The minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, will meet on Thursday with the administrator appointed to manage the affairs of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, after the organisation announced it is in “serious financial trouble”.
The meeting comes amid calls from Labor for the government to restore funding for Congress.
The administrator, Alan Walker, said a meeting had been arranged in Canberra to discuss the current situation.
“Since 2008, the Congress has relied almost solely on funding from the federal government which has been directed at key programs to benefit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” Walker said.
A first meeting of its creditors is scheduled to take place on Friday in Sydney.
The opposition has called on the Morrison government to make a clear commitment about whether or not it intends to offer Congress a financial lifeline.
“It’s very sad news,” Labor’s spokesperson on Indigenous affairs, Linda Burney, said. “Congress is representative of many thousands of people.
“If it is serious about taking a bipartisan approach to Indigenous affairs they will restore funding for Congress.”
In a statement, Wyatt would not commit to funding, saying that “the administration process enables an organisation to review its current financial and governance arrangements to provide a greater sense of certainty for the future.
“My department will work with the administrator through this administration period.
“I will work with all Indigenous organisations on an outcomes basis to support self‑determination, empowerment and representation for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.”
Congress represents several thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and people across the country.
“After years of struggle, National Congress is at a cross-road for continued survival,” its chief executive, Gary Oliver, wrote to members in an email on Tuesday night.
“We are optimistic about the appointment of the Hon Ken Wyatt as Minister for Indigenous Australians, but our financial need is urgent and compelling. Unless a very significant lifeline appears in the immediate future, I regret to say that the administration process will lead to the National Congress being wound up.”
National Congress was set up in 2010, and represents more than 180 Indigenous organisations and nearly 10,000 individual members. In 2013 the Abbott government withdrew its support and any commitment to future funding.
Labor’s spokesman on reconciliation and constitutional reform, Pat Dodson, says First Nations people will be able to see how serious this government is about co-design of a voice to parliament, by how it responds to congress’s financial crisis.
“First Nations people should be wary of this government’s commitment to a voice, if they are prepared to let Congress go under it calls into question their commitment to a voice to parliament, to a co-design process, to real reconciliation,” he said.
“The organisation has struggled financially since the beginning of 2014,” Oliver wrote. “Nonetheless, due to contributions by the community and volunteers, National Congress has continued its advocacy on behalf of its members and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in general.
“National Congress has continued to make submissions to government inquiries and until this month, it has remained active in the media and civil society to represent views supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interests.
“Following the Don Dale scandal and the 2016 national election, National Congress managed to eke out survival by entering into a fee-for-service agreement with the then minister for Indigenous affairs, Nigel Scullion.
“However, this arrangement has compromised National Congress’ ability to fulfil its mandate, especially in terms of engagement with its members across the country.”