Melbourne University is bracing for another debacle involving its would-be Aboriginal and recently appointed Professor Bruce Pascoe. Actually it’s not “bracing” at all – that’s a nonsense word hack journos fling about with gay abandon. But there is a fresh debacle in the offing.
Pascoe, Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture, is the university’s exemplar of business success.[i] He stands tall with UoM’s other Enterprise Professors, like business/technology titans Len Sciacca, Hugh Williams, John Pollaers, Dr Andrew Cuthbertson AO and Greg Foliente.
The university announced in September, 2020 the appointment of Pascoe to the $200,000 a year post. That’s assuming Pascoe’s full-time. The university declines to be transparent on this question.
The university also vouched that Pascoe is a genuine First Nations guy, describing him as “Indigenous author and advocate”, [ii] a description that seems lately to have been rowed back more than somewhat. On its “Find an Expert” page one discovers merely that “Bruce Pascoe is a “writer and farmer”. He has published 36 book (sic) including Dark Emu which won the NSW Premier’s Award for Literature in 2016 and Young Dark Emu which won the both the Booksellers Association Prize and the CBCA Non-fiction award in 2020.” Quadrant’s Peter O’Brien exposed an entirely different picture of the richly garlanded fauxborigine with his Bitter Harvest in 2019, and then came respected academics Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe with their Melbourne University Press tome last June, Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate. Pascoe’s weird but immensely lucrative thesis is that pre-contact Aborigines were agriculturists living in sizeable stone towns and keeping their livestock (bandicoots? dingos?) in pens.
That’s all old news, you might well complain. But I do have fresh news for UoM Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell, who I’m sure has the university’s reputation close to his heart.
The university’s appointment announcement, in bigging-up Pascoe’s credentials, included his directorship of Twofold Aboriginal Corporation at Eden, NSW.
Twofold at the time of its 2019-20 annual report was in a precarious state indeed.
The corporation is a $3 million-income charity servicing the low-income Aboriginal community of Bega Valley Shire with housing, aged care and a plethora of other subsidised and disability services. Auditor Colin Salt of Tanner Salt, Pambula, last March 11, 2021 testified (emphasis added):
Material Uncertainty Related to Going Concern
We draw attention to Note 1 in the financial report, which indicates that the Corporation incurred a net loss of $466,107 during the year ended June 30, 2020, and, as of that date, the Corporation’s current liabilities exceeded its current assets by $542,937. These events or conditions, along with other matters set forth in Note 1, indicate that a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the Corporation’s ability to continue as a going concern. Our opinion is not modified in respect of this matter.
So, naturally, I went fishing for the 2020-21 accounts, but they were running badly late. It emerged that Pascoe and his fellow directors have been blaming COVID for the delay and obtained permission from the Office of Aboriginal Corporations (ORIC) to run an AGM and file accounts by January 31, 2022.
So on February 8 I checked Twofold’s website to access the new accounts. No joy. The website was down for maintenance. I then checked Twofold’s filings at the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations site – no 2020-21 accounts there either. I sent ORIC this email:
Could you tell me please whether Twofold has been granted a further extension to file, if not is ORIC taking any action to expedite the filing?
ORIC’s response from Lisa Hugg, Section manager, ORIC Communications Section, lobbed at the sprightly time of 7am on February 10. Here it is:
The corporation has lodged it’s (sic) general report and financial report. You can see these in the corporation’s documents on the public register:https://register.oric.gov.au/document.aspx?concernID=100028
Call me an egotist but my email might have caused the sudden appearance of the long-delayed Twofold accounts at ORIC’s website. I asked Ms Hugg about it and she replied
The reports were received on 3/2/2022 by email. We do not instantly publish reports when they are received, they are uploaded into the registry and some data entry occurs too.
I’m sure UoM’s Dr Maskell and Associate Provost Professor Marcia Langton are dying to know whether the biggest company of their Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture is now out of the woods, its precarious fortunes turned around and Bruce Pascoe’s reputation as an exemplary businessman no longer in any doubt. I wish this Quadrant Online article could comfort them, but no, fertiliser is still hitting the fan at Pascoe’s Twofold Aboriginal Corporation. After its $83,398 loss in 2018-19, and $466,107 loss in 2019-20, its loss in 2020-21 was an even more impressive $498,690.
The audit report by partner J.G.Ryan of Thomas Davis & Co[iii] of Sydney says (my emphasis):
Material Uncertainty Related to Going Concern
We draw attention to Note 1 to the financial report, which indicates that the Corporation incurred a loss of $498,690 for the year ended 30 June 2021 and, as of that date the Corporation’s current liabilities exceeded its current assets by $894,957. Due to these conditions this indicates a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the Corporation’s ability to continue as a going concern. Our opinion is not modified in respect of this matter.
There’s nothing better than killing two birds with one stone, so when I had emailed ORIC’s Ms Hugg in regard to the accounts, I added a question to clear up once and for all, officially, whether Bruce Pascoe is the genuine Aboriginal article. The Twofold Corporation’s constitution requires all its members to be Aboriginal. Pascoe is a member and therefore he must have persuaded the board he is Aboriginal.
ORIC is very down on any non-Aboriginal joining Twofold. Back in 2019, the Registrar appointed as Examiners of Twofold Mr Alan Eldridge, Ms Vickie Newton and Ms Barbara Eldridge of Australian Indigenous Business Services Pty Ltd. Their job was to check Twofold’s accounts and management since 2017. They reported on March 11, 2020, that things there were generally sound and satisfactory. But they found some flaws and wrote,
The weaknesses and minor matters are important enough to be brought to the attention of the directors but not so serious as to require a formal compliance notice to be issued by the Registrar under section 439-20 of the CATSI Act.
SUMMARY OF INSTANCES OF NON-COMPLIANCE
- Contrary to rule 3.1, the corporation has accepted a non-aboriginal person as a member.
The examiners reported that:
- there is a non-aboriginal person entered on the register of members. They were advised at the time that this person was on the register due to work she had previously done in the past for the corporation.
Since the examination, the corporation has advised that the member in question will be removed from the register of members in accordance with section 150-20 of the CATSI Act.
Given that the ORIC Registrar and Examiners are so interested in Twofold members’ Aboriginality, my further emailed question to Ms Hugg was:
Mr Bruce Pascoe is stated as a member of the Corporation, and members are required to be Aboriginal. I note you have previously required a non-Aboriginal member to be taken off the Twofold Corporation’s member roll.
Mr Pascoe has never been able to name an Aboriginal ancestor and all his relevant ancestors appear to have been British residents.
He has made multiple claims to ancestry from various Aboriginal nations but has never named such an ancestor.
In view of your previous action disbarring a non-Aboriginal from Twofold membership, can you please tell me whether you have taken any action regarding Mr Pascoe’s membership, if so with what result?
Thanks, Tony Thomas
Ms Hugg replied:
The rule book of Twofold Aboriginal Corporation says that if a member is not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person their membership can only be cancelled by members at a general meeting passing a special resolution to do so. The corporation has 14 days from the date of a decision about membership to reflect the change in the corporation’s register of members.[iv]
So, or as it seems to me, ORIC is sidestepping the very issue its examiners were so concerned about in their 2020 report, when they forced Twofold to kick a different (non-Aboriginal) person off the Twofold register. I think ORIC needs to attend to its charter to promote good management at Aboriginal entities. Specifically, it needs to ensure Twofold is abiding by its own constitution and enrolling only Aboriginals. Of course, Professor Pascoe might indeed be a First Nations stalwart with stacks of Aboriginal ancestors and, if so, doubtless he will promptly name them to the Registrar and Twofold. I will then have a dark emu’s egg all over my face.
Maybe this saga won’t make any impression on Melbourne University. When I checked six months ago with the uni’s PR, Amelia Swinburne, UoM was clutching Pascoe to its bosom as if with Super Glue:
Bruce is a respected member of our Faculty and makes a valuable contribution to our academic community, and we will not be reviewing his appointment.
Tony Thomas’s collection “Foot Soldier in the Culture Wars” ($29.95) is available from publisher Connor Court
[i] As the university’s official guidelines say,
Alongside and distinct from traditional academic appointments, Enterprise appointment titles are a mechanism to enable the University to recruit industry leaders and experts who can enrich and offer valuable contributions to the University’s teaching, research and engagement activities through their industry knowledge, expertise and practice.
Enterprise appointments are highly selective to ensure appointees bring distinctive knowledge and skills that would be otherwise unavailable to the institution. Professorial-level Enterprise appointments are highly distinguished positions.
[ii] Mainly Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian, Pascoe’s said. But he’s also said he’s Wiradjuri, Punniler Panner, Koori, a descendant of the Ballarat and Geelong Aboriginal communities, and from a tribe bordering the Wathaurong of Geelong and Colac Victoria, along with a South Australian Aboriginal connection. He discovered he was Aboriginal at the age of 30 — no, make that 18, — no, make that 9, when he was speaking the Wathaurong language with his family.
[iii] Twofold disengaged from its previous auditor Colin Salt../
[iv] Ms Hugg’s reply included a point that ORIC’s cited document showing Pascoe to be a member of Twofold might be obsolete. He was certainly listed at Twofold a couple of months ago, and the website is now unavailable during maintenance.