Trustee corporations and their Indigenous beneficiaries: meeting challenges in the sustainable utilisation of trust funds

A workshop to be held at Lasseters Convention Centre Alice Springs, 27-28 May, 2021

This workshop will focus on the governance of compensation and other such funds held in trust for Indigenous groups, not on the internal governance of RNTBCs and other Trustee corporations. Its objective is to improve the practice of lawyers, anthropologists, and other specialists in working with Native Title Holders in this significant aspect of the post-determination arena.

Attendance at the workshop is free, but COVID regulations require that your details are registered with CNTA if you are attending.  To register, please email Julie.Finlayson@anu.edu.au.

A workshop program and a flyer with additional information can be downloaded from this site.

Please be aware that accommodation in Alice Springs is limited, so early bookings are recommended. For those who can’t come,  key presentations (but not the group discussions will be live streamed, and that all presentations will be recorded and available on the CNTA website.

Background and rationale for the workshop

Prescribed Bodies Corporate are established under the ‘CATSI’ Act, comprising over 600 pages focusing almost exclusively on what the Act terms the ‘internal governance’ of the corporations themselves.  PBCs’ functions are set out in the current PBC Regulations and include:

  • for Trustee PBCs in Reg. 6(b), to hold money (including payments received as compensation or otherwise related to the native title rights and interests) in trust; and
  • in 6(c) to invest or otherwise apply money held in trust as directed by the common law holders.

Regulation 7(c) and 7(d) set out the identical functions for Agent PBCs.

How this direction is to be implemented is a matter for each Trust.

That is, while the principles and mechanisms by which internal governance of the PBC is to be conducted are prescribed in detail in the CATSI Act, the governance principles by which the common law holders are to direct their PBC to apply the money held in trust, and how the PBC is to engage with the native title holder beneficiaries in determining how the trust funds are to be utilised, are left essentially unspecified.

Even where attention has been given to the objectives of a Trust and these have been negotiated with the Indigenous beneficiaries, as is the case with what are represented as best-practice mining agreements, it appears to be common that internal structures of the broader beneficiary group below the level of language-named ‘tribes’ or ‘nations’ are not reflected in Agreements and Trust Deeds or other corporate instruments which bear on how benefits from the Trust are to be accessed.

Yet, Native Title claims themselves illustrate that the common law holders for a given claim or determination, whether described as a language-named group or set of such groups, a community, or some other collectivising label, are highly complex in structure and are not infrequently beset by endemic disputation amongst constituent local groups.  This is reflected in much of the politicking post determination in the internal governance of RNTBCs, and there is no reason to suppose that this conflict does not also impact on the way access to Trust funds is established.

This workshop will focus on this latter governance arena, not on the internal governance of RNTBCs and other Trustee corporations. Its objective is to draw on anthropological, legal, and community development thinking to improve the practice of specialists working with Native Title Holders in this significant but typically neglected aspect of the post-determination arena.