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Large Indigenous organisation bled to death

Sarah Dingle ABC The World Today 02 November 2012

The Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation (BAC) in Arnham Land, Northern Territory is in administration, leaving hundreds of employees fearing for their future and their community pride shattered.

In the past, the BAC won national recognition for services to outstations, employment for Indigenous rangers and support for highly successful Indigenous artists. But in less than three years the BAC has gone from a strong financial position to what's believed to be millions of dollars in debt.

The outgoing CEO, Luke Morrish, was an ex Federal Police Officer from Canberra. He first arrived in Maningrida in 2007 as the government business manager, the regional head of the Federal Intervention, before joining the BAC as the CEO.

Considered as one of the greatest success stories in Indigenous development, The BAC has hundreds of employees, who are fearing for their future and their community pride will be shattered.

The three decade old corporation in the heart of Arnham Land won national recognition for its service to outstations, employment for Indigenous Rangers and support for highly successful artists.

In less than three years it went from a strong position to what is believed to be millions of dollars in debt.

It's claimed Luke Morrish, the outgoing CEO, outlayed funds to start risky ventures, including an air service to fly-in and fly-out workers.

Those close to the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation say that they are devastated that a once proud Indigenous organisation was so quickly run into the ground.

Professor John Altman who has been involved with the business and strategy plans from BAC's beginnings said, "The BAC expanded to a point that it was the largest Indigenous corporation in north Australia, and it was the envy of remote Indigenous communities that saw the BAC as the outstanding model for community development and service delivery."

The BAC is the third largest Indigenous employer in Australia employing more that 500 staff. For the 2010 - 2011 financial year the corporation had a total revenue of 38 million dollars, and a heathy profit of 2.7 million.

Mr Altman said that the region covers 10,000 square kilometers, the size of some small European countries and the BAC supports hundreds of Indigenous people and the lively hood of opportunities for up to 700 Indigenous artists.

On Wednesday the organisation was placed under special administration by the registration of the Federal governments incorporations, Anthony Bevon, following a request of assistance from the corporations directors. It is believed the corporations debt could run to 6 - 7 million dollars. Because much of its income comes from Government funding targeting specific programs, there may be many people suddenly out of work and the whole regions infrastructures will be in turmoil.

Professor John Altman said that Luke Morrish left under a cloud following some high risk business developments such as an air service and some tourist developments.

A number of the corporations staff were living in Darwin, 500 kilometers away and the air service was flying in staff and the number of non-Indigenous people working for the incorporation had expanded rapidly. ABC's 'The World Today' tried to contact Luke Morrish without success.

'Crikey' reported in 2007 that the head of the Northern Territory Intervention, Major General Chalmers, said that as far as he knew, Luke Morrish was an Australian Federal Police officer before he joined the intervention taskforce. Major Chalmers also confirmed that at the selection interview Morrish stated his former position as AFP's Canberra-based acting manager for domestic counter-terrorism.

Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation Air Services