Indigenous corporations: Cultural authority and the skills based board

Tuesday, 5 June 2018
Jamie Lowe
Ju-Lin O'Connor

Corporate governance is a field of scholarship and specialist expertise. Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBC) regulated under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006, have obligations under the Native Title Act 1993 and are subject to a myriad of Commonwealth and State legislation and policies. 25 years since the passing of the Native Title Act 1993, there are calls for greater mainstreaming of Indigenous governance models, with an emphasis on skills based boards and independent directors. This paper does not take issue with the need for capable directors, however, a governance model based only on skills will not answer the need for a representative structure that is reflective of a community’s decision making processes, or assist create feelings ownership by, or trust within, the community. A PBC’s board must have cultural authority. The paper examines examples of different types of family representation, including the board of the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, and how this has worked to ensure buy-in from the community and a sense of ownership and accountability. The paper argues that governance frameworks for Indigenous corporations are best co-designed with the community to manage the divergent pressures of cultural obligations, community expectations, legal duties and economic development.