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Trust Fund Fraud Down Under

Aborigines Rorted Of Millions Of Dollars

Tens of millions of dollars may have been kept from indigenous people in NSW and some funds may have been stolen by public servants, according to a report prepared for state cabinet.

A draft report - dated April 12, 2001, and prepared for cabinet by the former community services minister Faye Lo Po' - says state governments appeared to have deliberately resisted returning money from trust funds to its rightful owners.

...Many did not know the money existed and up to 11,500 could be eligible for payments. An analysis by the accounting firm Ernst & Young estimates the Government could be liable for between $11.8 million and $69.4 million.

... In the report, Ms Lo Po' wrote that records of the funds - held by Treasury and the Department of Community Services - were so appalling that any claims made by indigenous people ought to be believed on face value.

Wow. The parallels with the case of the Native American trust fund in the US are striking. The biggest difference, it seems, is in the origin of the money. In the US, Native ownership of large areas of land was theoretically recognized even though control rested with the federal government, so the trust fund money came from royalties from ranching, mining, and so forth on nominally Native land. In Australia, however, terra nullius was the law of the land up until 1992, so there would have been no reason for revenues from crown lands to be earmarked for Aboriginal groups. The Australian funds came from non-land sources such as "pensions, child endowment, compensation payments, apprentices' wages and inheritances". This means the environmental element of the situation is separated out for Australia.


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