The Albanese Government has reiterated its commitment to investigate the recently liquidated Indigenous funeral insurance fund Youpla Group, and says it will look into a “potential course of action” to assist the impacted families. Assistant treasurer Stephen Jones this week responded to calls for the new Government to provide compensation to the thousands of people who could lose everything they invested into the fund. “The Albanese Government is committed to establishing an inquiry to examine the scope of the collapse and a potential course of action,” he said. “We will take a methodical approach to working with affected communities and regulators.” Youpla Group, formerly known as Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF), was a Gold Coast-based private business which was swept by controversy over several decades, and was placed in the spotlight during the Banking Royal Commission in 2020. The commission slammed the company for selling funeral insurance to vulnerable people, children and babies, and for falsely marketing itself as Aboriginal-owned. Victims have also come forward to state they have been over-charged by the company. After failing to acquire an Australia Financial Service Licence, Youpla was barred from taking on new customers and the group finally went into liquidation in March, leaving thousands of Aboriginal Australians with empty pockets. At the time of the fund’s collapse, member contributions were at $39.2 million, a fraction of which is left after liquidation. It remains unclear whether policy owners will receive any refund. Before being elected in May, the Federal Labor Party made a promise to investigate the operations of the business, revealing there would be an inquiry into whether any financial assistance could be delivered. Now, as the Labor Government enters its third week in office, the impacted families are hopeful they will see an end to their struggles. “We hope Labor do follow through for us,” said 56-year-old Philomena Lands, a Goonyandi woman who signed up to an ACBF policy in the 90s. Ms Lands had been at her sister’s house in Broome when an employee of ACBF Group came to the door. “They went to everybody’s house and said they were an Aboriginal organisation from Queensland and did we want to sign up for a funeral plan,” she said. “And we did, because it was cheap.” “He was an Aboriginal bloke. They sent all Aboriginal people here to speak with us.” “We thought, ‘oh, we’ll enrol our mother as well’. So we did it for the three of us. And the very next week the money started coming out.” Ms Lands and her sister signed up for $6000 policies while their mother chose a $4000 option. When their mother passed away in the late 2000s, her funeral cost was sent to the family with no hesitation. Ms Lands had trusted the ACBF and never queried the lack of communication between the company and their clients. “When we heard it was in liquidation, I said ‘are you mob sure?’ Because we got mum’s money straight away. And then my sister rang on the phone and said, ‘we better go to the bank and cancel our payments’.” Ms Lands then found out she had been charged almost triple the cost of her plan, a total of $15,000, taken from her bank account each fortnight for more than two decades. “Apparently I paid mine off in 2008, but they were still taking out money,” she said. Like many of the company’s Aboriginal customers, the concern is less about her own financial stability but her children’s. “I just hope I don’t die in the next couple of years,” Ms Lands said. “My children will find it difficult to pay for my funeral. “I didn’t want to put that financial difficulty on them.” She holds out hope the Albanese Government will take action before her children are burdened with paying for her funeral. “Aboriginal people support them (the Government), so we’re hoping they support us,” she said. Unfortunately, for many, it is too late. Bardi Jawi man Neil Francis was relying on fortnightly welfare payments when his aunty passed away. Then, two weeks later, his mother also passed. While grieving the loss of two family members, Neil and his partner, Keneesha Shadforth, walked into Broome Circle seeking financial advice. It was there that financial councillor Veronica Johnson told them their aunty had been signed up to a Youpla policy. She also broke the news that they would not be receiving any portion of the $10,000 she had paid. It was a devastating blow to an already financially strained couple. “We’re financially broke,” said Keneesha. “We come to the Circle house every fortnight or once a week, you know, to get some food relief because the income we’re getting from Centrelink is not enough.” The added pressure of paying for two funerals — likely to cost up to $10,000 each — has placed immense strain on their family. “We’re stuck at the end of the day. We don’t know how to prepare ourselves,” she said. “It’s causing conflict already between family members. It’s causing a lot of stress. “We were trying to plan on raising a family, but we haven’t saved enough money yet to raise a child.” The fund has drawn the attention of Australian Securities and Investments Commission several times over the last few decades for allegations of misconduct. Now, as the fund has entered liquidation, ASIC must decide whether to continue its third investigation, a decision set to be made in court in June. An ASIC spokesperson told the Broome Advertiser the decision has not been made yet as “there’s a few factors to consider”. “We’re investigating current and former directors on a number of grounds, one of which . . . includes concerns about possible insolvency.” This is something Ms Johnson at Broome Circle is particularly fearful of on behalf of her clients. “We don’t want them to drop the investigation, just because they’ve gone into liquidation,” the financial counsellor said. “Those directors have robbed over 30,000 people in Australia and they need to be made accountable.” Last month, Ms Johnson championed an open letter signed by 125 organisations — known together as the Save Sorry Coalition — calling on the continued investigation of the fund and compensation to be handed to the affected families. ASIC has now revealed they will take this into account. “We will acknowledge that one of the factors will be various consumer groups. The various consumer groups, they’ve certainly made it clear they’d like to see it reactivated. That’s one of the factors we’ll take into account.” Ms Johnson’s mission now is to give those who lost their life savings to Youpla a voice. She recently travelled up the Dampier Peninsula, visiting communities who may have been signed up to the fund in the 2000s. “I want to work with all the people to bring their voices and get the government to compensate exactly for these reasons. We’ve got people struggling on a daily basis.” As she works through the paperwork for each of her clients, she said there were so many discrepancies it is almost impossible to know the full scale of impact across the Kimberley, let alone Australia. “They were so shonky. They restructured the company over and over again and every time they did that people didn’t even know they were being signed up to another plan.” Now that the fund has liquidated, there is a fear that many in remote communities aren’t aware they no longer have funeral insurance or that they were potentially overcharged by thousands. Yawuru woman Josephine Sarah only knew of Youpla’s liquidation after seeing it on the news. The 61-year-old and her sister each signed up to a $6000 plan, while Ms Sarah elected for a $4000 plan for each of her three children. It is estimated she has lost about $12,000 to the fund. It was only in March, when the fund was liquidated and she visited Broome Circle, that Ms Sarah discovered her parents, who have long since passed, had also been customers. Ms Sarah and her sister did not receive any money for either of their funerals. “We got help because my dad was the Stolen Generation,” she said. “But for my mother we all chucked in. It was hard.” Fearful of her children having the same fate, Ms Sarah said she has high hopes that Anthony Albanese will deliver on his promises. “We hope he helps us, this new prime minister,” she said. “We voted for him.” ASIC is set to decide whether it will continue its investigation into Youpla’s conduct in NSW’s Federal Court on June 16. It is not yet known what or when the Labor Government will begin its inquiries.