Creating Economies – The future of Aboriginal business in WA

Executive Chairman of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce speaks on opportunities for Indigenous business

In a speech in Perth yesterday evening, Nyunggai Warren Mundine spoke about the opportunities for investment and development in remote and regional Australia and the opportunities this presents for Aboriginal business in WA

The full speech is available here.

Key points:

  • The future of Indigenous communities and cultures depends on the creation of real economies in Indigenous communities and on Indigenous people participating in the real economy.
  • A real economy is one that that relies on commerce and private enterprise – not government activities – to survive and where people have real jobs.
  • Too many of Indigenous people don’t participate in the real economy today and have become conditioned to look for government for everything.  Those that want to break away from government dependency find it very difficult to cut though the layers of bureaucracy and the limitations that the existing governance and land ownership structures create.
  • The first thing that comes to mind when people talk about “Indigenous business” is businesses owned by Indigenous people. A better description of Indigenous business is Indigenous people participating in the real economy through private sector business.
  • It’s important for Indigenous people to be participating in all aspects of commerce and private enterprise – as employees, as business owners, as investors and as profit makers.
  • Initiatives that assist Indigenous businesses need to be very careful they don’t restrict Indigenous people from the normal business cycle and the opportunities it brings for growth and profit, such as selling or growing their businesses. It’s very important that the steps we take to create economies and promote Indigenous business, we don’t fall back into the trap of imposing more limitations that work against commercial activity.
  • Free trade agreements, the focus on Northern development, deregulation and economic reform create substantial opportunities for the undeveloped parts of our country, particularly in the pastoral, mining and agricultural industries and the secondary industries that flow from these developments.
  • Australia has great unlocked potential with vast tracts of undeveloped land and sea positioned right on the doorstep of the fastest growing region in the world.  This presents enormous opportunities for traditional owners who already control about 20% of the Australian land mass and who have other recognised cultural and other interests all across Australia.
  • New developments in remote and regional areas will need local populations that are job ready and educated. Australia’s population is concentrated in the major urban areas in the South and East. Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in remote and regional areas.
  • Indigenous communities are also younger and growing faster than the rest of the Australian population. The population pyramid for Australia looks like most developing countries, with an aging population and largest distribution of population in the 30 to 55 aged groups. The Indigenous population pyramid is shaped like the population pyramid of developing countries like Ghana or India – wide at the bottom (younger age groups) and tapering off at the top (older age groups).

Population pyramid of indigenous and non-indigenous populations, Australia, 2012

Population Pyramids

  • The Federal Government’s initiatives to reduce red tape and simplify regulation needs to extend to Indigenous communities too.
  • Engaging with traditional owners and Indigenous communities is riddled with unpredictability and uncertainty. There are multiple different statutory bodies with authority in Indigenous communities many of which have substantial and sometimes overlapping “gatekeeper” power over traditional lands and cultural rights. There are also multiple systems of Indigenous land recognition and can be competing claims under different legal avenues. This creates confusion. People can go “forum shopping”. Commercial negotiations become protracted or disintegrate with arguments as to who speaks for the nation and who speaks for others. Usually it’s Indigenous people who lose out.
  • There should be one governance body representing each Indigenous nation/language group on matters uniquely relevant to that nation, such as the use of traditional lands, native title rights, community assets, culture, heritage and language. Only members of a nation should be involved in its governance system using an objective and transparent test for identifying them based around descent.
  • Governments should also fast-track settlement of native title claims by agreements with each of the traditional nations and dispensing with the requirement for those nations to establish a continuous connection to land.  This means recognising the native title rights of the groups in the area we know they occupied before British colonisation and formally recognising those nations.
  • Increasingly communities want to take charge of their own futures and  they understand that their community needs to be sustainable and not reliant on government and government activity to survive. We often hear that these problems will be solved if Indigenous communities can control programs and government spend. But as  long as government is paying the bills it will be in control, regardless of what notional controls are handed to community. What government gives, government can take away. Indigenous communities need real sustainable economies that are no more tied to government than the rest of Australia.
  • Globally, about two-thirds of poverty reduction comes from economic growth. In a 2013 article The Economist observed that “the biggest poverty-reduction measure of all is liberalising markets to let poor people get richer. That means freeing trade between countries … and within them…” For Indigenous businesses to thrive in the Australian and global economies, our communities and systems also have to liberalise both within our own communities and in our dealings with others.


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  1. Gordon Nelson says:

    Too bad there is no civil legal help for indigenous with ideas and corporates take everything you’ve built. Too hard trying to be self sufficient when doors slam. Had success but now gone. From WA originally.

  2. Richrd Downs says:

    I totally agree with Warren, but are the governments prepared to accept the Andrew Forrest report where the report high lights major obstacles and barriers and listen to our people from remote areas.
    We have failed so far because there is:
    A reliance by governments on more public servants and service providers to make the
    necessary changes rather than empowering first Australians themselves
    • A lack of coordination and collaboration in Commonwealth and state and territory policies and
    programs and how they are implemented
    • An almost exclusive focus by governments on treating the symptoms of entrenched
    disadvantage, rather than preventing it, so success is limited and very expensive
    • Drawn-out approaches, such as targets to only halve employment disparity, therefore
    extending the trajectory of cost, lost opportunity and misery to individuals and to the country
    • A lack of accountability for results, with service delivery and welfare systems that entrench
    passive income lifestyles for providers and recipients.
    the entrenchment of welfare system with out change will only continue to oppress our people and create another generation of people knocking on death door through alcohol, diabetes, and drugs

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