Indigenous advocates plead to ‘save sorry business’

Rudi Maxwell |

More than a year after the collapse of a failed funeral insurer, Lynda Edwards is heading to Canberra to plead with the government to help the thousands of Indigenous people targeted by the company.

Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund, also known as Youpla, sold junk funeral insurance plans to Indigenous people across Australia for more than 30 years, despite concerns being raised by First Nations, financial, legal and consumer organisations.

From the early 1990s until the company’s collapse last year, it targeted Aboriginal communities by going door to door and running misleading advertisements in Indigenous publications.

In 2018, the banking royal commission found it engaged in conduct that fell below community standards in a number of respects, including that it relied on the cultural significance of funerals to Indigenous people to market its policies.

An Aboriginal financial counsellor, Ms Edwards is the NSW Premier’s 2023 Woman of the Year and part of the Save Sorry Business coalition, which was formed to advocate for those affected by the company.

“Youpla targeted vulnerable First Nations families,” she said.

“They lied about being an Aboriginal business and preyed on cultural values around family, community and the importance of ‘sorry business’ in social and spiritual life.

“They pressured mums into buying funeral insurance for their babies and small children.”

In the mid-1990s Daphne Naden, a Kuku Yalanji woman, was living in the north Queensland town of Mossman when she was visited by an ACBF representative.

“I just thought it was a really good idea that Aboriginal people got this opportunity to put money aside, so I signed up and I also signed up my four daughters who were at very early ages,” she said.

“At that time I didn’t know too much about insurance and I didn’t ask too many questions.”

Ms Naden continued to make payments until the company’s collapse last year.

“I didn’t want my girls scratching around for money to bury me. I didn’t want them to have that burden,” she said.

Ms Edwards said that governments and regulators had failed, including by approving insurance instalments to be made via Centrepay, which involves regular deductions being taken from Centrelink payments.

“This kind of exploitation of First Nations people and culture is completely unacceptable and now is the time to try and make it right for the tens of thousands of families who were harmed,” she said.

Last year the Australian government created the Youpla Group Funeral Benefits Program to help the families of fund members affected by the collapse.

The program will pay a grant in place of a funeral benefit that would otherwise have been paid by Youpla. Applications will be accepted until November 30.

The Save Sorry Business coalition is asking the government to consider providing more help to those affected during its budget deliberations.

The coalition will hold a “day of healing” on Monday at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and a “day of action” on Tuesday at Parliament House in Canberra.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission commenced proceedings in the Federal Court in 2020 against the Youpla Group for allegedly false and deceptive conduct. A judgement is yet to be handed down.