Troubled agency's vacation as annual report delayed past Estimates

By Stephen Easton

February 11, 2016

Despite calls for an inquiry by its former board members, the Indigenous Land Corporation won’t appear at tomorrow’s Senate Estimates hearing on cross-portfolio indigenous matters.

Nor could senators read its annual report, which was held back by the minister’s office until its strange absence was questioned by stakeholders and The Mandarin.

The ILC’s 2014-15 annual report and audited financial statements were finalised and signed off by the board months ago, but were not published online or tabled by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion until yesterday.

Scullion should have received and effectively published the ILC report by tabling it in Parliament by October 31. More often, late annual reports are delayed in the entity itself, and the minister is expected to be told why and table the excuse.

Without the information in the extremely late report, senators would find it difficult to come with questions to ask, even if the ILC was to appear tomorrow. With a large debt from the dubious decision to purchase Ayers Rock Resort still weighing heavily on the corporation’s bottom line, and a possible merger on the cards, it isn’t like there is nothing to scrutinise.

Former board members including Dawn Casey (pictured), who chaired the ILC during the 2014-15 financial year, want to know what the hold-up was.

“We met the deadline for sending it to the minister,” Casey told The Mandarin earlier this week when there was still no word on the document’s whereabouts. “I’ve asked what’s happened to it. We have a right to have all of our audited financial statements and the annual report of our performance published — it’s our report — and it’s a legal requirement.”

Casey came into the role after the disastrous purchase and has pushed for an inquiry into the murky circumstances of the transaction. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann agreed at first, but left it up to Scullion who refused on the grounds it had already been investigated.

The annual report of Casey’s final fiscal year at the ILC describes aspects of the deal:

“Last financial year a detailed investigation into the Ayers Rock Resort transaction commissioned by the ILC from consultants McGrathNicol found flaws in the due diligence and governance practices underpinning the acquisition …

“The Australian Government has continued to refuse the ILC’s requests for an investigation, despite many representations to Minister Scullion, to the Minister for Finance, the Hon Matthias Cormann MP (in his role as regulator of public-sector authorities) and to the then Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP.”

Unusually, it was released with an accompanying statement from the new chair Eddie Fry, who was appointed after the end of last financial year. Fry says:

“The acquisition of the Ayers Rock Resort added a significant asset to the Indigenous estate and on country that has profound Indigenous connections.

“The Board has taken a decision not to pursue any further investigation into the original purchase of the resort, and will be guided by the findings of reviews already undertaken.”

Casey is among those who believe the Commonwealth sphere lacks a truly independent body to provide accountability and believes all existing checks and balances have comprehensively failed to properly scrutinise the purchase made by her predecessors.

Last year’s annual reports of two other key bodies in the indigenous affairs portfolio, Aboriginal Hostels Limited and Indigenous Business Australia, were also tabled months late. The AHL report appears to have gone online on January 20 and it looks like IBA’s came out on Monday this week, February 8.

The Mandarin contacted the office of Nigel Scullion on Tuesday afternoon to ask why the three reports were all delayed, when the ILC report would be available, and if he had queried any of its contents or requested changes.

A spokesperson said he was unable to respond by Thursday as the minister was very busy this week with the launch of the Closing the Gap Report, which showed lacklustre progress towards reducing indigenous disadvantage. The hasty decision to table the report came after those enquiries.

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