Predatory door-to-door sales tactics helped Youpla sign up hundreds of Indigenous people to dodgy funeral funds in some of Australia's most disadvantaged communities, new postcode data has revealed.
For decades the Aboriginal Community Benefits Fund (ACBF), later known as Youpla, targeted Indigenous consumers with Aboriginal imagery and marketing, and with promises to cover the costs of their family's Sorry Business in the event of their deaths.
But despite taking millions of dollars in premiums over decades from thousands of Indigenous people, the company has gone into liquidation and those who bought into the funds have lost everything they paid.
At least 20,000 people affected
New data released this month by liquidators shows that a minimum of 20,000 people across Australia were affected by Youpla. That includes some 10,000 in Queensland, 8000 in NSW and more than 1000 from Victoria. Indigenous people from all states and territories were affected.
The breakdown of the data by postcode shows that the Queensland communities of Yarrabah and Palm Island had the highest number of people affected, with more than 700 people in each community impacted by Youpla.
Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council, Mayor Ross Andrews, says the data show a "massive betrayal of our community members".
"We believe the ACBF engaged in systematic cultural manipulation for financial gain," he says.
"They targeted our community, working door-to-door, selling a funeral fund and the need for our community to join. I am disheartened by the scale of their deception and exploitation of First Nations people, not just in Yarrabah, or Far North Queensland but also Australia-wide."
We believe the ACBF engaged in systematic cultural manipulation for financial gainMayor Ross Andrews, Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council
Aunty Jan Harris is a traditional owner in Yarrabah and one of those who signed up to ACBF when they door-knocked her town. She says she signed up to help her family in the case of her death, but has now been left with nothing.
"What they did to us was wrong, they took all this money for what?" she says. "It's like they robbed us."
Government considering compensation
In June the new federal government announced it's considering options to compensate people affected by the collapse of Youpla. The new Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones said he's seeking advice from the Treasury about how the government could potentially compensate those affected.
Bettina Cooper, Aboriginal Financial Counsellor at Mob Strong Debt Help, says the federal government has an opportunity to show its commitment to improving the wellbeing of First Nations peoples.
It's time for the new federal government to get up, stand up and show up for First Nations peoplesBettina Cooper, Aboriginal Financial Counsellor, Mob Strong Debt Help
"It's time for the new federal government to get up, stand up and show up for First Nations peoples," she says. "Elders are being left in morgues as the money their families were relying on to pay for Sorry Business disappeared overnight.
"People who were doing the right thing by their families have been devastated by a predatory and despicable company. We are calling on the federal government to compensate all current and former customers of Youpla."
Preventing further harm
Cooper adds, "Federal government action will help prevent further intergenerational harm and debt. Delay in any government response leaves families vulnerable to predatory lenders having no choice but to take out loans with high fees and charges to meet the cultural obligations of Sorry Business. This is expanding the gap rather than closing it."
Add your name to the open letter urging the government to Save Sorry Business.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.