David Harris MP of Aboriginal Affairs NSW remarked on a LinkedIn post about concerns relating to consulting contracts, which was allegedly on “my agenda”… but his stance seems to have shifted since the NSW Labor Party came into power earlier this year.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, David Harris, Aboriginal Affairs NSW
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, David Harris, Aboriginal Affairs NSW

Staggering 4% of Local Aboriginal Land Councils Under Administration in 2020-2021

Recent findings have thrown a spotlight on the governance and administration of Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) in NSW.

According to data from the NSWALC Annual Report 2020-2021, a significant 5 LALCs found themselves under the watchful eyes of external (and well-paid) administrators by the end of the reporting year.

And this revelation raises concerns about these councils’ stability and self-governance, especially considering their integral role in Aboriginal communities.

However, the data doesn’t stop there because the report’s breakdown paints a more intricate picture. Figure 6 of the NSWALC Annual Report 2020-2021 categorises the LALCs into varying risk levels:

  • Low Risk: 58 LALCs (48%)
  • Medium Risk: 34 LALCs (28%)
  • High Risk: 20 LALCs (17%)
Tim Gumbleton from RSM Australia, Aboriginal Affairs NSW consultant
Page 38, NSWALC Annual Report 2020-2021

“Five LALCs were under administration during the reporting period. The administration terms for three LALCs (Deniliquin, Cowra and Tweed Byron) ended during 2020–21 but two (Condobolin and Muli Muli) remained under administration as at 30 June 2021.”

Notably, 8 LALCs (7%) had no current assessment.

While the reasons for placing these councils under administration remain varied, the high involvement of external consultants is drawing scrutiny. And the transition to external administration raises questions about these councils’ autonomy and decision-making capabilities.

It also casts a shadow on the effectiveness of the oversight mechanisms in place (NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the Registrar of Aboriginal Land Rights Act NSW), prompting calls for greater transparency and accountability.

And as the debate continues, stakeholders and community members alike await further insights into the reasons behind these administrative decisions and the future trajectory for these Local Aboriginal Land Councils.

Most recent performance?

19 LALCs, including three currently under administration (Stuart Island, Condobolin and Muli Muli) and the four non-operating LALCs, were not in compliance and were unfunded.”

NSWALC Annual Report 2021-2022 Part 1, Page 38

Case Study: Tim Gumbleton from RSM Australia & his work at the Red Chief Local Aboriginal Land Council

Tim Gumbleton of RSM Australia was appointed as the administrator for Red Chief LALC by the Minister and his Aboriginal Affairs NSW department.

And this decision followed Gumbleton’s own audit on Red Chief LALC, in which he recommended the move…

The glaring potential conflict of interest has critics questioning the integrity of such decisions: How can the same consultant recommend an organisation for administration and then be handed a subsequent contract for that very role?

It’s believed that Tim’s audit for the recommendation was predicated on the belief that the Board of Red Chief LALC was dysfunctional, rendering it incapable of progress.

But the situation draws eerie parallels to the findings of the NSW government agencies’ own report by the Audit Office, “NSW government agencies’ use of consultants“, which highlighted ambiguous guidance and inconsistent interpretations among NSW government agencies, leading to varied reporting practices and concerns over transparency and accountability.

Gumbleton’s initial tenure, sanctioned by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs NSW, spanned a period of six months.

And the time frame raises further questions… Would a prominent non-Indigenous entity with multi-million dollar assets take half a year merely to finalise leadership positions?

The likelihood of a public corporation remaining without a CEO or board for such an extended duration is implausible, to say the least.

And matters took a more convoluted turn when, in April 2023, a media release voiced concerns regarding the slow-paced progress under Gumbleton’s administration.

With the release, available at Barayamal, was followed by a startling revelation with only around two months shy of completing his original contract, it was discovered that the NSW Labor Party and Minister David Harris’ Aboriginal Affairs NSW had sanctioned an extension of another three months for Gumbleton.

The Big Four consulting firms have faced their share of scandals, but this recent incident underscores an equally pressing issue.

Because there’s rising apprehension over consulting firms capitalising on Aboriginal Affairs funds, with some critics arguing that this might be a burgeoning issue that’s just as concerning, if not more.

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