Grant Wardell-Johnson explores factors affecting the economic empowerment of Australia’s Indigenous people.
On Wednesday 12 October, KPMG released a document titled Igniting the Indigenous Economy. I believe it is a particularly important publication.
It brings together prominent Indigenous leaders and KPMG experts and makes more than 20 tangible recommendations in the areas of innovation, superannuation, education, land and estate management and, of course, taxation. It is not intended to be a grand plan, but a contribution to a vital discussion.
I had the privilege of co-writing the taxation section with Professor Marcia Langton AM who is the Foundation Chair in Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne.
Professor Langton is also the author of the 2012 Boyer Lectures titled The Quiet Revolution: Indigenous People and the Resources Boom. When I read these lectures three years ago, they had quite an impact on me in thinking about the relationship between mining companies and the Indigenous community. Professor Langton describes a paradigm shift in economic activity and perceptions since 1992 when the High Court made the historic decision to reverse the terra nullius doctrine in arguably the most famous case it has ever delivered. That case involved an action taken by Eddie Mabo, David Passi and James Rice of the Meriam people from the island of Mer against the State of Queensland.
The question the lectures raised in my mind is why we hang on so tightly to old paradigms of thinking even when faced with strong empirical evidence to the contrary? While there is no real answer to the question, I ask it constantly.
I urge you to read Igniting the Indigenous Economy and to think about how your respective organisations can contribute to the economic empowerment of Australia’s Indigenous people. For example, what Indigenous procurement targets could be put into place by your company or group?
While there are many complex issues, three things are clear to me. First, welfare is not the solution, but part of the problem. Indigenous economic participation and commercial enterprise, together with education, are a major part of the answer. Second, a large number of Indigenous Australians suffer from the cruelty of low expectations and low opportunity. We cannot let this continue for yet another generation. Third, real change in economic empowerment is happening now. We can see its positive impact.
Thus, as a society, we do know the direction we should be taking. But we do need to do more and do it faster.