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Sweeping reform sees Aboriginal charitable trusts placed under firmer governance laws

After years of controversy surrounding the mismanagement of charitable trusts around the State, the Attorney-General last week announced firmer laws to regulate how Indigenous corporations and their trusts are governed.

In a statement released last Thursday, Western Australia’s Attorney-General John Quigley announced 21 legislative reforms to the current legislation, stating they were the most rigorous and comprehensive charitable trusts laws in the nation.

The announcement came only weeks after the AG was reported to be investigating Kimberley Land Council’s trust, the Kimberley Sustainable Development Trust, following complaints about mismanagement.

The Charitable Trusts Bill 2022, set to replace the Charitable Trusts Act 1962, will enable stronger regulation of such trusts and swifter investigations into complaints made against them.

The Bill will also introduce the new Western Australia Charitable Trust Commission to investigate the complaints received.

It is set to create a cleaner path for investigators to access the information they require, delivering up to $50,000 fine to any who do not comply.

“As the Attorney General I receive many complaints from Indigenous groups that funds of a charitable trust are being misused by the trustees or by others involved in the administration of the trust,” Mr Quigley said.

“It achieves a significant expansion of the powers of those investigating charitable trusts, as well as of the Attorney General and Supreme Court, in order to ensure that charitable trusts operate to further the interests of the communities they were designed to assist.”

A spokesperson for Mr Quigley said the laws had not been substantially amended since their enactment 60 years ago.

“Charitable trusts have changed considerably over time — both in their purposes, such as for applying native title benefits, and management,” they said.

These changes to regulations have been a long time coming.

In 2018, Mr Quigley made a promise to reform the Charitable Trust Act 1962 and ensure the trusts were better managed.

But by the March 2021 State election, the laws remained unchanged.

The AG’s spokesperson stated last weeks amendments were made on recommendations presented by a report into the Njamal People’s Trust in 2017.

The inquiry into the trust in 2017 was led by then Deputy State Counsel, Alan Sefton, whose report recommended the raft of reforms present in the 2022 Bill.

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