Ownership and management of the South Australian outback opal mining town of Mintabie could be handed back to the traditional owners.
The South Australian Government said it would review the lease agreement over the town with the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara area and the Federal Government.
It said as part of the review it would consider returning ownership of the town, 1000km north of Adelaide, to the APY.
The review, announced on June 1, followed Federal Court findings in November that Nobby’s Mintabie General Store operator Lindsay Kobelt engaged in credit activity that contravened the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001.
The court found Kobelt withdraw almost $1 million from customers’ accounts over about 18 months, including $56,944 in one 24-hour period, in a “book up” practice that let people buy goods on the spot by providing their bank details. On April 13 he was ordered to pay $167,500 in penalties.
The SA Government said it had cancelled Mr Kobelt’s commercial licence, meaning that the store could no longer trade.
His application for a residential licence is under consideration.
The SA Government said a $300,000 grant had been given to community-based not-for-profit organisation, Money Mob Talkabout, to increase its ability to provide Anangu with access to financial counselling services.
“The Federal Court’s findings against Mr Kobelt send a very clear message to any operators who are engaging in unethical and predatory book up practices that they may be penalised,” SA Reconciliation Minister Kyam Maher said.
“The practices outlined in the Federal Court decision are disgraceful and cannot be tolerated.
“Right across the APY Lands, individuals, organisations and services providers have told the Government that trading practices detrimental to Anangu need to be changed.”
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said he was keen to see Mintabie returned to the traditional owners.
In a statement in November, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission said “book up” is commonly used in Indigenous communities and can sometimes play a useful role.
It said book up is generally an informal arrangement with no set repayment dates or formal documentation, but Nobby’s book up practices were exploitative: consumers were required to provide their debit cards, PINs and details of their income to Mr Kobelt, who then used the information and cards to withdraw all or nearly all of the customer’s money from their bank account on or around the day they were paid.