ALC's funding decisions are made in accordance with Section 35(2) of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976.
"Funds disbursed by the ALC pursuant to Section 35(2) are for the benefit of traditional owners and other Aboriginal people living in the Groote Eylandt region. The decisions made by the Full Council of the ALC were made after careful consideration and with due regard to the needs and the priorities of traditional owners as a whole," Mr Wurramarrba wrote.
The land council also refuted the claims that Groote Eylandt would lose critical services.
"For the avoidance of any doubt, the ALC has given assurances to ASAC staff, currently working on programs eventually to be performed by the ALC, that they will be employed by ALC without any loss of entitlements. The ALC has also notified ASAC, repeatedly, that ongoing support for remaining ASAC programs is also assured. As such, the claims by ASAC management, that ASAC staff members are at risk of dismissal, are without foundation.
"The ALC considers it most unfortunate that ASAC staff have been made to feel uncertain and vulnerable without good cause. They deserve better."