The Registrar of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporations, Ms Tricia Stroud, has welcomed the decision handed down by the Supreme Court of South Australia on 5 April. The decision will enable Adnyamathanha common law holders to access information about the use of their native title compensation monies.
In Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association & Ors v Rangelea Holdings Pty Ltd, Chief Justice Kourakis has held that the Adnyamathanha applicants are entitled to inspect a copy of the financial records of the Adnyamathanha Master Trust.
Further, that Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (Aboriginal Corporation) RNTBC (ATLA) – as agent of the Adnyamathanha common law holders for their native title rights and interests – is also entitled to access this information about how the proceeds of native title mining agreements are used and distributed.
The Court has ordered that Rangelea immediately produce the Master Trust’s financial records to ATLA and the 3 Adnyamathanha applicants, and that an inspector will be appointed to investigate the administration of the trust and its distributions.
Being able to support common law holders to understand and make informed decisions about how their native title compensation money is used is a significant step forward for ATLA’s ability to perform its functions as a registered native title body corporate (RNTBC).
The Registrar and ORIC will continue supporting ATLA to rebuild its financial and governance structures. ORIC understands the immediate priority for the special administrator will be to assist ATLA members and Adnyamathanha common law holders understand the Court’s decision and its implications.
The Court will reconvene on 26 April 2023 to make orders to give effect to the findings. It is expected that at this hearing the Court will appoint an independent inspector to prepare a report to the Court and the Attorney General for South Australia regarding the administration of the Master Trust.
Summary of the decision – Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association & Ors v Rangelea Holdings Pty Ltd SASC 51
In 2021, the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (Aboriginal Corporation) RNTBC (ATLA) and 3 Adnyamathanha applicants commenced proceedings in the Supreme Court of South Australia against the trustee of the Adnyamathanha Master Trust, Rangelea Holdings Pty Ltd, for access to the trust records of the Master Trust, and for the Court to appoint an inspector to conduct a review over the Master Trust’s administration.
On 5 April 2023, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia delivered judgment and made the following findings:
- The Adnyamathanha Master Trust is not a charitable trust, but is a private discretionary trust
- The 3 Adnyamathanha applicants are beneficiaries of the Master Trust and entitled to access the Master Trust’s financial records
- ATLA has legal authorisation as agent of the Adnyamathanha Common Law Holders to bring this application on behalf of its Common Law Holders in order to obtain information about the Master Trust’s administration and report back to the Common Law Holders
- The 3 Adnyamathanha applicants and ATLA have legal standing to seek the appointment of an inspector to investigate the administration of the Master Trust
- It is proper to appoint an inspector to investigate the administration of the Master Trust, including to investigate how the trust funds were distributed amongst the Sub-Groups and then distributed to the Sub-Group members, and
- Rangelea must immediately produce the Master Trust’s financial records to ATLA and the 3 Adnyamathanha applicants.
The Court has found ATLA, as a prescribed body corporate for purposes of the Native Title Act 1993 and therefore an agent of the Adnyamathanha common law holders in relation to their native title rights and interests, is entitled to access information about how the proceeds of native title mining agreements are used and distributed by a separate, private trust of which the common law holders are beneficiaries. This is so that ATLA, as a prescribed body corporate, can fulfil its statutory requirements to consult with the common law holders.
ATLA is the RNTBC for Adnyamathanha common law holders, managing their native title rights and interests over 41,000 square kilometres of land in and around the Flinders Ranges. It also manages Adnyamathanha’s business interest in Wilpena Pound Resort.
In March 2020 the Registrar placed ATLA into special administration after an examination of the corporation’s books revealed a range of governance issues, including a lack of records in relation to meetings, memberships, directorships and spending. The work of the special administrator to rebuild ATLA’s business and financial structures, and governance has been impeded by inability to comprehensively engage with common law holders to make native title decisions, and a lack of transparency on the Master Trust’s use of mining royalties for its beneficiaries, namely the Adnyamathanha common law holders.
In 2021, ATLA and 3 Adnyamathanha applicants commenced legal proceedings against Rangelea as trustee of the Adnyamathanha Master Trust. They sought to have an inspector appointed to report on how Rangelea has spent and distributed native title compensation money, and to provide information on the current list of common law holders who receive benefits under these arrangements.
6 April 2023