ASIC’s Centrepay Ban Against First Nations People Set for Landmark Racial Discrimination Legal Challenge

Urban Rampage

Urban Rampage, a key retailer for First Nations people in remote communities, is poised to launch a landmark legal challenge against the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) for what it says is a racist and paternalistic decision to permanently ban the business from offering Centrepay to more than 20,000 Indigenous customers.

The move comes after ASIC issued a permanent Centrepay ban against Urban Rampage parent company Coral Coast Distributors on Wednesday (April 24, 2024). For background, see earlier Urban Rampage news release here: ‘Click and pay for whites only, no credit for black fellas’: First Nations shoppers slam ASIC decision to cut off Centrepay

The business has instructed its lawyers to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and potentially launch a legal challenge under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. It could be argued ASIC’s ban would have discriminatory impacts if it disproportionately affected specific groups. For example, if a regulation disproportionately denies financial services to Aboriginal communities or other minority groups, this could be seen as conflicting with their rights to non-discrimination under the Racial Discrimination Act.

Despite conceding it had not received a single complaint, and finding that no unconscionable conduct (including on pricing) had occurred, ASIC used its broad discretionary powers under the Corporations Act 2001 to conclude that Urban Rampage’s more than 20,000 First Nations customers struggle to understand and communicate their financial goals and needs clearly due to limited English fluency and financial literacy. Centrepay, was therefore, “inherently inappropriate” for First Nations people, ASIC said.

It is the first such ban imposed on a business since so-called design and distribution obligations (DDO) were introduced in 2021 into the Corporations Act 2001. “To my knowledge, ASIC has not previously made a final stop order under s994J(2). To date, there has been no consideration by the Court or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of any exercise by ASIC of its powers under s994J(2),” ASIC’s delegate said.

No Complaints, No Unconscionable Conduct

Urban Rampage said it appeared “ASIC is running an inherently racist test case of its powers and using First Nations people as guinea pigs”.

“We have said from day one ASIC has been acting in a racist and paternalistic way towards First Nations people, who are largely our customer base. In the remote communities we service, this looks like click and pay for whites only, no credit for black fellas. The question has to be asked if ASIC will now ban other Centrepay retailers where the customers are predominantly white Australians,” Urban Rampage said.

“One only has to read ASIC’s reasons – which we have made public – to see none of what they are saying makes any sense. There are no complaints and no findings of unconscionable conduct. Yet ASIC has banned Centrepay because it thinks our customers are stupid, can’t read, nor write and are incapable of making sound financial decisions.

“With no complaints and no evidence of harm, one must ask what the real motivations behind the ban are. It looks like white, privileged idealogues at the very top of ASIC have gone full circle with a perverse woke logic to where they are now actually racist.

“ASIC’s move is a throwback to the Stolen Generation. We have more than 1000 First Nations customers who have signed a petition slamming ASIC’s ban but it refuses to listen to them and thinks they are incapable of articulating themselves. We will absolutely appeal and fight for the rights of our First Nations customers to be treated equally and fairly.”

ASIC disregarded Urban Rampage having passed all Services Australia audits since the business started using Centrepay in 2016. “It is beyond Services Australia’s role to assess whether a particular Product offered by an approved business is covered by the DDO regime or whether it in fact complies with the regime,” ASIC said in its decision.

ASIC Disrespects First Nations with No Consultation

Urban Rampage said ASIC disrespected First Nations people by not engaging with its customers.

“ASIC hasn’t bothered to talk to those affected by the Centrepay ban. Other non-Indigenous Australians have many ways to buy now and pay later. First Nations people on benefits don’t. ASIC is using its powers in a highly discriminatory way,” Urban Rampage said.

“Paternalistic policies, while ostensibly protective, can infringe on the autonomy and rights of individuals if they are based on assumptions about the capabilities or needs of certain groups without adequate evidence or consultation.

“This case poses the question on whether ASIC’s paternalistic, non-evidence based application of the Corporations Act 2001 violates the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. It might also prompt a broader discussion about institutional biases in regulatory practices, particularly regarding financial services for minority groups.”

Urban Rampage wants First Nations politicians to speak up. It has written to Senators Malarndirri McCarthy, Marion Scrymgour, and Jacinta Malarndirri McCarthy, urging them to visit the remote communities and speak with First Nations customers.

“The ban takes away dignity and choice from First Nations people,” Urban Rampage said.

“By its action, ASIC disregards the voice and needs of the very people Centrepay was designed to serve, widening the gap in financial equity. It is a paternalistic blow that tells an entire community they are unfit to manage their finances through Centrepay.

“It’s important we hear from First Nations politicians like Malarndirri McCarthy, Marion Scrymgour, and Jacinta Price as they would be eminently qualified to speak about the demand share economy and the important role the Centrepay plays.”

/Public Release.