A new amendment to legislation could force Native Title Representative Bodies in WA to disclose CEO and other executive staff salaries.
The Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Amendment (Strengthening Governance and Transparency) Bill 2018 aims to increase transparency within Australia’s Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs).
For large and medium bodies, reporting work history and remuneration of senior management will become mandatory should the new legislation pass.
This may include base salary, superannuation, termination payments, or other benefits and allowances.
Failure or refusal to do so could result in fines reaching $2,100.
A spokesperson for the Minister of Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion said the Amendment Bill is a result of an increasing demand in both public and private sectors for greater accountability and transparency of executive benefits.
The spokesperson said the current legislation has “already proven itself as a successful framework for establishing, regulating and supporting” Indigenous corporations.
Consultations with the Indigenous corporate sector were undertaken in the last three years to review the Corporation (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (the CATSI Act).
“The amendments will benefit CATSI corporations and their members by improving transparency, removing unnecessary regulatory burden, promoting CATSI corporations as vehicles for economic enterprise, and introducing a range of technical amendments that will improve the operation of the Act.”
Representative body support
South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council’s (SWALSC) CEO Wayne Nannup said he recognises the need for greater transparency.
“SWALSC understands that delivering the highest possible level of governance and services requires that we lead and support a culture which values and applies honesty, openness and accountability in all that we do,” Mr Nannup said.
He said SWALSC welcomes scrutiny of their practices by a range of bodies including Parliament and the media.
In a similar move, Kimberley Land Council’s CEO Nolan Hunter has thrown his support behind steps to improve transparency, adding that Aboriginal corporations often have higher standards to meet.
“Australia has high expectations around Aboriginal funding accountability. Aboriginal corporations are already subject to stringent reporting and auditing processes under the CATSI Act and often go above and beyond what is expected of non-Aboriginal corporations,” Mr Hunter said.
Peak body of Goldfields Land and Sea Council, the National Native Title Council has taken issue with some of the proposed reforms.
The National Native Title Council’s Chair Jamie Lowe said although the Council sees merit in some of the proposals, there should be an adequate amount of time for organisations and communities to respond appropriately.
“There is also a substantial lack of detail about many of the reforms,” Mr Lowe said.
Lowe said disclosure of executive pay should be voluntary and that it should be published only as a total.
“There is no need for legislative amendment to achieve these outcomes,” Mr Lowe said.
Goldfields Land and Sea Council said they endorse their peak body’s stance on the proposed Bill.
Executive remuneration across WA
An analysis of WA’s Native Title Representative Bodies by NIT has revealed some sizeable discrepancies between executive and general employee remuneration.
On average, Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation pays 171 per cent of the amount Kimberley Land Council pays their executive staff, and over 130 per cent of the executive remuneration paid by all other representative bodies surveyed.
Remuneration of Yamatji Marlpa’s executives makes up 14.5 per cent of the corporation’s total employee expenses.
On the other hand, the Kimberley Land Council is the most cost-effective representative body in WA, with 11.3 per cent of total employee expenses being executive pay.
In other words, the Kimberley Land Council spends proportionally least on their executive staff versus their general staff.
“The KLC’s employee remuneration reflects the value we place on our staff. We balance staff remuneration and service delivery with the limited funding available,” Mr Hunter said.
The South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) has fewer employees than other WA representative bodies, accounting for the higher (24.3%) executive renumeration as a percentage of total employee expenses.
Mr Nannup has told NIT that his salary is based on negotiation with the board and that directors are not included in executive remuneration.
He said all other employee pay-scales are defined by the organisation’s union collective agreement which is registered with the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission.
Similarly, Yamatji Marlpa’s Co-Chair Peter Windie said staff pay is based on the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation Enterprise Agreement 2012.
Windie says Yamatji Marlpa does not object to the reporting of senior salaries.
“[Yamatji Marlpa] supports transparency of Aboriginal corporations, especially with government funds,” Mr Windie said.
He added that the corporation is not fully funded by the government and generates its own income from other commercial activities.
Should the amendment pass, future annual reports of WA’s Native Title Representative Bodies will be closely scrutinised.
Central Desert Native Title Services were contacted for comment on this article but did not respond by time of publication.
Editor’s note: NIT shareholders Wayne Bergmann and Clinton Wolf are past CEOs of Kimberley Land Council and Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, respectively.
By Hannah Cross