How access to advice and support is building the First Nations’ economy

MinterEllison provides pro-bono services to First Australians Capital supported Indigenous businesses.  Sharing this insightful case study, MinterEllison demonstrates how advocacy and support is helping to build the First Nations’ economy.

Through the longstanding partnership between First Australians Capital and MinterEllison, a First Australians Capital client was able to access legal support to assist with resolving a number of debt related matters.

As of July 2019, the client, self-employed and owner of a small company, owed a large sum to a bank and a finance company in loans, credit card debts and other finances. 

At the time the loans were approved the client’s company was making approximately $30,000- $40,000 annually and he was reliant on the Newstart allowance and his wife’s income to supplement and cover basic living expenses. With the viability of the business precarious and heavily reliant on intermittent jobs, the client had very low capacity to pay back loans from his limited business and income, which MinterEllison considered should have been taken into account when granting the loans. This financial disadvantage was exacerbated by the financial impacts caused by drought and the 2019-20 fires on his company. 

During the period of July 2019 – December 2019, MinterEllison advocated on behalf of the client to negotiate with the bank through its hardship programs.  As an agreement could not be reached, MinterEllison further assisted the client to lodge a complaint with Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA). 

Through engaging in the AFCA conciliation meeting, the parties reached a suitable agreement, with the bank agreeing to refund interests and fees on some of the loans and overdraft accounts, clear some loans and interests and no longer pursue the client for an equipment loan and refund interest and establishment fees.

The client’s other bank accounts were to continue on their current contract terms which was manageable for the client and would avoid him having to refinance with another bank. This was a great outcome that ensured the client still has access to financial institutions to support himself and his business in the future. 

The client was very happy with this result which halved his remaining debts to be repaid. He made the point that he “couldn’t of got anywhere” without MinterEllison’s support, and that of First Australians Capital.

This is a fantastic result, demonstrating the importance of how advocacy and support can assist clients to break out of structural disadvantage and increase participation in the economy – generating both economic and social value for themselves, those employed by the business and the community more broadly.