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ABC News

Aboriginal elder who lost money to Youpla funeral insurance urges more protection for victims

When Dubbo elder Maxwell Wiseman answered a knock on the door from a trusted friend in 1996, he did not realise he was the target of an allegedly fake Aboriginal insurance company.

Uncle Maxwell, now aged 71, was one of the early victims of the now-defunct Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund, which has been sued by ASIC alleging predatory practices and seeking penalties.

The corporate regulator accused the company of targeting vulnerable Aboriginal consumers and falsely representing itself as an Aboriginal company before 2019.

The case was heard by a single judge last November and judgement has not yet been given.

"I got a knock on the door from a local Aboriginal person who I knew well and who was respected — he offered me a policy for a funeral fund if I passed away," Uncle Maxwell said.

Uncle Maxwell's membership card became a worthless piece of plastic last year when it was announced that the company, which changed its name to Youpla, was being put into liquidation.

The federal government set up a replacement fund to cover money owed to former clients of Youpla, but it expires at the end of November, which will leave tens of thousands of people empty-handed.

Uncle Maxwell has paid nearly $14,000 to the company over the years, but on November 30 he will be cut off from the government's fund and his family will receive nothing when he dies.

Wangkumara finance worker Lynda Edwards and Dunghutti solicitor Mark Holden have been leading a Save Sorry Business campaign to extend the replacement fund.

Mr Holden, who works for Mob Strong Debt Help, said they had been fielding hundreds of phone calls from "scared" families who feared they would soon lose their coverage.

'Cultural obligation' exploited

He said they wanted to impress upon the government how many people had been caught up in the fall of Youpla.

"The numbers are still being assessed, but from our initial calculations we have found at the very least 30,000 have been impacted by this," Mr Holden said.

Ms Edwards, who works for Financial Counselling Australia, said many Aboriginal families feared being a financial burden on their families after their death.

She said the company had exploited Aboriginal community bonds to emotionally manipulate people into buying their insurance schemes.

"They relied on cultural obligation: 'Don't leave your family poorer than they are, why would you leave them with so much debt?'," she said.

"Those people did that [paid for insurance] thinking they were doing the right thing, looking after community and family but didn't really know about the product itself and how damaging it was."

This is an allegation that is yet to be ruled on by the court.

The pair will be travelling around Australia to Aboriginal villages raising awareness and putting pressure on the federal government to extend the life of the replacement fund, as well as allocate more money to it.

Uncle Maxwell said he felt reassured with Mr Holden and Ms Edwards advocating for the former clients.

"I'm very grateful for the people who are fighting for this cause for us in Canberra and have guaranteed to us they will not stop until they get to some resolution," he said.

Youpla was contacted for comment.

It is not yet known when judgement will be delivered by the court. 

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