Registrar to reform Victorian native title corporation

The Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, Anthony Beven, has today placed the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC (Gunditj Mirring) under special administration.

Based in Heywood in Victoria, the corporation was registered in 2006 and has over 450 members from 14 family clan groups.

In 2007 the Federal Court of Australia made a consent determination recognising the Gunditjmara people’s native title rights over almost 140,000 hectares across the southwest of Victoria and extending across the South Australian border. Gunditj Mirring was appointed as the registered native title body corporate (RNTBC) for the Gunditjmara people. The corporation was also appointed as the RNTBC for the Gunditjmara in a further determination in 2011.

The corporation is also a registered Aboriginal party (RAP) under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic). As a RAP Gunditj Mirring has statutory responsibility for the management of the cultural heritage and objects of the Gunditjmara people.

The Registrar authorised an independent examination of the corporation’s books in April 2017. It revealed irregularities in director appointments and corporation meetings, largely arising from disputes amongst the corporation’s directors and members. The corporation also recorded trading losses of $378,000 and $514,000 in the last two financial years.

Gunditj Mirring has a unique governance model in its rule book. The corporation is required to hold a general meeting of members every month and the directors have limited power to manage the corporation’s business. The governance model has contributed to the disputes within the corporation and led to deadlock on important day-to-day operational decisions.

‘The corporation is too important to the Gunditjmara people to allow it to remain deadlocked in dispute,’ said Mr Beven. ‘The special administrator will address the disputes within the corporation and reform the governance of the corporation, including its rule book.’

The Registrar has appointed Mr Paul Case from the Adelaide-based firm, MLCS Corporate Pty Ltd, as the special administrator until 15 December 2017.

Media contact

Lisa Hugg
(02) 6146 4738
ORIC MR1617-26
13 June 2017

Addendum (20 July 2017)

On 14 June 2017 two former directors, Sandra Onus and Christine Cooktown applied to the Federal Court for a judicial review of the decision by the Registrar to place Gunditj Mirring under special administration. The application was made under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977. On 10 July 2017 the Registrar agreed to set aside the decision and to pay the legal costs of Ms Onus and Ms Cooktown. On 17 July 2017 Justice O’Callaghan set aside the decision to place Gunditj Mirring under special administration with effect from 25 August 2017.

The special administrator provided undertakings to the Federal Court to appoint Ms Onus, Ms Cooktown and Denise Lovett as directors of the corporation and to revert the corporation’s rule book back to the position it was in prior to his appointment on 13 June 2017. The special administrator also provided an undertaking not to make any decision prior to 25 August 2017 as to whether Damein Bell will recommence as chief executive officer of the corporation.

A copy of the decision of the Federal Court is available on the court's website, fedcourt.gov.au.