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ASIC to challenge Aboriginality of funeral group’s owners

ASIC challenged an Aboriginal funeral group over an alleged misrepresentation that its owners were Indigenous.

user iconNaomi Neilson 06 February 2024 Big Law
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The Federal Court was told the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) had “sufficient” evidence that ACBF Funeral Homes and parent company Youpla Group – also known as the Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF) – incorrectly stated it was owned or managed by an Aboriginal person or persons.

The matter, filed in 2020, reached a judgment in September last year, in which Justice Scott Goodman found ACBF misrepresented whether plan holders would receive a lump-sum payment.

Instead, the court found members were only reimbursed for funeral-related expenses up to the chosen benefit amount “upon production of proof that those expenses had been incurred”.

 
 

Although successful in that respect, the Federal Court dismissed ASIC’s claims that the group made misrepresentations about the Aboriginality of the owners and managers of the group and a misrepresentation about having Aboriginal community support.

In a statement released shortly after the September finding, ASIC deputy chair Sarah Court said they still held concerns the group made representations to First Nations people about its ownership.

“In ASIC’s view, [this] had the effect of deceiving many Aboriginal consumers who were buying into the plan,” Ms Court said.

ASIC is currently appealing Justice Goodman’s decision.

Justice Yaseen Shariff, who appeared alongside Justices Michael Murphy and Michael O’Bryan for the interlocutory hearing, reiterated ASIC was not able to prove the “Aboriginality or otherwise of each person who might have constituted the owners or managers”.

Counsel for ASIC said evidence of a witness would be sufficient to prove the case “was to the effect that for this company, in this period, no director was Aboriginal and no manager was Aboriginal”.

The Youpla Group collapsed in 2022 and was replaced by a government program to ensure families of fund members affected by the collapse could still receive a grant in place of a funeral benefit.

Counsel for ASIC said the appeal would not affect this process.

“We submit, in the circumstances, as it’s clear from the material, the appeal would not adversely affect the liquidators,” he said.

The Federal Court ordered for a contradictor to join the case ahead of the mid-February appeal hearing date.