Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt ‘concerned’ as rebel Kimberley Land Council directors dismayed by chief’s sacking

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt ‘concerned’ as rebel Kimberley Land Council directors dismayed by chief’s sacking

28th April 2021 Off By adpublisher

The Kimberley Land Council is one of Australia’s oldest and best-known Indigenous representative bodies. It receives significant state and federal funding and has won native title recognition for numerous Indigenous groups in the vast Kimberley region in Western Australia’s far north-west.

Mr Wilkinson, a former policeman, was appointed chief executive of the land council in January. Board papers obtained by The Age and the Herald show Mr Wilkinson sought financial ledgers, disbursement records and investment strategies from the trust’s directors.

Wayne Bergmann.Credit:Joe Armao

His efforts put him in conflict with some of the Kimberley’s most influential Indigenous men, including his predecessors as land council chief executive, Nolan Hunter and Wayne Bergmann.

Mr Hunter is a director of the Kimberley Sustainable Development Trust Company. Mr Bergmann was a former director and trust founder. The Age and the Herald are not accusing either man of any wrongdoing.

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Board documents show land council chairman Anthony Watson requested that Mr Hunter and his two fellow trustee company directors resign from their roles in February. But two months later, none of the three men have complied with Mr Watson’s request. Nor have they responded to requests for records of disbursements, correspondence with auditors and financial ledgers.

In March the directors of the Kimberley Sustainable Development Company said they would consider the requests but warned they posed confidentiality problems.

“The board is also considering the extent to which the trustee is able to disclose the material to the KLC, including the fact that it contains personal information of beneficiaries and confidential information,” they wrote to Mr Watson.

Despite receiving external legal advice earlier this month recommending he remove Mr Hunter and his two fellow directors from their roles overseeing the trust, Mr Watson instead terminated Mr Wilkinson last Thursday and installed Mr Bergmann as acting land council chief executive.

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The legal advice to Mr Watson and land council directors also recommended the trust and trustee company undergo a forensic audit.

In their letter to Mr Quigley, the eight directors state: “We find it concerning that in the space of two weeks since Mr Wilkinson presented the KSDT legal advice that there has been an oppressive campaign for his removal.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Quigley said he was taking advice on the land council directors’ request for an investigation.

A spokeswoman Mr Wyatt said this was a complex area as states were responsible for regulation of state entities and trusts, and the Commonwealth was responsible for regulation of native title entities and corporations. Moreover, native title funds are private monies.

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