Federal Court judgement demonstrates need for effective governance

Reconciliation Australia said a decision by the Federal Court of Australia to ban a former NSW Aboriginal medical service CEO from managing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for 15 years is evidence of the urgent need for better governance in some organisations.

Co-Chair, Dr Tom Calma AO, said the facts behind the Court’s groundbreaking judgment prove the need for greater emphasis on governance and for more effort being directed to governance and leadership training.

“The circumstances behind this decision show just how damaging the impact of poor governance can be,” said Dr Calma. “Effective governance in this instance would have prevented such fraudulent behavior occurring.”

Dr Calma’s comments followed Federal Court Justice Peter Jacobson finding that former CEO Damien Matcham had defrauded the Katungal Aboriginal Corporation Community and Medical Services on the NSW South Coast of hundreds of thousands of dollars and that Matcham pay $1.2 million in fines and compensation to the medical service.

“While examples like this represent a small minority of the more than 2,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations currently registered with the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations it is clear that poor governance does threaten the efficiency and effectiveness of some organisations,” said Dr Calma. “And the housing, health, employment and education needs of our communities mean we cannot afford any further such cases.

“Bad governance is the enemy of self-determination and greatly undermines our communities’ efforts to improve their circumstances,” he said. “It is critical that we get governance right and concentrate on the urgent challenges facing our people.”

Dr Calma said Reconciliation Australia has run a range of governance programs over the last decade including a web-based Indigenous Governance Toolkit and had recently launched the 6th Indigenous Governance Awards in partnership with BHP Billiton.

“The success of previous Award finalists is proof that when governance is good our organisations are capable of overcoming daunting challenges and making real positive change. The awards allow us to showcase the best of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance in both incorporated and non-incorporated organisations and partner these organisations with some of corporate Australia’s most successful businesses.

“We are hoping for over 100 nominations for the awards this year and to raise awareness of the critical link between effective governance, self-determination and community control,” he said.

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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