In the bush, the Age of Entitlement meets the Asset Test

p2243-centrecorp-propertiesAT RIGHT: Aboriginal assets in Alice Springs, through “principal investments,” as declared by Centrecorp on its website, are the Peter Kittle Motor Company [1] which also has a major presence in South Australia; Yeperenye Shopping Centre [2]; L J Hooker [3]; Milner Road Foodtown [not shown]; Chifley Resort [4]; Memorial Club [5] property; and properties at 75 and 82 Hartley Street [6]. BELOW: Part of the Granites gold mine from which royalties flow to immensely wealthy groups associated with the Central Land Council.

 

COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Land ownership in the Territory, in round figures, looks like this: Aboriginal people make up one third of the population and own one million square kilometers.

 

The non-Aboriginal people make up two thirds of the population and own the other one million square kilometers.

 

That means per head of population, Aboriginal people own twice as much land as do non-Aboriginal.

 

This should ring a very large bell as public speculation and political utterances around the country about asset testing are reaching fever pitch. But the discussion in The Centre is only just getting under way.

 

The nation is grappling with questions like this: Why should you get to keep that million dollar home for which you’ve worked all your life and still get the pension?

 

Off you go, tootle down to your bank, take out a reverse mortgage, hope you die before it’s all gone. You leave nothing your kids.

 

Meanwhile, on the Aboriginal-owned million square kilometers, capable of being parceled out in 99-year leases, assets are sitting idle: Much of this land is viable cattle country; much has excellent ground water reserves where horticulture could blossom; there are a million camels in the deserts; the wide open spaces and zero pollution would make tourists’ heads spin with joy; and Aboriginal culture (just those bits that can be disclosed without compromising it) would make for a holiday experience completely unique in the world.

 

But there are no jobs out there, I hear you say. That’s correct. Why? Because all the things above would require work. Ah, that four-letter word.

 

Talking about assets: Very quietly a major change has occurred in the secretive Centrecorp Aboriginal Investment Corporation Pty Ltd: The shareholding has changed from three shares Central Land Council (CLC) and one share each for the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Tangentyere. Now the CLC has still three but Congress and Tangentyere have two each.

 

That means the CLC is still the biggest shareholder but no longer has the majority.

 

Congress in fiscal 2014 had an operating income of $41.4m, mostly from government grants. Tangentyere will not disclose its financial details and Centrecorp is a Pty Ltd company which has minimal public disclosure obligations.

 

Explains Centrecorp on its website: “To comply with its enabling legislation, which precludes Central Land Council itself from undertaking commercial activities, whilst at the same time creating an entity with a robust ethic and sound corporate governance, Central Land Council joined with Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Tangentyere Council as joint trustees of a charitable trust.”

 

p2145-Bess-PriceBess Price (at left), whose NT Electorate of Stuart is bigger than Germany and has a mostly Aboriginal population, has some robust views about commercial progress in the bush. But decisive action still is in the future.

 

The asset test promoters need look no further than into the Tanami desert, Minister Price’s patch, where two Aboriginal organisations are rolling in it: One, Kurra Aboriginal Corporation, is getting “royalty income from mining services” and “traditional owner distributions” and income from “investment properties”.

 

Kurra in fiscal 2014 had a total equity of $46.3m.

 

The Granites Mine Affected Areas Aboriginal Corporation in fiscal 2014 had total accumulated funds of $25.5m.

 

It is understood that both organisations rely on Centrecorp for its investment decisions.

 

I spoke with Ms Price who says: “I don’t have much to do with Centrecorp. I haven’t had dealings with them at all.”

 

NEWS: On the face of it, if Congress and Tangentyere would get together, they could roll the CLC and gain control over assets likely to be worth north of $100m. Why should any government fund organisations with access to such an asset base? Why don’t they use their own assets?

 

PRICE: I’d ask that question, too. Why don’t they? There is an opportunity for this money to go back to the communities from whose land the royalties come. It would help these communities hugely to create enterprises and jobs, and lift the living standards.

 

NEWS: How could you and the NT Government have an influence on such a process?

 

PRICE: We’ll have to have a conversation – the Commonwealth, us and Centrecorp, how best to use the funding that is available through Centrecorp.

 

NEWS: Has such a conversation taken place in the past?

 

PRICE: I don’t believe it has … but it could start small businesses in communities, bakeries, nurseries, some things from which communities could benefit and make a living.

 

NEWS: Is this something you would initiate?

 

p2242-1721-Granites-minePRICE: I’d welcome it. I’d have to speak to my Chief Minister, of course.

 

NEWS: Asset tests are being discussed at the moment. Aboriginal people in the Territory have a lot of land. That could come into play. Add civic infrastructure on communities, public housing and the dole and the total of assets is substantial. Could they be marshaled into commercial development?

 

PRICE: Aboriginal people are land rich but the question is what to do with it. We yet haven’t been able to get to that stage. People are crying out for getting benefits from their land. It’s really up to the land councils. They should talk to the traditional owners about how we could develop the land. It’s not doing anything for us right now.

 

NEWS: Given that nothing significant has happened through the land councils, especially in The Centre, should the NT Government step in?

 

PRICE: This government is all about that. We want to create opportunities for the traditional owners to develop their land. But it’s up to the traditional owners to take that first step. They need to voice their opinions. There are some out there who want to go in that direction. They have ideas about enterprises and businesses, being creative on their land. They need to talk to the land councils, to make this dream they have come true.

 

NEWS: What especially are they aiming for?

 

PRICE: The Warlpiri want control over their lives and their country, a say as to what happens on it, whether it’s mining, economic development, have the power to do as they please on their country. They don’t have that power.

 

NEWS: What stops them?

 

PRICE: It’s the Landrights Act that prevents them from creating that opportunity for themselves.

 

Meanwhile to get a handle on the ins and outs of Centrecorp isn’t getting any easier.

 

Extensive coverage (google this site) in the Alice Springs News Online, in 2009 sparked a Senate inquiry further revealing some of the dealings.

 

Today Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, who is responsible for the CLC as a statutory body under his control, whilst usually being eminently accessible, is dodging questions about Centrecorp.

 

So are the other NT Senator, Nova Peris, the CLC, Tangentyere and Centrecorp itself. Congress says it’s still coming to grips with its role in the investment company. Its website doesn’t disclose much.

 

If its assets value is indeed around $100m then what it hands out to its (presumed) Aboriginal owners is paltry: The Centrecorp Foundation “is currently budgeted” to spend $1.5m a year. A well-managed portfolio worth $100m can be expected to turn off $10m a year.

 

According to the website Centrecorp’s “principal investments” are in the Peter Kittle Motor Company (which also has a significant presence in South Australia), Yeperenye Shopping Centre, L J Hooker Alice Springs, Milner Road Foodtown, Chifley Alice Springs Resort, Alice Springs Memorial Club property; and properties at 75 and 82 Hartley Street.

 

Sources say Centrecorp – apart from Kittles – has substantial other interests interstate and in Alice Springs.

 

ERROR: In the initially published image at top right we misidentified the Chifley Resort. We thank the reader who pointed this out to us.

 

 

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17 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Joan
    Posted June 16, 2015 at 10:07 am

    @ Bob Durnan: You say that Centrecorp is constrained in the way it can spend the millions it has in trust and would not be free to spend money on communities or people that aren’t beneficiaries of the trust.
    But the taxpayer gave it $25 million and effectively a lot more through low interest loans.
    Surely it can spend the money on addressing Aboriginal disadvantage of any kind and anywhere.
    Centrecorp could and probably should sell all its assets and fund 100 new houses or build some new health clinics or fund additional teachers, nurses and doctors etc.

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  2. Pagan
    Posted June 9, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Until all Australians are treated equally, this will continue and we will be paying some for the rest of our lives.

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  3. Punter
    Posted June 4, 2015 at 8:08 am

    @ Mr Durnan: There are other public documents e.g. CLC annual report 2013-14.
    Page 137 (finances) has a statement re the fair value of Centrecorp shareholding (“nil” it says, with explanation of the charitable trusts, managed independently).
    The finance statements are signed off as correct by the Australian National Audit Office for the Australian Government – page 111 of the same CLC annual report.

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  4. Paul Parker
    Posted June 1, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Re: Melanie Ross Posted May 31, 2015 at 2:11 pm
    In reply to Melanie Ross’s question: “How has the Land Rights Act stopped you from ‘doing what you please on your country?'”
    In simple terms, it prevents living a normal life, in more detail:
    The Central Land Council claims a “Traditional Owner” has a right to stand somewhere upon the ground, though not clear on where.
    The Central Land Council claims a “Traditional Owner” does not have the right to live in a house.
    The Central Land Council claims a “Traditional Owner” does not have the right to receive visitors, tradespeople, even family members to their home, unless receive permission through the Central Land Council which may be canceled at a moments notice.
    The Central Land Council claims trading is not a “Traditional” activity.
    The Central Land Council claims a “Traditional Owner” does not have the right to undertake a business with persons not “Traditional Owners” except with “Land Trust” permissions.
    The Central Land Council and or the Haasts Bluff Land Trust and or unknown “Traditional Owners” ordered the departure of our family from Kintore.
    The Central Land Council and or the Haasts Bluff Land Trust and or unknown “Traditional Owners” are claiming the right to order the separation and segregation of families within ALR(NT) lands.
    With attempts to resolve the matters rejected, issues were raised before the NT Supreme Court.
    The Central Land Council and or the Haasts Bluff Land Trust and or unknown “Traditional Owners” belatedly acknowledged to the NT Supreme Court the “Traditional Owner” status of some members of our family.
    However the Central Land Council and or the Haasts Bluff Land Trust and or unknown “Traditional Owners” maintain their claim of the right to practice apartheid, the right to segregate, to order separation of families of Australians, using racial testing.
    The NT Supreme Court found the related issues, needed judicial resolution.
    The claims of authority to segregate, to order forced separation of families, requires some Constitutional issues arising be taken to the High Court.
    Commonwealth Attorney-General’s refusal to grant legal aid prevents the Constitutional issues being resolved, as well as preventing the NT Supreme Court proceeding to trial, resulting in the NT Supreme Court ordering a stay of proceedings until legal assistance provided.
    When legal assistance provided these issues may be clarified.
    Central barrier preventing “Traditional Owners” doing what they desire within their country, is the ongoing refusal of the Central Land Council and or the Haasts Bluff Land Trust and or unknown “Traditional Owners” to issue reasonable valid leases.
    I believe the Central Land Council is currently attempting to have collected “rent” from “Traditional Owners” for the houses they live in without valid leases being issued.
    The matters are not resolved, so over two decades later, our families remain segregated under the Commonwealth ALR(NT).
    Similar difficulties exist within lands of Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara.

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  5. Melanie Ross
    Posted May 31, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    How much do you get in royalties Bess?
    What small businesses have yourself and your family started up to generate employment and economic development on country?
    How has the Land Rights Act stopped you from “doing what you please on your country”? I’d love the answers to these pretty obvious questions.
    How about acknowledging that Centrecorp is one of the major investors in Alice Springs, generating jobs and economic development in the town. Or does this not suit the peculiar world of Erwin Economics.

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  6. Russell Guy
    Posted May 31, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Four crows sit in a dead mulga tree. A hundred Bundy rum and VB beer cans are scattered below.
    Indignant tourists think it’s the white man’s fault. They have no idea. A flight of quarrions go by and majestic wedge-tails soar in the clear blue sky.
    The preacher from town drives along the back roads collecting empty cans. It’s Sunday morning in the Dreaming.

    View Comment
  7. Heckler
    Posted May 31, 2015 at 4:16 am

    “Congress says it’s still coming to grips with its role in the investment company.”
    But Congress and its current Chairman (former CEO of Tangentyere Council) have had trustee obligations for many years.
    Recent changes to voting rights aside, is Congress admitting it has failed to properly exercise its obligations as a trustee? Does the quote also imply that Tangentyere Council has failed to understand its Centrecorp role?
    The Sgt Schultz excuse works in Hogan’s Heroes, but should not be accepted in this circumstance.

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  8. Paul Parker
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    These are all problems created by the Commonwealth, and need be resolved by the Commonwealth.
    Improvements in management require greater public accountability.
    Expect little change until Commonwealth cancels exemptions from accountability, until Commonwealth requires same public standards of responsibility and accountability for ALR(NT) and Native Title Act corporate land trusts as expected from other landlords.
    These Commonwealth created landlords refuse leases, refuse to maintain their housing, while they deny basic legal and human rights, and at same time try shift their costs onto Public Funding.
    They shall continue this way until publicly called to account in the courts.
    It’s time the Commonwealth Attorney-General ceased supporting apartheid, started supporting legal assistance for those seeking equality of opportunity.

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  9. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    @ Another Observer: “At what point do the unions and their associated businesses need to start paying tax?” You forgot the churches!
    Churches reap the benefits of belief: $500 million in tax exemptions.
    http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/churches-reap-the-benefits-of-belief-500-million-in-taxexemptions/2006/04/28/1146198351877.html

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  10. Bob Durnan
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    Erwin, you correctly quote the CLC website as saying “Central Land Council joined with Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Tangentyere Council as joint trustees of a charitable trust.”
    That charitable trust is Centrecorp.
    Doesn’t a charitable trust have to look after assets on behalf of its beneficiaries? That would mean that it only has power to use the assets and resources in ways approved of by the actual owners of the money held in trust, within the parameters set by the Trust’s rules, wouldn’t it?
    As such, it would not be free to spend money on communities or people that aren’t beneficiaries of the trust.

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  11. David of the Alice
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Quote : “Aboriginal people make up one third of the population and own one million square kilometers.”
    “The non-Aboriginal people make up two thirds of the population and own the other one million square kilometers.
    “That means per head of population, Aboriginal people own twice as much land as do non-Aboriginal”. Unquote.
    Thanks Erwin, this statistic is news to me. Another thing I would like to know is what percentage of the 1/3 aboriginal population receive social security payments compared to the 2/3 non aboriginal as here they are sitting on all these assets and doing nothing with them. Something has to change.
    And yes I believe they should be asset tested.

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  12. Bob Durnan
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    Nicole Coleman (Posted May 30, 2015 at 11:02 am): you are getting confused between two separate forms of title, governed by two separate Acts legislated by Commonwealth governments.
    Erwin is referring mainly to the land which has been successfully claimed by traditional owners under Malcolm Fraser’s Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act of 1976; i.e. Aboriginal inalienable freehold title (the title covering the great majority of the Aboriginal controlled land being discussed here).
    The ALR(NT) Act confers and recognises much stronger rights in land than those generally recognised for Aboriginal people who succeed in claiming certain rights in relation to pieces of land under the Native Title Act of 1992.
    The Native Title Act recognises degrees of control or influence over land, but generally does not recognise actual full ownership of the title to the land.

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  13. Anonymous
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Springs Plaza and Kmart as well.

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  14. Posted May 30, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Excellent article, Erwin. Organisations like Centrecorps need to open up, for the benefit of justice and for the benefit of the Aboriginal people.
    Most remarkable and sensible quote is: “But it’s up to the traditional owners to take that first step.”
    Let’s hope that Aboriginal role models like Bess Price live up to that observation!

    View Comment
  15. Hal Duell
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 11:30 am

    It’s all about control and power. Control the money and control the people.
    Good luck with trying to get any corporation to divulge its secrets.
    A few years ago Centrecorp managed to stonewall a Senate inquiry.
    Can’t say I like your chances, Erwin, but good on you for trying.

    View Comment
  16. Nicole Coleman
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Native Title and corporation land ownership does not equate to personal assets.
    The land cannot be borrowed against on a personal / family level.
    There are a multitude of complex reasons that Native Title exists – some say it goes too far, some say not far enough, but regardless, there is no denying that personal wealth and wellbeing outcomes for Indigenous Territorians are statistically very low.
    Suggesting that Native Title lands be mandatorily utilised for mining / pastoral uses negates the whole purpose of Native Title – that Indigenous communities can have management over their traditional lands.
    To some communities, mining and pastoral uses runs antithetically to traditional land uses, to some it doesn’t.
    But do we really want to go back down the path of mandating land use where shared land agreements don’t already exist, and where Native Title has not been extinguished? That feels like a step away from self determination to me.

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  17. Another Observer
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Yes, this is a conversation that we as a community have to have.
    Whilst a lot of poor mugs like myself, get slugged day in day out for $ to fund this or that – at the end of the day eight out of 10 people go to work everyday to just pay the welfare bill. That is shameless and unsustainable.
    Further, at what point do the unions and their associated businesses need to start paying tax?

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