The Kimberley Aboriginal corporation rated by the federal regulator as one of the country’s best performing has defended its strong financial position and accused the ABC Four Corners program of being “led around by the nose by disgruntled agitators.”
“Apparently in the world of Four Corners, blackfellas can’t be successful, or go into normal business agreements for the benefit of our members, or get ahead and build a strong organization that is financially capable, because in that world you must be doing something wrong, or illegal,” said Marra Worra Worra CEO Dickie Bedford.
The Fitzroy Crossing-based organisation was the part focus of last Monday night’s program examining how taxpayer money was being spent and the challenges facing remote Indigenous communities.
The program lumped MWW – and its business arrangements through its joint venture with KRSP and long-time Kimberley businessman Gary Johnson – in with two cases of questionable behavior in other Kimberley communities where millions of dollars had been wasted or disappeared.
The conclusion of any fair-minded viewer was that MWW and Mr Johnson had somehow broken the law, were involved in criminal behavior or were one of the 44 organisations under investigation by ORIC, or the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s IAG Risk, Compliance and Integrity branch.
Marra Worra Worra, GJ Johnson & Co or their joint venture KRSP are not among those being investigated. MWW has been in a 50-50 business partnership with Mr Johnson since 1998 in a deal that has brought strong financial footing and stability.
ORIC holds up MWW as a shining light in the complex world of service delivery to remote communities.
Two locals – MWW Board member Lynette Shaw and businessman Joe Ross – accused MWW of not spending enough money in the communities and insinuated that MWW was being duped.
In fact, Mr Ross has been agitating against the organisation for some years but has been unsuccessful in getting control of the not-for-profit MWW.
MWW has almost 600 members – all of them members of the five language groups of the Fitzroy Valley – and only they can elect members onto the board.
Mr Bedford said it was the second time in as many years Four Corners had come to the community and painted a picture of “a bunch of dumb blackfellas being done over by someone”.
“This sort of reporting only cements white perceptions that all Aboriginal Corporations are run by crooks and every cent of taxpayer’s money is wasted.
“It’s so demoralizing. These FIFO reporters really have no understanding of what goes on here and when they leave, they leave behind community mistrust which just creates more fighting among ourselves. The damage they do is enormous”.
MWW chairman Patrick Green said MWW would continue to provide support services relating to housing, employment, community development and other aspects connected to self-determination.
“Allegations that we do not provide money or benefits back to the community and are not subject to good governance are simply not true”.
Marra Worra Worra has posted a statement on their website, saying it “had accumulated a capital base which has been deployed into a multitude of community based business ventures, made significant donations to a variety of Indigenous and non-Indigenous operations, established a sustainable investment portfolio designed to provide perpetual funding flow to be directed for the benefit of local communities, and offered financial support to a number of other Indigenous corporations.”
Disclosure: NIT editor Tony Barrass sits on the board of Marra Worra Worra.